I AM Emerge – Brian Makwaiba

I Am Emerge, winner of Innovation Concepts in the category for emerging enterprises

App puts bulk buying power into township enterprises’ hands

Spaza shops do business worth around R9 billion a year and are the backbone of township economies but they face a relentless daily battle for survival. Typically, they lack access to credit, are vulnerable to crime and cannot compete on price with the big retailers unless they cut their margins to the limit. As for the discounts that bigger businesses routinely negotiate with suppliers, spaza shops simply don’t have the bargaining power.

Well, individually they don’t. Collectively, they are a force to be reckoned with, says Brian Makwaiba, MD of I Am Emerge, mass marketing specialists with a talent for bringing emerging enterprises and big businesses together.

Its award-winning Vuleka app taps into the collective buying power of township spaza shop owners, enabling them to order goods directly from the manufacturers and benefit from the discounts that go with bulk buying.

I Am Emerge does the legwork, including negotiating with the manufacturers, warehousing the goods that spaza shops order and delivering their purchases to their doorsteps.

“The goods are cheaper than they would be from wholesalers, so we save them time and money,” says Brian. “Where there are spaza shops who don’t have technology, we have youth marketers to take their orders manually.”

At this stage, I am Emerge’s network of spaza shops with bulk buying power spans three of Gauteng’s biggest townships: Alexandra, with around 500 members, Soweto with over 4 500 and Tembisa with around 2 000.

Vuleka is currently under redevelopment, the aim being to simplify it considerably, says Brian, who was a Gauteng Premier Excellence Award winner in 2017 and was named among South Africa’s top 50 entrepreneurs and Africa’s top 15 in 2016. “We’ve gone back to the drawing board because our users said our solution was too complicated. It had lists and a lot happening, when all users want is a catalogue-type app with pictures and prices.”

This is the essence of doing good business in townships, he says. “It’s about going on the ground and listening to your customers and delivering a product that speaks to their needs. For me, that’s the key to innovation.”

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