As I enter the store, I find her lifting car tyres and arranging car batteries and motor lubricants in one corner of the spare parts business. It is the start of day for Rose Uwineza, a spare parts dealer in Kigali. Her store, Arize Spare Parts Company, is now one of the biggest spare parts shop in town, thanks largely to that clear plan and vision she had of herself as young woman.
The resident of Nyandungu says after college, she put the plan on paper and started on the journey toward making her childhood dream into a practical reality.
Uwineza says she tried out many options, including borrowing money from the husband, to kick-start her entrepreneurship journey. Eventually, she pitched the business idea to a bank and Business Development Fund (BDF) to secure start-up funding.
How she started
After graduating from Kigali Independent University six years ago, instead of looking for white collar jobs Uwineza embarked on starting her enterprise.
“I never went around looking for a job, but rather spent most of my time pitching my business idea to banks to raise start-up capital,” she recalls of her initial steps toward becoming an accomplished businesswoman.
She says most of the banks she approached were not receptive, which forced her to seek funding from her husband. The gamble paid off as the husband gave her a Rwf5 million loan. Though the money was way less than what she wanted, she was unfazed and went ahead with the project.
“I believe the banks ignored me because I did not have collateral, a problem many entrepreneurs especially start-ups face. As a fresh graduate, all I had was a business plan,” she says.
However, those setbacks strengthened her resolve to soldier on and achieve her goal.
Uwineza planned to open a big spare parts business, but without enough initial capital she had rethink her strategy. This ended up with a visit to BDF seeking for a loan guarantee.
The Fund provides loan guarantees for promising business start-ups by youth with up to 75 per cent of the required finance.
The visit was to prove pivotal as the Fund accepted to guarantee her business project and seconded her for a loan from COPEDU Microfinance. The credit breathed new life into Uwineza’s enabling her to roll her operations to a level she had earlier envisaged, which saw her import spare parts for different car makes from Dubai, Belgium and Japan.
“This upped my stakes and I was able to compete favourably and ensure my customers got the best quality,” she says, adding this created client trust and confidence and hence boosted her earnings.
She was, however, faced with a challenge of creating more sustainable linkages with consumers, a situation that required her to review the business approach to become more competitive.
“I wanted to take the business to customers instead of clients coming to me. This way, I was able to create a strong business network,” she notes.
The mother of three attributes her business growth and success to customer-centric approaches she employs as well as being able to understand product pricing, market segments and business trends.
Uwineza employs more than 20 people directly or indirectly, which is in line with one of BDF’s strategic objectives.
“We are aware of the need to create jobs for youth. As the private sector, we are ready to partner with the government and other stakeholders to help realise this objective,” she says.
How to grow a spare parts business
Uwineza says one can grow a spare parts business by running short-term promotions to boost sales or investing in the service dealers’ offer.
This boosts product awareness and earns you trust and confidence from customers, she says. “Offering customers better value and quality, faster delivery, a wide range of products or specialist products that are hard to obtain elsewhere can help you to build stronger, long-term customer relationships,” she says. She adds that one needs to identify trends, offer top quality products and service as well as communicate product benefits clearly.
The pessimists had dissuaded her from joining the business world or even starting a spare parts venture. However, Uwineza ignored their negative energy and followed her heart, a move that eventually paid off.
From Rwf5 million, her business is now valued at over Rwf100m, largely thanks to her hard work and BDF’s timely intervention.
“I have been able to fund my post-graduate studies and pay the children’s school fees,” she says. She also treats herself to some of the nice things of life and bought herself a brand new car.
“I thank President Paul Kagame for creating a politically stable and conducive business environment which women are exploiting to contribute to national development,” says Uwineza.
Uwineza says the fear by most women to approach banks for credit is still a challenge toward their full economic transformation and empowerment.
She urges women to join entrepreneurship, saying it is a key pillar to the country’s social economic transformation.
However, the successful entrepreneur says, financial discipline is critical in business. When you acquire a loan ensure to use the money for the venture it was intended for, she says.
She calls on women to also enroll for business internships to improve their skills, adding that conducting market studies before starting any business will help reduce risks and maximise profits.
The journey continues for Uwineza as she looks ahead to establishing more auto spare part shops across the country. This, she says, will ease access to her products, particularly for up-country clients.
“I believe taking products and services to customers creates awareness and improve access, which are essential to building a strong business,” she points out.