What begets business success for the small person? Series 1 of 3

And this week, we delve into the drivers of business success for the small business souls (not the titans] and use the urban mid/lower restaurant industry sector in Kenya and Uganda as our case study.

The blog situates business dynamics at two Kenya and Uganda restaurants that we believe beget success, in the heavily congested and challenging to succeed, small-restaurant sector.

So – what begets success? Remember, we are discussing the small, middle-class serving, urban African-eatery. Indeed, this is not your five star Sheraton place. After all, how many of you eat at Sheraton restaurants?

The story: recently, while on a sojourn to Nairobi, the lunch hour struck, and we had to find a place to eat. It’s not far fetched to write that the choices in Nairobi, when it comes to matters food, are unlimited.

One can go from the very high-end to lower high-end, to middle, middle-middle, lower-middle, and down to the low, mid-low, and low-low eateries.

For Kenyan’s, I assume we are talking the ‘Kibanda’ eatery (read: eatery that is usually found on the roadside or street corner, semi-permanent and with IKEA like furniture and fixtures) and for Ugandans, a high-end ‘Kafunda’ frequented by the white-collar and small/medium business type.

Anyway, we got into this place, that is carefully placed on a Westland Nairobi street. And to be honest, at first, I had my doubts about buying a meal from this seemingly informal potentially dangerous eatery. I believed it would expose me to all sorts of stomach ailments. We lived in Nairobi for many years, and never had a meal at a Kibanda.

Indeed, another colleague, also non-Kenyan, noted that at his place of work, they wouldn’t allow him to eat at such a facility.

The above personal introspection is testimony to the kind of risk both of us believed we were taking, by eating at the so-called Kibanda.

Yet, I was instead reassured by the fact that the lady that took us to the Kibanda, so professional herself, would never expose us or herself to danger. Also, if she and her colleagues frequent this place, how could she look so healthy? And those we found, and by their looks mostly millennials, weren’t the type that eats lousy food. On the latter basis, I knew I was safe.

So, reassured of my safety and that of my other colleagues, once inside the Kibanda eatery, my mind quickly shifted from the food that was already on the table (they are that quick and ordered) to the OD. dynamics at this place. There is something different at the Kibanda place, especially when juxtaposed with the Bufunda’s I have visited back in Uganda.

The Kibanda OD. dynamic exhibited particular behaviour and environment traits that caught my attention:

  • The witty staff (and mostly women) receive clients with zeal
  • A team on their feet – literally running around in the constricted ‘restaurant’ spaces, showing incredible order and a stepped, but fast and persistent approach to going about their business
  • The food-order conveyor belt is at work even before you settle on the restaurant table; it’s pretty active with an improvised but effective cash till. Clearly, they have an eye on a specific outcome-metric [read: business turnover] in the number of orders taken during the lunch break
  • There is a manager/supervisor attending the Kibanda shop floor, and their behaviour isn’t very different from that of a professional manager in a five-star facility, save for the fact that they aren’t dressed formally
  • A properly designed, even if temporary restaurant plan, with a proper backend operation. They also have a menu, albeit with significant wear and tear; but it still does what it says on the tin

Overall, the Kibanda setup is a seemingly informal, and for those that carry stereotypes, unsafe and dangerous urban African restaurant – until you are inside the facility and get to observe what takes place. Till today, we are waiting for the stomach upset.

On the other hand, this week, we did a similar sojourn to a middle-class eatery in Kampala. The eatery targets the same clientele as its Kenyan peer.  And it presented interesting observations in comparison.

The contrast between the two was so evident. We opine that ‘the two were miles apart’. The Uganda facility and location, while far better than that of the Nairobi Kibanda, had challenges with the service offer and overall business setup.

What we observed in the Kampala eatery in regards to OD. behaviour and environment traits was so different from the Kenyan peer:

  • There was noticeable sluggishness – when we entered, we didn’t attract any one’s attention and we had to ask to be served
  • Unlike the Nairobi peers who were permanently on their feet, the Kampala shop floor staff were on their bums and phones
  • The menu, digital and unlike the depreciated one in Nairobi, offered food and drinks that they didn’t have instore – and the latter is okay as restaurants do run out of stuff. Our only disappointment was that when one of us ordered a beverage that was on the menu, they were offered an alternative without any consultation with the person – it’s: ‘the client should eat whatever is there to be eaten attitude.’
  • Note that in Nairobi, we got what we ordered and if not available, that was explained to the client and an alternative offered.
  • When one of us complained about the beverage we hadn’t ordered, the front desk staff called the manager and aloud: [‘manager jangu okoole kubaano’….] read: manager come and sort out these people. We were finally given what we had ordered, but did we have to flex muscles first?
  • No wonder, the place was deserted, and while I will be sure to go back to the Nairobi kibanda when I next visit, I will avoid the place in Uganda

Having dined in both places, we left a little wiser in regards to the drivers of business success for the average non-business-titan soul

And we end with the question? What is the underlying difference between the two establishments and why?

See you next week



Categories: Strategy

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  1. What begets business success for the small person? Series 2 of 3 – Gabazira's blog

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