After graduating from the Canada-based International Tour and Travel Academy in 2011, Loretta Mbabazi embarked on what all young graduates do, search for employment opportunities.
She was indeed lucky. “I got a job with the Nile Basin project in Uganda and later with Victoria Airlines, but never lasted long because the contract expired,” she said.
It took her a long time to think through the difficult situation on how to survive. But the one thing she was sure of was that going back to the streets to look for a job was never going to be an option for her.
Luckily enough for Mbabazi, her business opportunity came from what most people never considered being a profitable business—turning the needs of the most venerable into a business opportunity.
She registered a company called Earth and Child with the Rwanda Development Board. This is the business that has grown to erase whatever troubles associated with unemployment in her heart.
How she started
“The idea came after seeing my pregnant friends struggling to find the right code of dressing to make them feel comfortable….. This was a great opportunity I was not willing to let go unexploited.”
Sharing her business idea with her elder sister Sandra Nyakato Kahirita, helped Mbabazi put together some “humble” capital to start quickly and turn her idea into a reality.
“My sister clearly understood the idea of going for a loan from our parents, an idea that hatched very well.”
Worried not to lose the trust of her parents, Mbabazi had to dedicate herself fully to the new business so as not to allow any room for failure.
“This kept me awake so as to be able to pay back the small loan I took from my parents. I stocked all the accessories for pregnant mothers and babies including toiletries and sundries so as to be able to be a one-stop-centre for such items and meet customer needs.”
Being able to understand the needs of my customers, giving them quality while ensuring that products are worth every penny a customer spends was and remains my motivation.
According to Mbabazi, the ultimate question to be answered is whether you are meeting customer’s demands, to be able to respond to each customer’s tastes and preference. “Extensive marketing of my business through friends, relatives and contemporaries is what keeps my business growing. Being able to use networking as a business marketing tool is what keeps me moving. I am also exploiting the advantages of social networks such as facebook and twitter as an important marketing tool.”
With the support and constant advice from her sister, Mbabazi has been able to build Earth and Child from a small baby accessory shop, to a big enterprise that now also does outdoor and indoor party decorations within one year. The company also offers catering services.
“I have been able to identify and segment my clientele to satisfy their needs.” Most items are imported from within the region as well as South Africa, Turkey among others.
To be able to cross from tourism industry to business given the little experience she had at the time was a bit of a challenge that Mbabazi had to deal with.
Import taxes and other import costs while dealing with rent and other business requirements is still a big challenge for this young business.
The other challenge is to be able to deal with venerable customers that need quite some great deal of care. Mothers and children are the people that require care most.
“Always quick at interpreting the customer’s mood is what has kept me on top of business,” she added.
Even then, marketing a new business still remains Mbabazi’s greatest challenge. “Yes new babies are being born and seeing customers come to buy from you is one thing, but making them regular customers is yet another challenge,” she said.
Tips for the youth
Mbabazi has some interesting tips for younger people seeking to do business.
“If you can’t get a loan, go for a private equity from the closest people around you; what matters is to always ensure that you get started on your dream before it is too late?”
She says that to be able win customer trust through what you sell to them is what will push a business to a higher level.
“High level of networking with people that understand business more than you do while taking full advantage of social networks as your best marketing tools is also important,” she adds.
Her expansion plan is to grow a baby shop into a school for infants as the business environment in the country gets better. “The business environment is becoming better with new reforms. The youth should come forward at take full advantage.”
She added: “The integration process is also changing the dynamics of doing business in Rwanda; this is yet another opportunity to be exploited by the youth.”