“Cold milk and soda” is perhaps the most widely used poster advert in Rwanda, it may appear to a visiting foreigner that the two items are all we have to offer.
It is usually written across the whitewashed surface of a piece of wood, either hanging from the roof or above the doorway of a small shop. These shops or boutiques symbolises the would-be Rwandan dream of a land flowing with milk and honey.
The milk indeed flows; from one boutique to the next, down one hill and up the next. Just pop into any one of them and you will surely find a cold glass of milk available. In fact, you will find so much more.
These boutiques are stuffed with such a large variety of odds and bits from the catalogue of our daily requirements. From tinned food to cosmetics and from bottled drinks to fresh vegetables, they are the Rwandan version of a convenience store.
What could be more convenient other than having your neighbour open up a shop right there in his living room, two blocks down the road?
Where most of us would hang our family portraits, these traders hang up the good old trading license and then set about furnishing the room with almost every piece of grocery, one might need for the day. It does not seem to be such a bad idea because these entrepreneurs are sprouting up all over Kigali and beyond.
The business implications of their existence are of great significance because with literally thousands of these shops, the revenue from them is commendable and without them, the Kigali’s commercial area popularly known as Quartier Matteus would not be that busy.
This is because they are the highest retailers of most, if not all, our imports before they reach the last consumers. This business of small scale retailers has actually diversified the traditional means of survival through subsistence farming; they are becoming something akin to subsistence trading.
Many farmers sold their land and opened up boutiques with a fairly small stock but with a lot of varieties. A situation like this checks the problem of land scarcity.
Rwanda being a small country cannot get enough land for all to do farming. And the development of these small shops comes at the right time.
Owing to the shop’s small space, daily customers get worried about the general hygiene that deteriorates day and night.
But thanks to God for the reassurances of packed goods, otherwise our boutiques would not thrive for long due to the poor hygienic environments in which they operate.
These shops are highly regarded by people who frequent them because of their proximity to their areas of residence. Retailers of course exploit consumers’ ignorance and sell goods at exorbitant prices.
Whatever the difference and rise in prices, is not felt especially that the buyers are saved the trouble of commuting, to far off markets.
The shop owners are saved too, from the complex and complicated accounting systems which many of them do not know.
The nature of their merchandise, strikes a balance that calls for random restocking on any item that may be running out.
“From my boutique, I get everything I need to take care of myself and my son. Things may get harder when I pay school fees but I have managed to save almost a million francs in the five years I have owned this shop,” Says Jackie, a business woman.
However, some shop owners are not as optimistic as Jackie. The case applies especially, to business people who have large families.
They have to sacrifice a lot of space for their shops and then, have to support their families with the meagre income from the shop, thus leaving little room for progress. Nevertheless, strategically located shops earn more profits and often develop into semi wholesale shops.
As Rwanda emerges in the business world, boutique owners have improvised a mélange of all attributes. The result is a steady mushrooming of small business enterprises all over.