The Sunday Mail
THE just-ended Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF), which drew participants from all sectors of the economy, proved that such events are an important interactive platform for companies that are looking to explore bigger markets.
In fact, the trade fair provided participating companies an opportunity to meet potential buyers, partners and distributors who will help boost their sales.
The participation of countries in the region and beyond, such as Kenya, Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Japan and Indonesia, created some strong links for local companies looking to improve their footprint in regional and international markets.
At the same time, exhibiting companies also engaged suppliers of raw materials, making it easy for manufacturers to source locally produced goods. With more companies participating at ZITF and improved engagements this year, it is crucial for businesses that are looking to increase their exports to actively participate at similar trade-promotion events in future. Trade fairs as a tool for SME growth
Trade exhibitions are organised events that allow companies to showcase and demonstrate their products and services, meet with industry partners and customers, study the competition and examine recent market trends and opportunities.
Participating in trade fairs presents an opportunity to get new leads, which can translate into increased exports.
These events enable local companies to meet prospective buyers, generate business contacts, engage in business-to-business meetings and to learn market trends so that they develop competitive products and services.
Lessons from this year’s edition of ZITF show that business-to-business engagements during trade fairs can contribute to the growth of both the business and exports.
A tangible example from ZITF is that ZimTrade — the national trade development and promotion organisation – facilitated eight small businesses to exhibit under its banner.
Most of these companies had never participated at a similar business event before.
These SMEs were drawn from food processing, leather and leather products, cosmetics, honey and furniture sectors.
They largely comprised youth-led and women-led enterprises.
Unique products under exhibition, such as baobab fruit beverages produced by an SME from Beitbridge, were a major hit among visitors. Other products such as banana chips attracted huge interest from buyers who are looking for alternatives to everyday products.
From engagements with buyers, one of these participating company representatives revealed that they had concluded deals that they ordinarily get in two months in just one day. Another company operating in rural Manicaland engaged potential distributors, which will make it easy to penetrate distant provinces such as Matabeleland North and South. It also made inroads into provinces like Mashonaland Central.
There was also a youth-led SME that was looking for investors to retool.
This company met with potential financing partners who indicated strong interest to invest into the business. From the successes recorded at ZITF, it is clear that participating at the appropriate trade fairs has potential to increase product visibility in targeted markets, as well as link local businesses with potential funding and development partners.
Local businesses should therefore take advantage of and participate in planned national and international trade fairs to increase their export market share.
Companies also stand to benefit from import substitution as they can link with local suppliers of raw materials.
However, identifying an ideal trade fair that could translate to actual business sales can be a tall order if there is no proper planning.
Local enterprises can make use of services offered by ZimTrade to identify prospective markets as well as capacity building to become viable export entities.
The services also prepare local companies to successfully participate in international exhibitions. ZimTrade facilitates local companies to participate in regional and international trade exhibitions, where they showcase their products and generate new leads and markets.
For example, it recently facilitated 25 local companies to participate at Fruit Logistica in German, where export buyers from across the world expressed interest in local produce such as bambara nuts, blueberries, avocados, peas and macadamia.
Companies that also participated at the Zimbabwe-Dubai Business Forum held earlier this year met distributors of horticultural products, processed foods and services.
Although participating is crucial, companies need to ensure they are fully prepared for the trade fair and also that they have enough quantities to meet bulk orders that they can get from such events.
Getting prepared for a promotion event
As a standard practice, there is no substitute for adequate preparations by participants.
ZimTrade assists companies to be fully prepared for trade fairs that they organise.
Firstly, companies should develop objectives for participating in the event, as these will be used to measure the effectiveness of their participation. Companies also need to develop appropriate promotional materials and graphics that will attract visitors to their stands. Preparedness also means mobilising potential visitors to the stand and setting up meetings prior to the event.
Evaluation conducted by ZimTrade has shown that companies that mobilise potential buyers prior to participating at a trade exhibition have better chances of getting orders.
During the event itself, it is imperative that the booth is manned by trained staff who are competent in handling questions on all aspects of the products on show. After the event, it is important for participants to follow up on all leads obtained from the trade show. Quick follow-ups increase chances of bigger sales as the first one to follow-up usually wins the sale.
In preparation for these trade fairs, ZimTrade has a number of programmes designed to assist companies to be competitive at trade exhibitions.
For example, within the Marketing and Branding for International Competitiveness (MBIC) training programme offered, there are two specific modules — Effective Trade Fair Participation, and How to Gather Competitive Intelligence. Additionally, companies can also benefit from other interventions by ZimTrade to improve enterprise competitiveness.
Companies across all sectors have benefited from long-standing partnerships with experts from Netherlands-based PUM and SES of Germany. To date, the experts have worked with businesses in areas such as lean manufacturing, production scheduling and product design, leading to improved factory efficiencies as a result of reduced production costs.
Allan Majuru is ZimTrade’s chief executive officer