Gloria Kemigisha - House of Penda shares her business experience about the recent internet and social-media shut down during the election period.

Charity M Namala: Good Afternoon, Gloria. It is great to have you this Tuesday, February 02, 2021.  Could you please tell us about yourself and what you do?

Gloria Kemigisha: Thank you so much. My name is Gloria Kemigisha a Ugandan with a passion for young people, especially the women who I support and empower to discover their potential. I am a social entrepreneur running a business called House of Penda an online store that sells accessories. I also work as a volunteer with 40 Days Over 40 Smiles Foundation (40-40) – a youth-led organization that offers entrepreneurial training to vulnerable youth and I am a digital communications enthusiast.

 

 

Charity M Namala: How has your business fared during the pandemic and what have you done to survive and thrive? 

Gloria Kemigisha:  The Covid-19 pandemic was unexpected but the business adopted a number of changes to survive. Our business has an online presence and uses digital platforms to sell, however at the start of the lockdown we were unable to sale. This is because we did not know how to get to our customers. This hit us so hard and we had to rethink our strategy to aggressively use the social media to reach our customers. We also changed our model from next day delivery to delivery at least three times a week while managing customer expectations and timelines.

While using internet and social media channels for advertising, marketing, orders and deliveries enabled the business to move steps from zero to five, however our efforts were recently frustrated by the election season where internet and social media were shut down. This resulted in a backward movement of the business from step five to two. During this time customers could not easily reach out to us for inquiries and orders. Although the internet is back today, it is still very limited and social media remains shut down. This continues to reflect in fewer orders and ultimately reduced sales.

 

Charity M Namala: What are you planning to do as an online business to cope with the internet and social media related challenges?  

Gloria Kemigisha:  The plans for us to cope with the internet and social media challenges are not yet clear because we never expected this situation. But first, we hope that the government and our leaders can intervene in the situation so that we have an enabling environment to push our businesses through as young entrepreneurs and then do proper planning.

Second, as House of Penda, we plan to keep in touch with our customers using alternative channels such as sending SMS messages and phone calls rather than relying on social media for communication. Some customers have equally adopted and they have been able to call us for orders and deliveries. In the future, we also have plans to launch a website.

 

Charity M Namala: Could you please tell us if there is a network or an association that supports entrepreneurs to voice their challenges?

Gloria Kemigisha: There are networks and associations that support entrepreneurs although they are not well known to us yet. This means we do not have strong representation and leadership through associations as SMEs. With this case of the internet shutdown, I have not seen any of the networks engage with the responsible Ministry to discuss our grievances. Rather we have had the larger enterprises talk about this in the media in terms of what losses were incurred as a result of the internet challenges. When it comes to the young entrepreneurs it has been difficult to voice out their grievances because the main channel of communication –social media is still blocked officially and using it now may be illegal. This means the networks are unable to reach out to the SMEs and vice versa.

 

Charity M Namala: How have you managed to keep the relationship with your customers during this period? 

Gloria Kemigisha: We have managed to keep the relationship with customers through various ways such as intensified communication using the various channels available for each of the customers. Constant information flow about our changes in delivery days, maintaining  good customer care, offering our quality products and always ensure that we offer a beautiful experience to all the customers. Our good customer care has also helped us get word of mouth recommendations for more customers. Some typical examples include a case where deliveries delayed due to bad weather (rain) and police barricades during the election period; we were quick to inform the customers. There was also an incident when our delivery man had an accident on his bike and the items were stolen from him, as a business we had to replace those items. We always endeavour to send a thank you message whenever a client makes a purchase and also do periodic checks. Despite all the efforts, it has all not been good as 10% of the customers have not been so responsive.

 

Charity M Namala: How have you managed the suppliers during the period?

Gloria Kemigisha: The issue of managing our suppliers has been a smooth one. This because we shopped items for the first quarter of 2021 as early as November 2020 and we have been well-stocked for the period. This, however, is a lesson for the business since we get supplies from out of the country and use the internet in the procurement process that we need to plan our supplies and re-stocking mindful of the uncertainties to avoid scenarios where we do not have enough stock to last us for a given period.

 

Charity M Namala: What does the future of business in 2021 look like for you as a young entrepreneur? 

Gloria Kemigisha: The future of my business in 2021 is not yet shaped. If the uncertainties of the pandemic and internet challenges continue, I honestly cannot comfortably say that I know what the business is going to look like or what direction we are going to take. In January we have seen the business register very minimal sales which is not a good sign. This means a lot needs to change in our planning to better the business in the coming months. But we cannot tell when and how the changes will happen and this brings about many questions like: How shall we access clients? Is it time to open up a physical store? Where will we get the money?

 

Charity M Namala: What advice do you have to the young entrepreneurs that you empower?

 

Gloria Kemigisha: The advice to fellow entrepreneurs is to be patient, keep the business costs down and start engaging with peers for businesses support. Through embracing the peer to peer business support it will enable similar businesses to sell related items together thus increasing sales and reducing costs. Finally, do not give up even when business is not going as planned but rather sit, reflect and re-strategize. I am available if you need business advice, especially for a young female business owner in Uganda.