Shoes, Elephants and Michelangelo

A famous and probably apocryphal story relates how in the late 1800s, shoe companies sent scouts to Africa to assess opportunity. All came back and said: “no one in Africa wears shoes – – there is no opportunity” – except for the rep for Bata, who said: “everyone in Africa is barefoot – – there’s a huge opportunity”. Bata shoes are now ubiquitous in Africa.

Bata1

With its vast population, diversity and resources, why aren’t more companies committed to growth from Africa? Why do EMEA business strategies have no patience for the ‘A’? Certainly with that many people, shouldn’t African commerce, like life in Jeff Goldblum’s Jurassic Park quote, “find a way?”

The challenge is daunting, and figuring this one out is above my pay grade, but thinking about solving for Africa can make just about any other challenge seem pretty straightforward.

africa

There are of course very real reasons that Africa is challenging. A Sept 16 scan of Google News stories across 54 African nations (below), reveals overwhelming existential crises such as Ebola, terrorism, sectarian violence, mixed in with a standard dose of President-for-life type scandal (see: Mugabe, Robert), but not many commercial or consumer focused stories. Where much of the developed world has surplus calories, Africa has a basic food (and water) deficit. A quick look at per-capita incomes shows that African citizens are among the poorest in the world. Barriers, indeed.

Yet we are all still more alike than we are different. We all have needs: food, shelter, entertainment, and yes, shoes.  And so within a mass of challenges, there are opportunities.  Bata figured this out long ago – – it saw millions of bare feet, rather than cultural or economic barriers, and methodically penetrated the continent.

The key, as in eating an elephant, is to take it one bite at a time.  In fact, it’s really just another execution of basic marketing – identifying segments, understanding their needs and barriers, and creatively and selectively applying solutions.  Pricing? Access? Promotion? Distribution? Positioning? Unique benefits?  A solution is almost always available – it’s just not always obvious.EatingAnElephant Unlocking this potential may be gaining traction: PricewaterhouseCoopers’s Africa Business Agenda 2014 report was released last week.  The report, comprising surveys and interviews with 260 chief executives in 14 African countries, indicates that CEOs are optimistic about growth despite volatility and uncertainty on the continent.  From Business Report/Africa: “The Chief Executives acknowledge that a lot more needs to be done in terms of transforming the continent’s potential for exponential growth into tangible business opportunities”. There are examples where creative and focused approaches helped realize growth from similarly unlikely places.

  • In India, Colgate has carved out over 55% of the oral care market (~$600 million+) despite toothpaste penetration of only 55% (and only 15% of them brush twice daily), and a per-capita income ranked 120 of 164 countries in 2013 (World Bank).
    • This was done by offering more affordable sizes, and innovating a multi-layer distribution system to penetrate the largely rural population
  • In Mexico, concrete giant Cemex, through its Patrimonio Hoy (‘Private Property Today’) program, has enabled many low-income families to build onto their homes on an installment plan at affordable levels.
    • For example, in this innovative program, one family pays $18 per month for $960 in construction materials, allowing them to add stepwise onto their home.

Whether it is Africa, India or a mass of consumers (or customers) at home, the same principles apply.  Where there is need, solutions are always possible.

Michelangelo

As Michelangelo said: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

A Day In The Life of Africa – September 16, 2014

Country                                              Story 1                                        Story 2
Algeria                                                al Qaeda                                        Soccer
Angola                                                Sub-Saharan investment             Oil Exploration
Benin                                                  Ebola                                             Trade
Botswana                                           Crackdown on press                     Ebola
Burkina Faso                                      Soccer                                          Trade
Burundi                                              3 nuns murdered                             —
Cameroon                                          Soccer                                            —
Cape Verde                                        Soccer                                         Tropical storm
Central African Republic                 Muslim-Christian violence              —
Chad                                                  Guys named Chad                         —
Comoros                                            Islamic oil deal                   Indian Ocean Comm.
Dem. Rep. of the Congo                    Ebola                                          Mineral dev.
Djibouti                                               al Qaeda                                     Violence
Egypt                                                Fighting Islam                          Muslim B’hood exiles
Equatorial Guinea                           UN Ambass. accused          Call for national unity
Eritrea                                             Leather export trade                   US travel warning
Ethiopia                                           Relations with Egypt                   Egypt opposition
Gabon                                                Soccer                                            —
Gambia                                              Anti-gay legislation                       Ebola
Ghana                                                Ebola                                           Soccer
Guinea                                               Corruption                                    Ebola
Guinea-Bissau                                   Ebola                                           Political instability
Ivory Coast                                        Soccer                                             —
Kenya                                                Cost of living                          Investment/trade
Lesotho                                             Coup attempt                                   —
Liberia                                               Ebola                                                —
Libya                                                 Migrant boat capsizes                    Islamic terrorists
Madagascar                                      Lemurs                                            Locust infestation
Malawi                                               Political scandal                              Soccer
Mali                                                    al Qaeda                                          Sectarian violence
Mauritania                                          Moving weekend to Fri/Sat              Business/trade
Mauritius                                            Foreign investment                          Murder invest.
Morocco                                            Anti-racism demonstrations                —
Mozambique                                      Elephant poaching                           Political rivals
Namibia                                              Foreign trade                                    —
Niger                                                  US drone base                                 Baby trafficking
Nigeria                                               Building collapse                              Ebola
Rep. of the Congo                           Ebola                                              Political corruption
Rwanda                                             Genocide 20th anniv.                Rebuilding efforts
São Tomé and Príncipe                     Infrastructure dev.              New: cellular roaming
Senegal                                             Ebola                                               Soccer
Seychelles                                         Tourism                                            Protected species
Sierra Leone                                      Ebola                                                —
Somalia                                              anti-al Qaeda/ISIS                           anti-Shebab
South Africa                                       Pistorius trial                                    Rugby
South Sudan                                      Foreign aid worker ban            Internal peace
Sudan                                                Condemned Christ. woman         Peace with S. Sudan
Swaziland                                          UK power investment           Royal family antics
Tanzania                                            Foreign investment                       Infrastructure
Togo                                                  Qatar investment                          Soccer
Tunisia                                               Economic pressure                         Security
Uganda                                              Foiled terrorist attack               US warns Americans
Zambia                                              Political leader dies                          Soccer
Zimbabwe                                         $3B mining deal w/Russia                  —

Advertisements

One response »

  1. I sent this on to some guys I know who run a frontier market (ie, africa and such) investment fund. nice article. how’d you know about Bata shoes? how’s family?

    847-409-8228 mobile

    ________________________________

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: