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Unleashing power of bulk buying

Brian Makwaiba and Oscar Monama are co-founders and owners of I Am Emerge, a mass marketing business.
Brian Makwaiba and Oscar Monama are co-founders and owners of I Am Emerge, a mass marketing business.
Image: Xolile Mtshazo

Social entrepreneurs Brian Makwaiba and Oscar Monama have devised a mobile app that is making it easy for township spaza shops and other informal businesses to gain access to bulk buying power to compete on an equal footing.

Their entity, I Am Emerge, has a subsidiary mobile app, Vuleka.

Makwaiba, 35, originally from Khayelitsha in Cape Town, said I Am Emerge solves market access challenges faced by spaza shops, informal and formal businesses. Their aim is to develop SMEs to serve their customers by bringing down prices to a market-related level.

"We became operational in 2014. We do brand activations for big manufacturers to access the spaza shops and informal business market," he said.

"Bulk purchasing is key because of the discounts we get from manufacturers. Those are passed on to spaza owners, who in turn pass them to their customers. We take orders and deliver. We've outsourced the delivery trucks but most significantly for our clients who are not tech savvy we have youth marketers we have employed to help our clients with how to place orders."

The I Am Emerge-Vuleka warehouse is in Wynberg, a stone's throw away from the majority of clients in Alexandra but they also service areas in Soweto and Tembisa.

Spaza shops are a business worth about R10bn annually and are the foundation of township economies but are unfortunately facing a survival battle.

"We've seen a lot of old township general dealer owners bouncing back to reclaim the business they had hired out to foreign nationals, which is a good thing and is welcomed," Makwaiba said.

He said, collectively, spaza shops can be a force to be reckoned with if they club together to make bulk buying one of the cornerstones of their businesses.

"We negotiate with manufacturers, then put the goods spaza shops order in the warehouse and deliver to their doorsteps. We even use taxis to deliver. The goods are cheaper than they would be from wholesalers."

Co-founder Oscar Monama said they view themselves as a "new generation of entrepreneurs, that combine street knowledge - knowing how business today affects the normal person on the streets".

But the business has experienced its fair share of hurdles.

Monama, 24, from Molapo in Soweto, said they had to come up with an uncomplicated platform for clients to place orders.

"We're overcoming the hurdles through our youth marketers who can be contacted by phone as they reside in the neighbourhood," Monama said.

I Am Emerge won many awards in 2017. In August it won the Township Entrepreneurship Award in youth and retail finance. It was named among SA's top 50 entrepreneurs.

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