Expo@20: An assembly of brands competing for attention

The skyline in Gikondo was lit Thursday night by the colourful sparkle of fireworks as Private Sector Federation (PSF) opened the 20th Kigali International Expo in a celebratory mood; if you haven’t been there yet, go and check it out, after all tomorrow is a public holiday.

The skyline in Gikondo was lit Thursday night by the colourful sparkle of fireworks as Private Sector Federation (PSF) opened the 20th Kigali International Expo in a celebratory mood; if you haven’t been there yet, go and check it out, after all tomorrow is a public holiday.

I have always regarded the Expo as an international assembly of brands on a platform designed for them to compete for attention and in a commentary last year; I referred to it as ‘a noisy affair where exhibitors aim to outshout each other, sometimes to the irritation of customers.’

By design, an exposition (expo in short) is meant for companies in a specific industry to showcase and demonstrate their latest products and services, meet potential industry partners and customers, study activities of rivals, and examine recent market trends and opportunities.

In short, the expo is a brands’ day out for a walk to meet and interact with customers to get an insight into the ever changing taste and preference trends of consumers; what we have seen in the past though, is the sales ambition outshining the exposition objective.

Many an exhibitor have insisted on looking at the expo more of an opportunity to sell than a platform to advertise. Ironically, merchandise prices, generally expected to be lower in an expo have ended up being higher or same as the prices on the everyday market.

Customers seem to have learned from this tendency. A few that I have talked to told me, that the expo is not a good place to go shopping because, in their view, the prices are no different from where they buy on non-expo days.

If you’re going into an expo with product sales objective as opposed to product awareness, then pricing is the most important ‘P’ in your marketing mix; lower price is what attracts people to promotions, of which the trade fair is seen as one.

Merchandise exhibitors I talked to, on Friday, a day after the expo was officially opened, told me the ‘sales have been lower compared to the same period last year.’

One could attribute that to the possibility of customers shunning what they think are the pricey items in the expo; I am certain this will help change the attitude of exhibitors, to possibly change tact, and go in with more objectives beyond making a ‘sales kill’ in the two-week affair.

Take Skol as an example from the breweries industry. This year, they have combined sales with an exhibition objective, showcasing the brewing process of their product on one hand and running a bar on the other which has added value to the customer experience.

Banks too, seem to have come in with a creative approach this year. In the past, they have gone to the expo to simply facilitate their respective customers to withdraw money for shopping and later, facilitate exhibitors to deposit the same money at the end of the day’s sales.

I&M for example is teasing the public about ‘a big announcement’ they’re set to announce on September 1, a week into the expo; it is likely to be a deposit mobilizing promotion. KCB is using the expo to promote its newly launched micro-lending product. This is a good trend.

But on Friday afternoon, Bank of Kigali won the attention contest in the expo as it officially activated a nation-wide savings campaign dubbed ‘Bigereho na BK’ whose aim is to recruit new accounts, mobilize short-term deposits and educate customers on its services and products.

But perhaps the most exciting exhibitor this year, is Skat, a Swiss funded Resource Centre focusing on consultancies for development. Its Rwf8million cube-affordable housing concept has been an early hit, gripping the attention of everyone that has visited the expo.

The concept, largely attributed to Dutch architect Piet Blom could be the ultimate answer to Rwanda’s affordable housing riddle; and while Skat doesn’t build, it advises and avails for free the cube-house designs to developers targeting authentically affordable housing market.

When you talk to banks, they will tell you that not many Rwandans take out mortgages for outright house purchase; most prefer construction mortgage plans to circumvent expenses. Whether construction is better than outright purchase is debatable.

However, with a construction bill of Rwf8m, the Cube-house design could be the real deal for Rwandans with a plot of land but have a small budget to work with. The only challenge here is attitude against small houses; the love for five-bedroom houses with a large compound.

It might have started off in low key, but this being a salary weekend; exhibitors have no reason to worry. Let us go out there and support Rwandan brands as they compete for attention with regional and international exhibitors.


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