The Unexpected Customer Type
So our own fully rented shop was situated in the heart of Harare’s high density area, well chosen because of the high traffic opportunity that it offered. Slowly we started getting men coming in to buy wipes. A bit more about our new unexpected customer base. My diaper distribution business was in Zimbabwe, and like most African countries you have a thing called nyama choma (in Kenya), chisa nyama (in South Africa) or gochi gochi (in Zimbabwe). This involves friends getting together, especially on weekends, and having beers and roasting meat. Pretty much like a barbecue, except not at home, but away from home. In South Africa/Southern Africa, a barbecue is called a braai. We still have home barbecues by the way, but chisa nyama is different. And sometimes if you are in a hurry you get your meat roast to go and you nibble as you drive. So you can imagine things get quite greasy very quickly. And this is where wipes come in. Most of the times the car owner almost always has facial tissues, but you can imagine that in these greasy situations, wipes win that coveted number one spot hands down. So the men would walk in and buy two packs of wipes, one for the wife and baby and one for the car.
I am deliberately getting into this level of detail as a way to make the point that in order to succeed with your wipes penetration strategy, you also need to understand the local cultural habits and where you can add value to the customer/user. Do not restrict yourselves to predictable users. Keep an open mind.
Another lesson that we learned from the mothers was the preferred type of closure. We used to get different brands of wipes and some had a plastic cap for the re-sealable closure system, and some just had a re-sealable adhesive plastic sheet above the hole. Mothers preferred the plastic cap because, as they explained to us, the wipes do not dry out too early. If it’s a pack of 80 wipes, you would enjoy the value of most of them before the moisture is gone. When the closure is not a plastic cap, the wipes would dry out about halfway. And let’s also not forget the African sun. And by the way, in the situations where the wipes dry out, the mothers would simply wet them again with water. Remember this is the low income channel. They know how to extract value out of their purchase. Occasionally we would have packs of 120 wipes. We also learned that the preferred size was 80 packs. Again, with 120 packs, by the time you get to the end, cap or not, the wipes are drying out anyway. Very great lessons indeed.
Meeting the Consumer at the Point of Need
To reinforce my point about meeting the customer at the point of need, as in the chisa nyama scenario above, I have two particularly apt examples where product meets the customer at the point of need. One is relevant in the hygiene space. The best hygiene sector example is from a sampling campaign conducted by my distributor for tampons in Angola. Some of you may already know that socially and in terms of lifestyle trends, Angola takes a lot of leads from Brazil, which is well known for its vibrant beaches that are a hive of activity come weekends. The beach in Luanda becomes very much like that. To find new converts for tampons, my distributor would have sampling teams roaming the beach. Suffice it to say, tampons as a femcare option will allow women to achieve the Brazilian beach look a lot easier than sanitary pads would.
The other example is from Red Bull. It involves sampling teams dishing out free Red Bulls to people coming out of a night club in the early hours of the morning. The chances that a person leaving a night club in the early hours of the morning needs to stay awake and alert for the rest of the day are pretty high, even on a weekend. And if the person has not consumed Red Bull before, this occasion would be the ideal moment. He will use it and stay alert for a few hours. After realizing that it works, he may even buy the next one on the same day for himself. And that way you have already gained a new customer/user.
I did not know about the condition called incontinence until I was preparing for my interview for the first and only hygiene company that I ever worked for. I worked for this company for a very short time---much less than a year. But even in that short time I could already see the potential for adult diapers. When I joined the business and inco solutions were explained to me, I could fully see the opportunity. At that time ARVs were not a big thing and AIDS was ravaging the continent. AIDS patients would be bed ridden quite a lot. The opportunity to drive the category and help bed ridden AIDS patients were to me very clear. Add to that the fact that in any given population, there is a given percentage at certain ages of incontinence cases. I believe like wipes, if adult diapers were more readily available, the consumers would use them more. And it so happens the few places that offer adult diapers really take advantage and the prices are normally exorbitant. The lesson here is build the channel and they will come. Just like wipes, brand owners and manufacturers believe consumers cannot afford it, or does not understand the product benefits, so they do not make the effort to make it available. I was very confident that I would grow this category from the low base that the business was showing.
Around that time I made a trip to Angola. In 2011 in Angola, modern retail was just beginning to go take off. South African Shoprite already had a significant number of outlets in Luanda. The massive informal market that was called Roque Santeiro had been closed a few months before. The “Roque” as it was affectionately called, was the largest informal or open market in Africa, measuring 1 kilometer in length by 500 m in width, an area equivalent area to 500 soccer fields where traders plied various wares of all kinds, from food to computers, from tin-roofed stalls and shacks.
A few chains were already beginning to gain traction. I was quite fascinated that in Angola I was seeing adult diapers in the modern trade a lot more than I expected to see and had seen in other markets. It is the reason that I believe that the first adult diaper brand to be commonly available on-shelf, as widely as possible within the region, making themselves the adult diaper of choice, will win the race.
This belief for me was further reinforced by an observation that I made in Zimbabwe. I had taken a drive to make a delivery to a rural place called Chivi, 84 km from the nearest town, Masvingo, because a supermarket chain that was strongly supporting my business had its roots in rural Chivi. I was surprised to find a mountain of adult diapers in this rural warehouse, almost half a container, still in boxes. Their explanation was that they are next to a provincial hospital and demand for adult diapers is high. Their customers know they supply them so they move quite some volumes.
Again, this proved my point that if you build it, they will come. I certainly would not have expected to find this amount of quantity in a rural place like this. If a rural market can be educated about the benefits and advantages of adult diapers and adopt the category, I do not believe that the average urban market can take that long to get it. All it requires is for the product to be readily available and the rest will happen. Those who need it will know where to find the product.
Again the sheer benefits of adult diapers will make the consumers want to use them after just one try. They offer relief to the caregiver by cutting down on laundry. They offer the patient dignity. These are important benefits for both parties that are inextricably linked in the situation that requires a solution. And these are good motivators for a purchase.
I look forward to the growth of these two categories on the continent. And I also look forward to sharing more insights from the African market with all of you.