Has anyone ever thought what it will feel like turning Onitsha Main Market into a mega online wholesale and retail outlet? Has anyone ever tried to bring in Onitsha Main Market traders into the digital world? Anyone ever tried telling our OMATA (Onitsha market amalgamated traders association) men that they can sit down in their shops and sell things to people in different parts of the world by just a click?
Well, I met a young man who nurtures that dream. But it seems to me that his dream is gradually fading away because he believes it wouldn’t be an easy feat to achieve. As he said, it will take more than a young corper, who grew up in Enugu, to get any of those business moguls to change their traditional ways of buying and selling.
“Who is this young man?”, a lot of people will ask. Well, I didn’t get his name. And I didn’t get his contact too. We had the opportunity to talk because of the very bad Enugu-Onitsha Express way. The journey that would have taken just an hour ended up taking three solid hours. And since my boys (whom I was taking to Awkuzu to see grandma for some days) were occupied by other children, I had to hit off a very insightful conversation with this young man (an NYSC member currently serving in Onitsha). He gave me a deep insight into his journey trying to convince a trader (who happened to be a friend’s father) to allow him to market his wares digitally. His challenges, discoveries and strategies are the things I will present here.
“Why is this piece important?” you may ask. Well, I believe that if you are an ‘outsider’ and you want to penetrate Onitsha Main Market to hit off a business, you may want to know what you will encounter. I equally believe you may want to look into the strategies this corper suggested, which he believed he couldn’t achieve alone because he is an ‘outsider’.
So, here are the obstacles and the challenges you may face while proposing a business venture to an Onitsha Main Market trader:
1. Trust for Strangers: According to this young man, he couldn’t get this trader to allow him market his wares digitally because he is an ‘outsider’. That he is a friend and course mate to this man’s son isn’t enough (and his friend isn’t at home to convince his father). From what he said, the man told him bluntly that he won’t entrust him with such an ‘expedition’ because he doesn’t know what his motives are.
When I asked him to find another shop, he told me it is not as easy as it looks. According to him, you have to be one of them to be allowed in. Since the only person he knows wouldn’t let him in, no one else in that ‘line’ will (the trader is into cameras and related materials). I hope you know these traders have a strong network?
2. Fear of Loss: According to this young man, it is difficult for these traders to leave their shops to be managed by someone else. This is the reason they are always present in there. They don’t want to take any chances with their businesses. Even holidays and vacations are not welcomed (their families can go to wherever they want but they, the traders, don’t go anywhere). I believe this is true because I noticed that in every shop I enter, the oga is there as if he is monitoring the ‘umu boy’. So, OMATA man doesn’t believe in entrusting his business to anyone because something could go wrong in his absence.
3. Recruitment of Financial Experts: The oga is also the chief accounting officer. If he couldn’t do that, the chief apprentice will do the job. If the chief apprentice is not available, then the banks will have it. No offence, but I believe the staff of the banks in Onitsha are truly enjoying this job. The thing is that almost all those shops you see in Onitsha do not have any trained accountants to manage their finances. This is one area this people need to do something about.
4. Slow to Change and Innovations: This came up when I told the young man to explain the benefits of digital marketing and digital shops to the trader. According to him, this trader said that he doesn’t trust all those computer stuffs because fraudsters can get to him through them. In fact, he said the man told him they don’t need the help of a computer to make their millions. Well, that’s true, to some extent, but they need to think of making billions this time.
5. Preference for Cash over E-Payment: Onitsha man prefers being paid in cash to e-payments. For example, POS is not common in Onitsha Main Market despite the volume of sales going on there. It is either you pay cash, or you do a bank transfer, which means you have to wait for the credit SMS alert to get to them before they release whatever you paid for to you (if the bank decides not to send their alert at all, you are on your own). Besides, not all of them will even release their account details to unknown buyers. So, paying cash is always the best option.
6. Lack of Trust: To the Onitsha trader, everybody is a potential fraudster. This is one reason they find it hard to trust people. Even their children and wives are not really treated with much trust. And come to think of it, some of these traders don’t allow their family members into their businesses. If their wives or any of their children declare interest in the business, they will open another outlet for them. I don’t really know anyway, more research should be done here.
We have seen some of the challenges someone that wants to ‘do’ business with an Onitsha man will face. But then, there is need to harvest a lot of potentials from that market. Anyway, here are some of the insights I gathered from the young corps member on how to win over these OMATA men:
a. Be honest to them. Of course you know you are trying to build a reputation, so don’t give them a reason to be suspicious. Tell them the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
b. Don’t push them; give them time to adjust to whatever change you are bringing. Pushing them could make them suspicious, which in turn will only make them turn off their antennas. But you still have to follow them up, only do so in a subtle way.
c. If you are an ‘outsider’, get closer to them through a member. In other words, find someone that can bring you into their circle. You can’t just jump in on your own. As for this corper, he is trying to get in through one of the man’s children who has shown interest in digital marketing but in a different section.
d. Be ready to invest your money first. I think this is another area this young man is having a problem. He told me that he is raising money to start buying some of the things he will market (of course he will buy them from this trader’s shop). He strongly believes that when he starts this way, the trader will be assured of his seriousness and then bring him closer.
e. Give them real life instances of how the business works and how it will favour them. For example, if you want to go into an online shop, they need to see how and where it is used and who used it to make more sales. So, do you homework well.
f. Speak their language. Yes, language is a mark of identity and solidarity. You need to learn the variety of language they use in the market so you can easily be accepted. Sounding off will label you an ‘outsider’ and create room for mistrust. So, learn their colloquial and slang and make use of them while interacting with them. You are trying to mingle with them, right? Then, sound like them.
Well, this is the much I can give here. I believe experts will know how to take it from here. I still believe that someone, or an organisation, needs to go into the big markets in Onitsha (they cover almost the whole of Onitsha, Nkpor, Obosi and the environs) and carry out an intensive research on their business challenges and strategies. Africa, and indeed the world, needs to know what makes Onitsha what it is today.
If you have interest in bringing in new techs into this market, do deeper work before venturing in. Best of luck to you.