Botswana’s bulb manufacturing company, The Bulb World, has settled well in its first external market – the North West Province of South Africa. The company is well charged up to accelerate regional expansion. Enthusiastic Chief Executive Officer of the company Ketshephaone Jacob talks to STAFF WRITER BAKANG TIRO on big growth plans.
What progress has the company made in terms of settling in the new SA market?
JACOB: The Company has made some fairly good progress in penetrating the new SA market. It’s really exciting for us as a brand as this is a newer and much bigger market and we all know what a bigger market means for the business (smiles). In mid April we made our first delivery to Foro Spar in Rustenburg and now that we are in their system, we anticipate the orders to keep coming in from other Spars across the region. In comparison to a market in Botswana where we are dealing with about 300 stores, we are now looking at 4500 stores in retail brands Spar, Shoprite, Checkers, Builders Warehouse and Builders Mart.
How far is the company in terms of fast tracking expansion into Namibia & other markets?
JACOB: We are quite happy with the progress that we are making in other markets. We are realising the beauty and power of collaborations with some of our partners. In the retail aspect, through having been already listed with the big retail names like Spar, Shoprite and Checkers, we find that the process of listing becomes significantly shorter because we already appear on their systems. We are also working closely with the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre on a distributor in DRC. We will disclose the names once the deal is sealed.
Has the company already deployed employees from Botswana to SA or will employ in SA?
JACOB: At the moment we are still settling in and have not yet started recruitment. We have a few of our team members from here who have gone to SA to start conversations with the right people. To ease the flow of business, when we start our operations we will definitely deploy some of our Botswana team in SA. Naturally as the brand grows, we would want our employees who started with us to be at the forefront when bigger doors open. However, we will also comply with the guidelines set out by whichever market we will be operating and trading in. If there is a requirement to also deploy employees from the said market, we shall do just that.
What form of support is the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) of North West province extending to Bulb World?
JACOB: The North West Development Corporation (NWDC) has been most helpful to our company. We have been incorporated under the proposed Bojanala Special Economic Zone and have been allocated a warehouse (factory space) where we will set up our operations after we get debt funding. There are also some great incentives that the NWDC assist with such as CIT Tax Rate of 15%, Special Customs and VAT Incentive, helping penetrating the South African market and documentation needed for operations in SA.
The Bulb World is anticipating to setup a testing lab in Botswana. What does this exciting new development entail?
JACOB: This is an exciting one for us as we are about to bring yet another first-of-its-kind to Botswana. We decided to tap into setting up a testing lab because we saw a gap in the market and we pounced on it. Currently most testing of LED lighting in Southern Africa to make sure it meets IEC standards is done in South Africa. By setting up a lab here in Botswana we would be lifting the load that SARS currently has. Through engagement and collaboration with BoBS we would be able to ensure Batswana get energy efficient, quality and eco-friendly lighting. We also recognise and understand the contribution lighting can make towards achieving the national energy efficiency objectives and believe this would truly be a great way to assist our country get closer to meeting such objectives. We will share more details on this in due time.
The company recently launched a new E-LIGHT rechargeable bulb. How is its reception on the market so far?
JACOB: The reception has been great. We have received a lot of positive feedback on it and Batswana are really enjoying the product. The feedback has been so positive that we got requests from customers to introduce rechargeable downlights and tubes as well, all of which we passed on to our R&D department for exploration. We are currently exploring how we can introduce the E-LIGHT into our ‘Lesedi Ke Mpho’ CSR initiative. We figure that if we can light up schools to create more impact, the E-LIGHTS can also be given to students who need back-up lighting at home to help them in the evenings with their study.
What is the general overview of business performance since January 2021 to date with regards to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic?
JACOB: From 2021 to date the business is steadily growing. We started off high, experienced a dip in February and since picking up in March, we have maintained that high note. Like every other business COVID-19 hasaffected our business but I must say I’m glad the pandemic has not closed our business. The challenges we face include delays of raw materials arriving, hiking of shipment prices the world over and slow uptake of our products. We have also managed to retain our workforce and pay salaries every month amidst all our other challenges, which you will agree is quite remarkable for a start-up.
Are there any future plans by the company to list on the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE)?
JACOB: There certainly are. Our concentration for now is on penetrating the SADC market in the next two years with the ongoing debt financing that we are working on. After achieving this, the plan would be to now penetrate the rest of Africa and this is when we plan to list. We would need to list for the following reasons: To enable us to secure more funding to penetrate the bigger [African] market; for the business to form a proper governance structure needed to take the business to greater heights; To allow every Motswana to be able to buy shares and benefit through owning shares from a brand that was locally birthed.