Swaziland is currently implementing an ambitious vision that will see significant improvements in the quality of life for all Swazis by the year 2022. Job creation is crucial and the Swazi Government has identified small business development as the most promising route for achieving that. To minimise the risk of business failures, franchising will play a major role. In response to a request received from Swaziland, FASA communicated the opportunity to its service provider members. In the end, the organisers asked Kurt Illetschko to address the first franchise conference ever held in that country.

Setting the scene

The thing that impressed me most about Swaziland is the warmth and genuine friendliness of its people. Although I have travelled extensively, I cannot recall having come across a similar level of genuine hospitality and caring. The fact that the country is poor cannot be wished away but a plan has been put in place to address that. Known as Vision 2022, it reads:

“By the year 2022, the Kingdom of Swaziland will be in the top 10% of the medium human development group of countries founded on sustainable economic development, social justice and political stability.”

Vision 2022 is more than an ambitious dream. Launched by His Majesty King Mswati III, it enjoys the full support of the Swaziland government. Most importantly, the Swazi people have embraced it because they see it as a route towards accelerated economic development for the benefit of all.

SIFEX Conference 2014

The franchise conference took place at the Mavuso Exhibition and Trade Centre in Manzini. The Minister of Commerce, Industry and Trade, the Honourable Gideon Dlamini, opened the event, which attracted over 200 delegates. From what I could establish, attendees were either keen to enter the world of business or wished to improve the operation of their existing businesses by joining a reputable franchise group. A small number of attendees were even interested in franchising their existing businesses and from what I could gather, they have the standing to pull it off. It follows that before long, some franchised brands of Swazi origin might compete for market share in South Africa.

In addition to the Minister, the panel of speakers included senior representatives of government departments, government-sponsored institutions and the banks. I presented the basics of franchising and Sdumo Mdladla, a leading commercial lawyer, assisted me greatly by providing local legal context.

Following the speakers’ presentations was a panel discussion during which members of the audience were encouraged to ask questions. If one ignores a small number of individuals who used the opportunity for a bit of bank bashing, questions were meaningful. In my perception, delegates demonstrated a deep understanding of commercial realities and expressed willingness to accept guidance from a franchisor’s support team.

At the end of proceedings, the more than 200 delegates had gained a rudimentary understanding of how franchising works. They also received an information booklet and more than 70 of them purchased a 2014 FASA manual. Feedback received by the organisers suggests that a good number of delegates are keen to explore franchise opportunities further and institutional support is available.

The conference was superbly organised by Nelisa Lawton, owner of Legendary Events. With the part-time assistance of her husband Prosper who clearly likes to stay in the background, Nelisa developed the idea, recruited sponsors and speakers and put on an event that would have passed muster anywhere in the world. She even managed to keep speakers to their allotted times, no mean achievement if one considers that there were 13 of us.

Opportunities beckon

Swaziland’s economy is relatively small but over the past few years, the number of people with disposable income has been increasing steadily. Some franchised brands of South African origin are already present but untapped potential remains. Opportunities in the fast food sector and in retailing aside, I see a pressing need for low-cost franchises, especially but not only in the realm of social franchising. Examples are primary health care and the distribution of solar power to outlying rural areas, both concepts that, with some support by government or donors, have the potential to develop into viable franchised businesses.

Certainly, the necessary basic infrastructure is available. The bankers present at the event agreed that they would be far more comfortable funding franchises than independent start-ups. Retail premises are available in several shopping centres and internet penetration is surprisingly high.

On the downside, franchisors who wish to supply their franchisees with goods have a border to contend with which, from what I have heard, is not the easiest to cross but this should not be an insurmountable hurdle. On the upside, labour is in plentiful supply, salaries are more than reasonable and labour unrest is practically unheard of.

The way forward

Should you wish to find out more about taking your franchise to Swaziland, several opportunities present themselves:

  • In response to an invitation by FASA, Nelisa Lawton of Legendary Events will be attending the Pan African Franchise Conference.
  • The viability of arranging an information evening in Johannesburg towards the end of April is under investigation.
  • A franchise exhibition will be held in Mbabane during May or June.

Anyone wishing to meet with Nelisa during her forthcoming visit to Johannesburg or find out more about the planned events is welcome to contact me for details. You can mail me on franchise@intekom.co.za.

Reference: The Franchise Association of South Africa – www.fasa.co.za.

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