MBALE – David Wabukye, assisted by a friend at a rural home in Iganga district, delivers food items. He looks back and remembers that this was the sixth delivery in a day during the Covid 19 pandemic.
“Yes, it is the sixth delivery we are making and although it is far, it is worth the effort “he says happily.
Although the 2020 was an incredibly difficult and uncertain year for everyone, especially for young entrepreneurs across the Uganda where local economies have suffered as a result of COVID-19, many entrepreneurs faced the prospect of failure of their businesses and on-line commerce has been timely to help these entrepreneurs like Wabukye survive and thrive.
COVID-19 will disproportionately impact young people, women, and other underserved groups two out of five under 30s have already reported a reduction in their income since the start of the pandemic and for many this will be the second global economic crisis that they have experienced within the first fifteen years of their careers.
It’s easy to feel helpless — but it’s just as easy to pick up your phone and either make a call or go to whatsapp or even just write a text of your needs at home and in less than 24 hours you will receive them.
Wabukye has launched an on-line business ‘Food Sitoowa’ in Mbale to help protect at-risk, people during the Covid 19 lock downs and those who can’t afford to travel to supermarkets, shops and ordinary markets to buy food stuffs.
‘Food Sitoowa’ is now handling grocery/food checklists for many people across Eastern, parts of central and part of northern Uganda by taking food items to their door steps just with a simple phone call.
Wabukye, 33, who shifted to the first ever on-line portal in the East says amidst the pandemic, he is encouraging people to shift to on-line commerce platform in order to survive the crisis.
When businesses started to close down across the country due to lockdowns in March, 2020, Wabukye turned his small grocery in Mbale city that was earning him Shs 150,000 daily before Covid 19 outbreak but only earned him Shs 700 during the lockdown in 2020 at the height of Covid 19 pandemic into an online grocery “Food Sitoowa”.
He explained that the last day he sold Shs 700 a day from his grocery shop during the first lockdown in 2020, opened up his eyes to change to on-line business first ever in Eastern Uganda,
Wabukye turned his grocery shop into an on-line shopping store for fresh foods, drinks and other foods “Food Sitoowa” to connect market vendors with customers after the country went on lockdown
“And I want to say that ever since I shifted to “On-line Food Sitoowa” the sales spiked, increasing as much as 80% every month. The sudden surge in customers opting to have their groceries delivered to their homes caught helped even work harder. It is pretty easier to sell on-line,” said Wabukye.
He says that his Customers place orders through the face book, whatsapp on 0776800800, phone, their website-wwwfoodsitoowa.com and pay through its mobile wallet feature, then his riders based at his Food Sitoowa deliver the food items.
He revealed that besides they have also developed an app-food Sitoowa app, play store and up store that has seen them deliver fresh foods to Kampala, Wakiso, Mukono, Lugazi, Jinja, Iganga, Tororo, Soroti, Lira and Gulu in time.
“Our customers feel the convenience of purchasing from us by just making a call or going t our website or even using our app to place food orders which we have delivered in time. Actually our clientele place orders on our platform and the order is processed in 24 hours and is delivered at the customer’s venue,” said Wabukye, an IT specialist and media personnel by training.
Wabukye has now realised that his family’s store and others like it still weren’t doing business online and has decided now to offer an e-commerce fulfillment platform—complete with marketing and service —specifically tailored to young people with small businesses.
“I have seen a real need in the market to help the small businesses get online and compete with the big chains,” Wabukye says.
Prior to the pandemic, his grocery worked with wife only, but now, its platform features over 20 agents across the country and Wabukye has gone from earning Shs 15,000 a day to about Shs 1.000,000 in daily sales just within the span of 16 months.
The intense amount of business coming in meant Wabukye needed more manpower, the company had to recruit quickly and only online, since the Coronavirus outbreaks made it unsafe to hold in-person interviews.
Wabukye who is now the Chief Executive Officer [CEO] of Food Sitoowa, Mbale has hired other six staff members including drivers and other team customer service representatives within the country to ensure delivery of food is done timely to customer’s satisfaction.
While speaking to PML Daily at his office, Wabukye said his company also creates a page on its website for small scale businesses and an online shopping experience on the store’s own website so stores can offer customers a “white-label experience.
He revealed that food Sitoowa intends in the near future to also handle digital marketing that will run ads in “every digital channel that you can imagine,” such as Google, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, within a 10-mile radius of a store’s location.
“Actually these local ads will be part of the reason why “Food Sitoowa” to make a huge jump in vendor sales to get online business from not only their usual customers but also everyone else in the local area,” said Wabukye.
Boom in business
Food Sitoowa, an on-line platform for business has seen a double-digit increase in business following the outbreak of the pandemic or Wabukye.
By giving market vendors access to the app and website, Food Sitoowa has allowed them to sell goods while sustaining the livelihoods of customers who could not move out of their homes due to Covid 19 restrictions.
“Payment for the goods is being done on mobile money upon delivery of even in cash or can be banked on Food Sitoowa accounts in equity Bank and DFCU Bank,” adds Wabukye.
From crisis to opportunity
According to the World Bank, Uganda’s real GDP growth in 2020 is projected to hover below 2% compared with almost 5.6% in 2019, due to COVID-19.
As part of its response to the pandemic’s economic fallout, the Ugandan government is at the forefront of promoting e-commerce and digital solutions for faster recovery from the crisis.
For instance, it has worked with mobile phone operators to reduce fees for digital services and offer complementary internet data packages to consumers to facilitate cashless transactions.
Ugandan authorities are also bolstering entrepreneurship by supporting innovation and start-up-driven solutions.
Further, the country has boosted internet connectivity by extending infrastructure that has enabled firms to lower the costs of their services.
Uganda is also improving trust in online transactions. Last year, it enacted a data protection and privacy law to enhance the security of these transactions.
“We are appealing to the government to help us get funds to serve our customers using the on-line delivery and as Food Sitoowa we shall catalyse innovation, growth and social prosperity for the young people with small businesses,” said Mr Wabukye.
He revealed that ever since they started 16 months ago, they have now acquired a vehicle and a motorcycle that are helping them deliver food items to their clients.
Mr Umar Weswala, the managing editor of the Community Agenda and an IT expert said amidst the Covid 19 era, Wabukye has chosen the best way of doing business, on-line which most companies are adapting to.
He explained that digital products can be sold online with little-to-no overhead cost, on-line business also allows your business to scale up easier than physical retailers and keeping you in contact with customers is often easier for on-line business or e-commerce.
“I know that the road he has chosen [On-line business] allows his business to track logistics, which is key to a successful business but he needs to consider how he will serve more customers in the same small space,” said Mr Weswala.
Growing his trade
The self-made young entrepreneur says he has been able to grow his business due to financial discipline.
“I ensure that every customer becomes my friend and this has enabled me to make so many friends and they support me by bringing other friends to Food Sitoowa and also bring customers to buy my food stuffs,” said David Wabukye.
He says that he knows that very many Ugandans wait to invest but I have encouraged my wife to invest and then wait and ensure that every shilling counts in business however small.
“At Food Sitoowa, we sell Matooke, Grains like Rice, Millet, Sorghum, we sell soybeans, beans, Paw paws, Jack fruit, watermelon, Pineapples, mangoes, Oranges, Yams, Cassava, Greens of all types, pumpkins, chicken [local], we also take to our customers Malewa [a traditional dish here] etc. And for me that is what I want Ugandans to learn to Invest and wait but not to wait to invest,” adds Wabukye.
Wabukye says that at the medical centre some patients come with no money and you find the person very sick and poor and as a human being and Christians you rethink.
And most people who take my vehicles delay in paying back so you make losses when others fail completely to pay or bring back the vehicle when it is damaged.
He explained that many consumers still prefer the personal touch and relationships formed at a brick-and-mortar shop and adds that security and credit card fraud are also huge risks when dealing with online shopping.
He revealed that there are also clients who will call you, make requests for items, agree on prices and then when you pack the food items, the man switches off his phone.
“This has happened to me twice and when I travelled to Namugongo in Kampala with food items, the man switched off his phone and I had to sell the items at a loss of almost Shs 400, 000,” said Wabukye.
He says another challenge is that many clientele in the country especially are Luddite and grew up in an era without computers so it is difficult to convince them to believe in us.
He says that by the end of this year he would have met manufacturers across the country to help him boost his on-line business.
“And my target is to remove the middle man and help the local traditional farmer get the prices worthy of his efforts because I want to buy directly from the farmers and package to sell to my clients across the country.
“And you don’t need to be a business expert to know that on-line business is now reshaping the modern marketplace, my target is besides being first on-line food Sitoowa, I want to put up the first on-line supermarket for fresh foods in Uganda,” said Wabukye.