Why are Petty traders not growing into Big Brands?

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Every day I meet resilient Nigerians doing all they can to make ends meet. From the men and women who run in traffic selling soft drinks, gala, plantain chips to those who can afford shops in busy markets and the new trend of social media shops especially on Instagram. I actually praise those in the business of buying and selling, I often wonder how much “traffic hawkers” make such that they risk their lives but the hustle is the hustle, it obviously meets their needs somehow. How many small businesses truly make profit? It seems most petty traders just trade to feed, after several years they don’t metamorphosize into “Big Businesses”? Why is that the case? I will share a bit of what I know.

My Dad was a civil servant, he worked in NICON and retired in 1993, a few months after I turned 8. My Mum is also a civil servant, worked in parastatals under the Ministry of Education as a typist. Those days the Government delayed salaries, you could go almost a year before you get a bank alert, so some civil servants like my mum had to augment family income with petty trading. So we have sold most staple food you can think of, I think the goal was to ensure we could put food on our table, pay monthly rent and our school fees.

By the way, I went to primary school at Command Children’s School, Ikeja so my classmates were mostly kids of military administrators and other Ikeja GRA kids, the education my parents lacked became a family priority. We would return from school to help in petty trading, by 1995 when my sister Nneka and I were going to primary 6, my mum was almost giving up that we can’t continue to keep these kids in Command. Command school fee was around N750 at the time but the cost of buying books was the problem, at least 5 textbooks per subject, excluding notebooks, English alone had up to 10 books. My dad insisted, we just have to manage and finish pry 6 before going to a State public school.

Things didn’t get better, so we couldn’t afford Command Secondary School, we respected ourselves and enrolled at the closest public secondary school, Jibowu High School, in our neighbourhood. Our neighbour Ngozi who attended, Maryland Convent private school joined us, in our mind we were the pako-ajebo butter in our public school😂

Anyway, that’s not the story, as I said the Government was habitual “onigbese”, they were always owing salaries like former Governor Aregbesola, Yaya Bello of Kogi and Governor Ikpeazu of Abia state. So we continued our petty trading, this time we started selling “Dundun”, Akara, Potatoes, Fish…in front of our house.

So we would return from school to wash a big bucket of beans, grind it and then go back upstairs to study, while my mum and her sister started the initial sales, later in the evening we helped out. The business was our lunch and dinner, it made feeding and paying school fees sustainable and that was just it. So in JSS Business studies, we did book-keeping and accounting, profit/loss and other business topics. I started thinking that there is something wrong about our business model, we are in business just to feed so all that washing of Beans, frying and other activities didn’t have a monetary value, we need to pay ourselves for the services we render. Years later, I used this experience to apply for the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme.

TEEP has at least 20 short essay questions. First Question: “Tell us about yourself, personal bio and what led you to become an Entrepreneur” (200 words). In response to this question, my Childhood experience was useful. Francisca is a… She was introduced into commodity trading as a teenager, she supported her parents in selling processed food across the agricultural value chain, products include grounded Corn “ogi”, bean cake “Akara”, Yam, Potatoes, plantain, and Fried Fish. She applied her elementary knowledge of Business studies, Accounting, and Book-keeping in turning the business around to a monthly profit of N100,000 in the year 2000, this was her first experience as an Entrepreneur.

While my mum was focused on our basic and immediate needs, I was thinking we should be paid for our service. At the time I just decided that all our sweat in a day was worth 3000-4000 Naira, I removed this almost daily for a period of time. The day I brought out 200,000 Naira after saying for almost two months, my mum almost fainted, she asked where I got the money and I showed her a record of our sales and profit. Perhaps we would have grown to become “Dun Dun” Nation, they are offering pretty much the same service but marketing, branding, market research, and other business applications must have helped them. So each time I eat Dun-Dun Nation, I smile and say to myself, this could’ve been us😊

The point is there are many petty traders that could have grown from just street hawking to a known brand, there are many inhibitions on their path. Lack of or poor Education is a major problem. How can you dream when your mind is already blurred with how you will feed, live to see another day? For many petty trading is a quick cure for their malady. Some have been sentenced to a life of penury because all they think of his how to live for now. Do you blame them? I think civil society organizations and other financial institutions need to empower women and men doing small business or petty trading with business skills and possibly support them with funds. I know a few already do.

Now to the graduates who sit back waiting for Bank, Oil Companies, Telcom, Government jobs and other sectors how long will you wait? I know some people have family, friends, sugar mummy and Daddy supporting them so they just hang in there and become habitual “bambialah”. Do you know some people just target end of the month to collect “tithe” from those working? They even make more money than those working, it is called “crowdsourcing”. If you can crowdsource to buy beer, fix wigs, nails and even smell nice, you can also use the same method to fundraise to start a business. Just see that Garri, Sugar and Groundnut combo that was packaged at N1400. Do you think that must have cost millions to start? 🤔

There are many problems around you, it may be lack of a product or service. It may also be an existing business with many gaps, there’s nothing wrong with joining the competition. Nigeria has many spaces, just find your lane and provide a service or product. See business as problem-solving then think of offering solution(s). For every First bank, there is a Zenith, GTB, Access, yet they are all making money. For every Mr. Biggs, there’s Tantalizer, Sweet sensation, Mama Cass, yet it didn’t stop “The Place” from opening in strategic locations. You don’t have to do something entirely new. Before you join team Entrepreneur, do a serious feasibility study and market research. Find your lane.


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