Rwandan streets in neighbourhoods and business centres are now surrounded by chains of both local and international brands.
This results from a few business owners with a desire to expand their footprints and, at the same time, raise a new breed of entrepreneurs.
For the last seven years, Jibu Rwanda has become proof of this spirit.
Today, at least 52 people across the country own businesses and create more than 300 jobs, thanks to Jibu’s franchising model.
The firm allows third-party enterprises to produce and sell its bottled water brand.
Having found a niche in essentials, Jibu Rwanda has gradually grown since establishment in 2012 and the community has absorbed its products. And it attributes the growth to a “unique” model of operation.
Its Managing Director, Darlington Kabatende, says that giving local people the authority to run a franchise built up customer trust for the company and its brand.
“The whole helm of thought is that Jibu’s business mission is about equipping entrepreneurs, as well as extending opportunities,” says Kabatende.
By franchising, Jibu stretched its market across Rwanda, engaged locals in business, and drove social and economic impacts in communities.
“We have tried to move the needle to a place where people should not always be job seekers but should also be job creators,” Kabatende adds.
In Huye District resides Claude Manzi, a Jibu franchisee. When he started out with Jibu in 2016, Manzi was a fresh college graduate trying to make ends meet. Then, he experienced the uniqueness of the company’s model of operation.
“Unlike other companies, Jibu was not looking for people with a big initial capital,” Manzi says. “Jibu wanted people who are more engaged and determined, who are willing to be closer to clients.”
Currently, the 35-year-old owns a water factory that can produce 12,000 litres per day and employs 17 full-time workers of whom three are university graduates.
He now sells about 4,000 litres of drinking water every day from less than 50 litres when he started, supplying the whole district and nearby neighborhoods.
According to him, Jibu is attempting to scrape any extra costs in the supply chain while extending market penetration even further through another network of ‘resellers’.
That is the story of Théopiste Maxime Dunia. Since 2017, Dunia retails Jibu products in her store located in Gisozi, Kigali. She makes at least two orders every week and the profits allowed her to pay six employees and to start side businesses including a restaurant.
“Jibu is very widely known here,” Dunia says. “Clients like it because the bottles are comfortable and good-looking. We also transport water for them.”
In addition to running a business, Jibu Rwanda improves people’s livelihoods by educating people to drink pure filtered water that is free of diseases and enabling them to easily access this safe and affordable drinking water.
Franchising might be the way ahead for Rwanda and Africa
While franchising as a business model has a long history around the globe, the concept is but budding in developing economies like Rwanda. More importantly, locally-owned brands are adopting the concept at a pace much faster than long-established, international companies.
“We have tested the waters to see that this business model can work,” Kabatende says.
“With Jibu we have been able to demonstrate that franchising as a business model can operate in any African country.”
Besides Rwanda, Jibu is present in seven other African countries including Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and DR Congo. By segmenting the market, the firm managed to deepen its penetration.
An enabling environment is key to this model, nonetheless, according to Kabatende. He observes that expansion of the company has been possible due to a helpful ecosystem which makes scaling up easy.
“That is also a very big stride for us in terms of growth. You cannot operate a business in a fragile or unwelcoming environment,” he says.
Expanding the niche in essential products
Jibu Rwanda has heavily grown into a countrywide platform that allows the introduction of new products in its niche market of essentials. The specialty has sustained and kept the company afloat during the Covid-19 outbreak.
According to the MD, Jibu Rwanda plans to extend its necessity business – a one-stop network where ordinary consumers can get “essential products” such as nutritional dry foods and cooking gas.
“The future has all these prospects that we’re coming up with. Our goal is to stay at the helm of innovation while guaranteeing our customer needs and demand are met.”
Jibu recently won The Financial Times and the International Finance Corporation (IFC)’s Transformational Business Award for developing low-carbon urban infrastructure and generally transforming the development landscape.Follow Mugisha_Cosma