Friday 8 September 2006

Fair business practice?

It’s been a strange week. I’ve seen examples of good management, had some major disappointments and seen more examples of companies just not really understanding some business basics.

The Consumer Fair

Consumer Watchdog visited the Botswana Consumer Fair last weekend, just before it ended.

There are some things I don’t understand about the Consumer Fair. For instance, where did it actually have to do with Consumers? Yes, of course we consumers could go there and buy things but that doesn’t make it a Consumer event does it? We don’t call restaurants “Consumer refreshment outlets” just because consumers go there do we? Was calling it the “Consumer Fair” perhaps just an attempt to cash in on the growing awareness of consumer issues in our community?

In fact what was there was what I think we all knew were getting: an old-fashioned trade fair. Endless rows of stalls most of which were selling cheap and nasty children’s toys. The sort you know will be broken two days later. Yes, there were a few craft stalls but they were grossly out-numbered by those selling utter rubbish.

Oh and why the [removed so I don’t offend the editor and readers] were we obliged to PAY to get in to be sold things? The exhibitors had to pay to have stalls but that’s how things work. But making the shoppers pay just to enter the grounds seems way too much to me.

In the advertising the Consumer Fair was styled as our “Spring Shopping Oasis”. My dictionary defines an oasis as “a fertile place in a desert”. Well, it’s true, I certainly left feeling well and truly fertilised. Actually that’s not the word I’m looking for. What’s another word for “fertilised”? I’ll leave that up to you.


Actually the only good thing we saw while at the Consumer Fair was the Orange area. Loads of noise, dancing, things being given away and what looked like a couple of hundred people having a great time. It’s things like this that make a public event like a trade fair fun and memorable. Such a shame it was the only one there.

Orange (again)

Earlier in the week I read, like most of us did, a full page advertisement from Orange. Apparently they are upset that another “company offering mobile services” (now who can that be?) is trying to take their business away from them. OK, if this other company is telling lies then that’s going too far but they are accused in the advertisement of trying to “lure Orange Botswana’s customers to change SIM cards at no cost”. Orange say this is a “questionable tactic” aimed at “diminishing our brand, reducing our customer base and compromising achieved market share growth”. Let’s overlook the fact that this is really horrible English for a moment and think about what is happening. One company is trying to gain business at the expense of another. They want Orange customers to stop being Orange customers and instead to become customers of a competitor. How terrible. It should be illegal, surely?

Come on Orange! Get a grip! Big business is competitive. Companies make money by trying to modify customer’s choices, to encourage customers to buy from them rather than the other guy. So long as it’s legal, well, it’s OK. In fact I’m tempted to follow the example of this naughty and mysterious company.

Here goes.

This is a message to all the customers of our competitors. Our competitors are all very bad at what they do and we are much better than them. We’re also much better looking, we tell funnier jokes and we give you lots of sweets. So can we have your business? Please?

There, that wasn’t too painful was it? Do you think our competitors will complain? Perhaps they want to sue us? Visit our website and you’ll find we’ve devoted a whole page to people who want to sue us. It will be great to hear from you!

So now some good news.

In the papers recently were large advertisements from Air Botswana explaining in wonderfully simple terms their new e-ticketing facility. Every single question I had was answered and I was really impressed both by the new service itself but also by Air Botswana’s efforts to educate their customers. It’s things like this that allow us to differentiate between competing companies. Rather than just try to be as good as your competitors, find ways to keep ahead of them. Find ways to stand out from the crowd.

In the past I confess that we’ve been a little bit less than positive about certain Spar supermarkets. In particular we’ve been very critical about standards of cleanliness and hygiene. So it was really refreshing to visit the new Village Super Spar near Riverwalk in Gaborone. So many specialist products on offer that they barely have the room to display them, helpful and very friendly staff and a management team headed by Matt Price that are constantly on the shop floor running around making things happen.

So you see the variety that exists? Disappointment, excitement and some that are just perfectly average and forgettable. However it makes choices so much easier doesn’t it?

This week’s stars!

  • Matt and the team at Village Super Spar in Gaborone for a great start.
  • Orange for being the one up-beat thing at the Consumer Fair.
  • Ofentse at Penrich Employee Benefits for “going the extra mile to get a problem solved”.
  • Lesego at Department of Taxes for proving yet again that things can be done efficiently in Government!

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