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Shoprite follows Kingsway, CFAO, Chalerams, out of Nigeria

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Fifteen years after opening shops in Nigeria, SHOPRITE has decided to close shop because it simply is not right for Nigeria. Years before then, soon after the civil war ended, shops like SHOPRITE also closed and left the country. This followed the indigenisation decree that allocated some particular areas of economic activities to Nigerians. But long before the indigenisation decree was passed by the government of Gowon/Awolowo, there was a particular kind of economic activity that was for ever, by birth, willed to Nigerians. More clarification on this later.

There is a tradition of learning to sell for young boys when I was growing up. It is the sale of matches in small bundles of twenty match sticks for half-penny. For bigger boys who could carry the bottles of kerosine, this fuel was also sold. This was usually done in the evening between dinner and bedtime. This way, a schoolboy could make some pocket money to help himself and the family.

Out of a packet of ten boxes, one could make a profit of one shilling. With an outlay of two shillings and six pence that was a good way to spend an evening. If you could sell thirty or forty boxes a week you could be making five shillings a week. What logic lay behind this type of marketing?

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Perhaps Nigerian students of marketing have already given it a name, I do not know. To my mind, it appears to be the servicing of minimal needs. That is it was the servicing of minimal needs done repeatedly. Repeatedly daily, every day, some times more than once a day. The needs of the buyers were usually small. They did not shop once a week, or once a month. They did not have refrigerators to keep perishable foods fresh. We did not have a fridge in the house and but for the Scottish doctor with whom I spent some parts of my holidays, I wouldn’t have seen a fridge until I went to the University of Ibadan in October 1964.

The African open market did for the Nigerians what KINGSWAY and the other SHOPRITE-like shops did for the colonial employees.

In South Africa where SHOPRITE and other such shops took root almost ‘naturally,’ they serviced the white population. Spaza shops provided for the African population the way open markets provided the needs of the Nigerians. Even today, people who live in shacks shop every day and buy their daily needs from the spaza shops.

It is of interest that SHOPRITE and PicknPay have expressed interest in spaza shops but Africans who service these shops have always opposed opening the market to them.

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What then is the nature of our markets that only those who understand the needs of the minimal market can participate? Our households are small, bachelor households, small family units living in face-me-I-face-you housing units and then big households of polygamous families but with family wives organised around each wife. All these various units organise their lives and those of their children individually. They also shop individually.

The market services these various units with small parcels of salt, of pepper, of okra and other vegetables. It parcels match sticks in bundles of twenty, just as meat, fresh fish and dry are sold in these small portions.

Who are the workers in this market of minimalism? They are usually young women, young men just setting out on a life of trading. Also big women who have retired from bearing children and handed over the care of their husbands to younger women.

When these workers in the minimal market wanted to self-promote to another part of the market, say the Infrequent Needs Market, they take their money and go to that section of the market to set up their stall. What are these Infrequent Needs Market? These are places for buying shoes, for buying clothes or cloths to sewn into shirts and shorts and trousers, especially for school.

If they prosper here and they wish to service the needs of the wealthy, they might go into selling jewelry, wristwatches, decorative ornaments and such like. Such is the nature of our markets, but the biggest part of it is that minimal part of it, which operates on the principle of many small buyers add up to most buyers. A lot of poor people make many rich people. Turn-over in the minimal market is quick and profit is small but fast. It is of interest that the famous people’s banks are usually located near open markets. Here, they can lend small sums to lenders who trade during the day and pay back at the close of the market.

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How do the Shoprites of this world fit into the minimal needs of most of our people? They do not. They operate on two different principles and marketing ideas. One operates on minimal purchase once or twice a day. The other operates on the idea of bulk buying. The only time our people do bulk buying is when they are preparing to go and sell in the rural areas where they would attend once in five days markets and in between do the round of the villages.

SHOPRITE and other such shopping malls are places of spectacles, places to come and feast one’s eyes as at shows. People dress specially for such outings, with little or no intention to buy anything in the mall.

And when anyone buys anything, it is a bottle of coke or one chicken pie to share with a friend. Such meager shopping cannot pay for the rents of these places. They were not set up to sell loaves of bread. At one time or the other, even after fifteen years, they might decide to pack up and go somewhere else where they have fridges and can buy bulk. The thing is the shopping style has not changed much because the consumption style has not changed much. The open market still suffices for their shopping needs.

SHOPRITE has denied quitting Nigeria. Rather, they are looking for Nigerian investors to join the SHOPRITE venture in Nigeria. There are a number of challenges facing any business venture in Nigeria. SHOPRITE is not likely to find Nigerian investors. If they are serious about doing business in Nigeria let them localise their business style to Nigerian shopping culture.

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