The 19th edition of the annual trade exhibition came to an end recently.
Organised by the Private Sector Federation and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the expo, one of the most sought-after annual events on the business calendar, attracts hundreds of both local and international businesses and hundreds of thousands of local consumers.
This year, the trade fair attracted 420 local and foreign exhibitors from 17 countries, including 271 local exhibitors.
Like any event, this year’s expo had its highs and lows.
Who was missing?
Three years after it emerged as best exhibitor, Tigo Rwanda was the surprise absentee at this year’s expo. Tigo’s corporate communications and government relations manager Sunny Ntayombya told The New Times that the company did not pull out of the expo this year but instead “chose to participate in another way.”
“Tigo Rwanda is a proud member and supporter of the Private Sector Federation and the yearly International Expo organised by the Federation. While we did not have an individual stand at the expo, we maintained our partnership with the Federation through various sponsorships in order to make this year’s expo a success. That is why, for example, you saw our logo on the various expo publications and posters,” he said.
East African Breweries Ltd (EABL), which was one of the most vibrant brands at previous trade fairs, was also missing. The company’s country sales manager, Frank Tumwine, said the new strategy required them to channel their funds into awareness and expansion.
“Being new in the market, we had to work on awareness to see how we can promote our new brands. The market is interesting and people are always eager and willing to taste a new brand. We are just trying to figure out how we can expand our distribution to cover the whole country,” he said.
Tumwine, however, said the trade fair is an expensive venture, adding that for only a stand, a company the caliber of EABL is required to part with $15,000 (about Rwf12 million) just for space.
“Normally for trade fairs, it is supposed to be a sales conversion activity. The main focus is on sales because you want to be able to cover the costs. The last time we were there, we could not even recover 30 per cent of the money we invested,” he said.
Also missing from the expo was Airtel Rwanda but efforts to get reasons for the company’s absence were not fruitful as the marketing director, Indrajeet Kumar Singh, said he was not authorised to comment about such matters.
What the exhibitors say
Kenya’s Safari Nzomo was at the expo to sell handmade shoes and bags. He said that like all businesses, exhibiting at the tradeshow has its ups and downs.
For instance, he said, the promotion of Made-in-Rwanda products was hurting their market since Rwandans can now make the shoes and bags themselves.
We were here last year, the market last year was great, people were buying but we are now facing hiccups. The sandals made in Kenya are cheaper because there are so many people making them. Rwandans are now making them meaning that they are now even becoming cheaper,” he said.
Nzomo also said that there was need for a new venue and controlled noise output since it was making communication between buyers and sellers difficult.
At the SOSOMA Industries’ stand, Valentine Mutungirehe told The New Times that the venue of the expo is too small compared to the number of people.
She said their biggest challenge was the mix-up that came with allocation of stalls.
“For example, I am selling flour which falls in the category of foodstuff but I am in the middle of people selling tyres, detergents etc. I think it’s best to organise us in such a way that those who sell the same things are on the same side. It makes it easy for us the sellers but also reduces on the confusion for buyers,” she said
Craft Village Caplaki’s Vitali Shadrack said that although the clients were fewer compared to previous years, not all was lost because most potential future clients came in search of their contacts.
“This time round, it seems most people were just coming to ‘window shop’. It is not bad that they come to see because many have taken our contacts which is something positive. We used to make a lot of money but this time round, it has been so low,” he said.
What PSF says
Private Sector Federation chief advocacy officer Gerard Nkusi Mukubu refuted claims that the stands are expensive, saying the price is not high because the number of businesses scrambling for them continues to grow.
“PSF determines the price and we don’t find it expensive because each year, the demand is higher than the supply. We have people who didn’t even get the stands this year, but for the companies that have not exhibited this year, I am sure they will come back. This is a good way to communicate to your clients,” Mukubu said.
Mukubu hinted on the issue of noise pollution at the expo, saying they had dealt with the issue but promised to tighten the rules next year.
He advised traders who fear being sold less strategic stands to book for space as early as possible.
“We sell stands based on first-come-first-serve basis. As we speak, we are open to anyone who wants to book for next year. If someone comes and pays a stand of their preference, we can’t stop them and that’s why it is better to do the booking earlier,” he said.
Mukubu said the biggest highlight of this year’s expo was the rise in the number of exhibitors with 32 more companies exhibiting their products. There is also an increase in visitors.
He said the Made-in-Rwanda brand did exceptionally well and will continue to be the focus in the comig years.
The Made-in-Rwanda campaign targets sectors with high potential growth like cement, steel and iron, textiles and garments, that can satisfy the local market fully and compete with regional and international markets.
“‘Made-in-Rwanda did so well and I think Rwandans were happy about the quality and quantity of the products.
Many manufacturers like UTEXRWA and C&H Garments participated and the response from the people was good,” Mukubu said.