Friday, July 30, 2010

1000% increase in residency permit fees!!!

Mozambican government decided to increase tourist single visa fee from 25 to 85 USD overnight without any kind of prior notice. I am told the residency permit has also gone from couple of hundred dollars to 1000USD! That is a 1000% increase! A really bad news for small businesses like ours with not much cash flow and I am still on tourist visa. Our business is growing fast but still, it will be a while before we can cover our costs properly. I mean, I haven’t been able to pay for the rent this month and now I am suppose to raise all this money for visas and a residency permit? What a waste.

I am going to have to get creative in dealing with this. I am curious as to what happens next. On the other hand, this little obstacle might just be the kick in the backside I need to push the business to the next level. I suppose every obstacle is an opportunity.

Pili Pili Designs' first trade fair

Last week we had our first dealings with the Mozambican authorities and it was interesting. We met up with IPEX, Ministry of tourism’s department of trade promotion. The fact that this body exists is impressive enough, you will understand why the low expectations once you have tried to run a business in Maputo.

We had a meeting to see what services/support they provide to start-ups like ours. First thing they said was “we don’t give financial assistance”. We didn’t ask for money but good to have that off their chest, seemed like it was weighing them down.

So, what do they do exactly? Well, they book and pay for stands at trade shows and encourage businesses interested in exporting products to attend. That sounds great and we are def taking the offer.

We signed up for the next trade show in Johannesburg and this was a perfect timing coz that was our next market target anyways. We also have friends there so we can hopefully stay with them and save some much needed cash.

IPEX informed us all we needed was to have a formally registered company and then register with them to attend this fair. This forced us to formally register our company, something we should have done a couple of months back. We had 2 weeks to register and it is not enough so we found a guy to register the name at least and get us some basic documentation.

2 days before the fair I meet with IPEX reps to find out more info about the fair. It will be the first trade fair experience for both of us so we wanted to be well prepared. However, IPEX guys had no info beyond, the address, show up with your products and get some table clothes for your display! OK, fair enough, don’t know why we expected more.

Two friends decided to join us on the trip and do a bit of sightseeing. It was a great idea, only thing was, one of our friends who was driving decided to put “the shortest way without toll gates” on the GPS, which meant avoiding the quickest highways from Maputo to Joburg. Instead of the average 6 to max 8 hours drive to Joburg we took 14 hours to get there!!

The deadline to show up at the exhibition and display our products was 8pm and we arrived at 7:45! Well, we showed up at least.

Soon as we get there we find out our stand is a skeleton with no display units or a signage because it hasn’t been paid for! I get into a heated debate with the organisers telling them to deal with CPI or IPEX or whoever booked the stand next day but to let us into the stand. While we are busy debating, Sindy and B go around stealing some tables, chairs and enough furniture for our double stand! I was impressed and realised this is the only way to sort this mess out, the nice talks weren’t getting us anywhere.

We arrange the furniture and start displaying our product then one of the security guards tells us it might be better to lock our products somewhere and only display the following day as he can’t guarantee security! Damn zoo, so much for the “biggest Southern African Trade Fair”, big name and a bigger mess. We put the stuff away and I show up early next day to set up. To my surprise, there is a signage saying “CPI Mozambique”, not the best name but it says Mozambique and we are not being kicked out so we are cool with it.

The fair was starting at 10am and at 11, two other exhibitors from Maputo show up with an explosion of colours. Displaying Capulana products, which the IPEX guys decided it wasn’t important to inform us so we can coordinate (after all, we are promoting the same products).

We displayed our bags carefully and used plain table covers on the tables to make sure the colourful Capulana products we are displaying do not assault the sense of those not familiar with these colourful Mozambican fabric. Our neighbours decided to totally undo our work and not even bother to display products but just pile everything up on the tables we stole the night before. To add a finishing touch to the mess, they put up maps of Mozambique on the walls! Just what we needed to look totally out of place and a pile of mess.

Our hall was dominated by Chinese, Turkish and Indian stands with machinery, perfumes and medicine products that totally clashed with our out-of-place-and-disturbingly-colourful-stand.

First day of the fair was busy and we made a couple of good contacts. Second day was totally dead! We didn’t sell or make any contact and we decided since we have only one more day in Joburg to take things into our hands and spend our last day visiting select shops we thought might be interested in our products. It was a good move and we made more contacts and sales in that day compare to the previous 2 days waiting in a stall hoping for a good luck.

One of the shops we have approached on our last day has placed orders already and we have Pili Pili products in their shop starting today! On our last night in Joburg we organised a dinner as a thank you to our super generous friends who hosted us and we managed to sell lots of our bags to almost everyone who showed up. Better even, one of our friends decided to come on board and be our agent in Joburg! We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome from our 3-day trip to Joburg. All in one day we escaped the stuffiness of an old-fashioned trade fair.