The buoyant Chief Executive Officer of The Bulb World, Ketshaphaone Jacob talks with passion about youth empowerment – declaring ‘our workforce is 100% youth’. The three-year-old company has just notched another milestone – it is entering the South African market. Jacob chats with STAFF WRITER BAKANG TIRO
How has the company been performing since inception?
JACOB: So three (3) years ago we joined the market and were met with resistance because we were the new kid on-the-block, no one knew us and we were the only lighting manufacturer in Botswana. We started off selling our bulbs house-to-house from the back of a van but we are here 3 years later now selling our products in 209 outlets across Botswana, in international retail names like Builders Warehouse, Shoprite and Checkers to name but a few. In terms of production, the company has grown from producing 500 units per day to 5,000 units per day, and even this is not full capacity but it meets our demand. Our workforce has also doubled in size, so all in all we have grown exponentially through the support of Batswana.
What kind of products (electrical appliances) does the company specialize on and how are they different from other existing products in the market?
JACOB: We specialise on all types of Light Emitting Diode (LED) lighting for indoor and outdoor usage, this includes the whole list: screws and pins, tubes, filaments, down-lights and street lights. LED is the latest technology in the energy saving space and LED lights save you 80% more energy than Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs). Our competitive edge is that we’re home-grown, we manufacture superior quality products and our pricing is really affordable.
Selebi Phikwe has been labeled a ghost town after closure of BCL mine. What is The Bulb World doing to transform the economic fortunes of the town?
JACOB: I was born and raised in Selebi-Phikwe, so that is a town that is very close to my heart. Having grown up there I know what the town was like when BCL was around and I deliberately made sure that we set up our plant in the SPEDU region and hire 80% of our staff from Selebi-Phikwe so that we try and revitalize the area to what it was before. Even as the business expands, we plan to hire even more youth candidates from Selebi-Phikwe. We also plan to open more subsidiaries under The Bulb World like; the electronics school that will teach students all they need to know about electricity and electronics as well as opening up electrical stores that will give youth in Selebi-Phikwe a chance to run their own stores that have The Bulb World products.
How many employees does the company have to date?
JACOB: From a company that started with one employee, being me, to four, then 18 and later 30 to now 65 – all this happened in a period of three years and we are humbly grateful. We are looking to create employment for 100 more youth this year and with the right support this can happen.
Does the company have any expansion plans both locally and regionally?
JACOB: The Bulb World expansion plans are currently ongoing – both locally and regionally. Locally, we started with our expansion last year September which involved increasing our footprint and distribution to Ngamiland, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Central and Southern Districts –a move that also created employment for youth individuals. Regionally, we have started with our move into the SADC region, starting with South Africa to be followed by Namibia and Mozambique. By March we will be in the North West starting listings and distribution around there, and by July our products should be available across South African stores nationwide. In spite of our expansion plans, Botswana will always be home. Botswana will always be the heart of everything; this is where it all started and where our Head Office will always be no matter how big the business grows.
What model of business expansion route would the company take? Opening up of stores\ Franchises?
JACOB: The Bulb World believes in creating impact and youth empowerment, as part of our expansion model, the business plans to empower the youth to run their own electrical hardware stores that will specialise in selling The Bulb World products. The process and paperwork for this has started – an Expression of Interest will be publicised soon.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused disruption to many businesses at local and global level. How has the pandemic affected the company?
JACOB: To be honest, we’ve been affected, but not hit by COVID-19 or had our business disrupted that much. Our sales picked up quite significantly during the first lockdown when there was a restriction on goods coming into the country and the numbers have remained consistent ever since. We do feel the pinch when it comes to our raw materials because these are sourced internationally and I’m sure you’ll appreciate that globally there is a shipment crisis. So our raw materials delay, there are shipment price hikes constantly but amidst all of this we have managed to pay salaries consistently every month.
What Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects does the company have, particularly in line with curbing unemployment?
JACOB: Just by operating already as a business we are curbing employment by hiring the youth – our workforce is 100% youth. We have started our support from the secondary roots level through our Lesedi Ke Mpho initiative – a project that provides secondary school students with access to safe and quality lighting. What we’re also doing through the project is partnering with different corporate entities that will empower the students with a diverse skillset. Through having partnered with FNBB to fit new lighting for Lobatse Senior Secondary (LOBSEC), the students were also taught Financial Literacy and basic tips on banking. As we partner with other entities in different fields, the plan is for each one to impart some knowledge on their area of expertise to the students. As a business we are very passionate about youth and education. Our second CSR initiative is one that is very close to my heart, the Youth Fund. An initiative that will empower/ help upcoming youth entrepreneurs with their business ideas, all the details for this will all be revealed as we launch it in the next four weeks.
How is the Bulb World positioning itself to benefit from regional trade agreements such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTDA) which came effective on January 2021?
JACOB: The timing for this agreement couldn’t have come at a better time; it came as a blessing for us because of the existing plans of expanding. We found that we already had started looking for external markets, applying for the import/export permit and even the countries that we have been eyeing are included in the Free Trade Area so it really makes life a whole lot easier.
What is your overall view on the 2021/22 budget speech?
JACOB: What came out quite clear was that it’s high time that we stand up as Batswana and as businesses to become self-reliant. It’s no secret that our country doesn’t have money and we need to push more and rely on our Government less. Hence our strategy has been focused on pushing retail and penetrating international retail giants so that exporting becomes easier and the business can make more money. However, as a business under the economic diversification drive (EDD), in the SPEDU region that is eligible for all the special economic zone benefits such as the SPEDU Reservation Scheme of at least 30%, we are hopeful that through some of the infrastructure projects mentioned by the Minister of Finance, we will be able to benefit from some of these.