…Reflections on supporting local businesses and the challenges involved
In 2016, amidst a struggling economy occasioned by the declining stock market, low crude oil prices, and a challenging forex regime, some prominent Nigerian lawmakers (notably Senator Ben Murray-Bruce), initiated a social media campaign to encourage Nigerians to support local enterprises.
Using the Twitter hashtag, #BuyNaijaToGrowTheNaira, these personalities sought to inspire more Nigerians to purchase indigenous goods and services. They hoped that a greater level of local patronage could spur economic growth and help the country. Looking back now, I wonder how much that campaign achieved.
When I think about that campaign, I remember my friend Ebere. She is one person I know who wholeheartedly supports local businesses. She should become the campaign’s poster child should anyone decide to reinitiate it. Ebere lives and breathes patronage of local businesses. From her clothes to her shoes, her food and drink purchases, hospitality choices, and even the music she listens to.
Ebere is always quick with a product or service recommendation, and chances are high that she knows the business owners personally, and they know her too. I constantly marvel at how supporting local businesses seems to come naturally to her. I also often wonder if she started out being deliberate about choosing to support local brands, but I suspect the answer is already rooted in her lifestyle.
People like Ebere, and I know a few others, inspire me. They certainly can choose to patronise foreign brands but they often choose to think local first before considering foreign options. And when they make these choices, they are quick to encourage others to do the same. This small action has probably ensured that some businesses keep their doors open for one more day, thus guaranteeing jobs and income; no ordinary feat in these times.
Many Nigerians have good taste. They can easily discern quality, and when enabled, they will always choose it. This is one reason many of us love to patronise foreign brands: we recognise the high level of quality. From wearing foreign designer clothes to eating imported food items, holidaying abroad to paying membership subscriptions for foreign football clubs, attending foreign educational institutions and embarking on medical tourism, we have always found a way to acquire the quality we seek. We love to ensure that our money gets us the best value possible.
Back in the 80s, as a young child trying to make sense of this world, I remember listening to many songs and media campaigns aimed at inspiring patriotism amongst Nigerians. One song, in particular, went thus: “wetin dey for Sokoto, e dey for Shokoto… my brother that shoe wey you buy for London, e dey for Aba”. If I remember correctly, it was probably also used for a TV campaign to encourage people to buy local goods instead of imported items. Considering the #BuyNaijaToGrowTheNaira campaign, it would appear that we have been attempting to encourage the same change for many years!
I believe our penchant for foreign goods was inspired by the economic challenges Nigeria faced back in the day when it became more profitable to import foreign items at the expense of local production due to policy changes. Eventually, many locally produced goods could not match the standards of imported items, and the consumers made their choice. The issues were more complex than I have summarised, but I hope you get the point? Thinking back now, I still wonder what the government of the day was up to.
I am not against patronising imported items, far from it as I believe people should always have the option of choice. When faced with the decision to choose between an imported item and a local one, people will typically settle for the one that gives them greater value, either based on quality or cost. I assume many people would love to support producers of local goods and services but patronage based on patriotism will be insufficient. When people desire the best for themselves, they will demand it by choosing quality every time. If local items do not at least match the standards of imported items, then those who can choose to patronise imported goods will do so every time.
Many of us already patronise local businesses anyway. For example, in the entertainment sector, several Nollywood movies constantly make huge box office returns, and we attend concerts headlined by Nigerian artistes. These people have put in the work to ensure they raise their standards to higher levels. In the hospitality sector, there are many indigenous businesses providing restaurant and catering services, and food and drink products that offer high-quality service. A lot of businesspeople in many other sectors have also had to up their game to remain competitive but it certainly has not been easy.
Running a business in Nigeria needs special grace. Many business owners keep their doors open by sheer force of will despite all these challenges that constantly present themselves left, right and centre. Despite this, many entrepreneurs strive to provide great value products and services. I feel especially for businesses that involve the production of tangible items. Many are usually subject to vagaries chief of which are forex issues and government policies.
I recently had a discussion with a friend who owns a pastry shop. She was lamenting about the rising cost of input items: butter, flour, sugar, etc and its effect on her business. She had raised prices previously and was not looking forward to doing so again even though she knew she did not have an alternative. She was concerned about her customers’ reactions to future price increments. I also saw a social media post from a baker complaining about the same issues. She had decided to close shop after running at a loss for months. It got me thinking that it is easy to encourage people to buy local, but when businesses have to raise prices due to unavoidable circumstances, would those customers keep patronising them?
If things do not improve, there will be fewer and fewer local businesses for us to support. I know that the federal government initiated some moves years ago, to enhance the ease of doing business, but I wonder how effective those initiatives and policies have been, especially regarding small businesses.
Policy rethinks are required or else, more businesses will be compelled to keep raising prices while patronage reduces or eventually close shop. Whilst the government cannot do everything, it is important that it does what it can, and should to improve the business landscape. As usual, this is the way I see things today.