What every start up can learn from “Mallam” operated Kiosks of Nigeria.

Northern kiosk image

Nowadays, it is not uncommon to find small kiosks owned by Northerners, fondly called “Mallams” in almost every street in Nigeria.

These stores have become ubiquitous that they have carved a unique branding for themselves not from their look but from their unique customer experience.

Northerners have for years been revered for their trading prowess. Early merchants such as Al Hassan Dantata spread their tentacles across west Africa and created enormous wealth for themselves trading groundnuts, kola, cattle, clothes, beads, precious stones, grains, ropes and other merchandise across the region. One of the reasons for the spread of Northerners across major cities in Nigeria is trade. They often stay in communities called “Zabo”. However, the present economic woes in Northern Nigeria has seen the migration of millions of Northerners to other cities of Nigeria.

They often arrive these cities with little or nothing but somehow, they manage to build little fortunes for themselves doing all manners of jobs. One trade the northerners have been successful at is retail. They set up their own stores immediately they are able to save enough money they set up their store. These shops or kiosks often lack the trappings of a modern retail store, but they have thrived and represent a principal element of Nigeria’s huge informal market which accounts for a whopping 65% of Nigeria’s GDP. Their growth and survival highlight important lessons in business and entrepreneurship which anyone can learn from.

They start small

One of the greatest mistakes many entrepreneurs face is waiting to have it all before starting out. They want a cozy office with nice furniture and all the trappings of modern-day startups. They believe they wouldn’t get far if they don’t get the exact funding they require, and so with this mentally they never actually start. Mallams, on the other hand, have learnt to thrive in a challenging market environment. Within a blink of an eye, that small space on your street that could barely pass a tricycle has been converted to a shop and it’s been operated by a mallam. Without the need for any fancy décor, he hangs his ill-assorted goods to the display of passersby and business has started.

They work harder

Every now and then new shops are opened, but for every new shop that opens, many are closing down. In my street alone I have seen four shops close their business due to poor sales. However, one thing you will notice is that the “mallam operated kiosks” rarely go out of business. What then is their secret? This is nothing but HARD WORK. Mallams work harder than the average shop owner. He is the first to open for business and the last to close business (most times they don’t close for the day). When you wake up hungry very late in the night and need to quickly buy some Indomie, you can rest assured that the mallam will be available. These extended working hours have helped drive increased revenue for the mallam operated kiosks.

They are prudent and resourceful

Most startups at the early stage burn cash faster than they can turn in a profit. This often leads to the death of the business. Cash is king and entrepreneurs who eventually become successful are those that have developed an efficient way of managing their funds. The mallams who operate these kiosks are very resourceful and prudent with their sales and they leave quite a spartan lifestyle. Most of the times, their shop doubles as their home hence saving the cost of house rents. They cook their meals which also helps save their money. It will surprise many people that the mallams do operate some of the savings with banks and microfinance banks.

They have excellent customer service

It is very difficult to build a sustainable and profitably business without great customer service. Must start-ups, however, fail at this either due to ignorance or poorly trained customer care officers. The result of great customer service is customer loyalty that leads to repeat purchase. This is an area the mallams who operate these kiosks have mastered.  They are interested in you and sometimes they also like to share their personal stories with you. Also, they are quick to give you credit on goods and have a very lenient return policy. They create a level of personalized service rarely seen by other traders. These have greatly endeared customers to them and helped increase their sales.

They expand gradually

What most people don’t know is that the mallams usually operate more than one kiosk. As sales and profits increases, mallams invest it back into the business by either expanding their product range or opening more kiosks in other locations which is usually managed by their brother or son. As owners of new businesses, it is important you don’t eat into your profit by diverting the money for personal use.

Venturing into any business requires capital, gut, experience and skill. While you may not have everything at your disposal, you can learn fiscal management, customer service and resourcefulness from mallams and how they operate their kiosks. As entrepreneurs, you must realize that the most important thing in business is survival. The mallams through their kiosks have taught us how to survive in business.

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