Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter
LIFE is all about grabbing opportunities and taking chances in areas of interest while also patiently persevering even in the thick of challenges.
This is the story of Victoria Falls’ budding businessperson Mr Joseph Phiri who has defied all odds and is running a thriving stationery shop in the resort town. While everyone who considers venturing into business thinks of getting into tourism, Mr Phiri and his wife Memory thought otherwise, and are not regretting their move.
The couple operates Stationery Mart located at Sopers Arcade in the central business district.
The shop has captured the tourism market as much as it has captured the education sector and general public supplying different kinds of office and corporate stationery, cartridges, bond paper, till rolls, computer consumables, books, printers, pens, staplers and staples, punchers, printers, office equipment, files and a variety of other items.
It has become the supply shop for the tourism industry, schools and the Victoria Falls Municipality.
Mr Phiri who is the managing director, said his business is built on client satisfaction.
“Our clientele includes the tourism industry where we have traditional and loyal clients who have stood by us even when the chips are down. We anticipate that the more tourists come, the more stationery will be needed as we are more like the main supplier for some tour operators,” said Mr Phiri.
“We would want to thank God because the company is growing big despite economic challenges. So far we have done well and our secret is to always satisfy customers so that even when things are bad they will remain loyal to our business. Customer’s happiness is key. Flexibility and desire to solve clients’ problems is also key as we have some clients who even call at night wanting to buy even the smallest item and we drive to the office to serve them.”
Stationery Mart is a registered supplier under the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe and can trade with any government department.
Mr Phiri said the key to success is to abide by the country’s policies. “From day one some people avoid complying with some statutory instruments forgetting that dodging hinders growth. I take my story to be from humble beginnings to VAT registered as I am compliant with Zimra which is a sign that we are growing.
“In business be patient and follow your dream no matter how people may despise of your idea. Just persevere and understand your business. Go for continuous educational courses,” said Mr Phiri whose goal is to attain Masters in Business Administration.
Born and bred in Victoria Falls, Mr Phiri said he dreamt of starting and running his own business but never thought he could command such influence.
He went to Chinotimba Primary School and did secondary education at Marist Brothers in Dete before enrolling with Bulawayo Polytechnic for purchasing and supply and as well as accounting courses.
“Dreamt of having something in my name as I didn’t want to work for someone for the rest of my life which is why I started with minimum resources. These courses helped me because when I started this business I was not a lay person but had an appreciation of best practice. This is one of the reasons why I have survived during tough conditions”.
He established Stationery Mart in 2013 after having worked in the procurement department at Bulawayo Polytechnic where he developed interest in the stationery business.
Mr Phiri tried his luck in Bulawayo but it failed before he moved back to Victoria Falls after getting a job at A’Zambezi River Lodge as an Accounts clerk.. “Sometimes we would fail to get some stationery for the company because there were no suppliers in town. I saw a gap and utilised it,” he said.
Though small compared to tourism players around his business, Mr Phiri says the competition from supermarkets and some few bookshops in town helped shape his business into what it is today.
He once bought promotional copies of The Chronicle and distributed to the community about three years ago.
Currently Stationery Mart is one of the few non-tourism entities that give back to the community in and around Victoria Falls. The business sponsors schools sports tournaments, supply stationery to schools such as Ndlovu Secondary, Kings Primary School and Monde Primary School while both Mr and Mrs Phiri had been guest speakers at many schools’ events because of their humanitarian work.
Stationery Mart employs contract workers when it’s busy and Mr Phiri said they intend to get permanent staff soon. The shop imports some of its supplies while also stocking locally. “At least stationery is not affected by import policies but our major challenge is monetary. It’s difficult to get cash for us to stock’’.
The business is also not spared from Victoria Falls’ main challenge – office space compounded by high rentals pegged in United States dollars.
Mr Phiri said the best advice to any business is to occupy manageable space which one can afford to pay for.
Some of the major customers include the Victoria Falls Municipality which has a deliberate policy to buy from local suppliers, Wild Horizons, Shearwater Adventures, Ilala Lodge, Rest Camp, Safari Lodge, Batonka Lodge, Batoka Safaris, Safari Logistics and Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, as well as local schools.
Mr Phiri says his vision is to grow the business into a brand that can make its own products and supply both the local and international market.
As part of humanitarian work, he plans to start educational scholarships for local youths.