Local businessman fends off Chinese competitor

When Lisema Ramokoatsi ventured into business in 1995 he did not imagine that today he would be a proud owner of a supermarket.

His journey to the top was fraught with a lot of challenges that would have frustrated the average person.

The ambitious 51-year-old says he started operating his business in a rented home where he used to pay exorbitant rent where his major challenge was the fact that his landlord used to increase rent every so often.

Despite this challenge, Ramokoatsi says he soldiered on and refused to allow his dream to die and decided during those dark times that he had to work hard so that he could have his own business premises to save him from paying the rent.

He says when he went to buy stock in town, 30 kilometres from his home, Ha Ramokoatsi, he used to leave his father behind so that his shop would remain open.

When he finally secured a new building of his own, he at first thought his worries had ended, little did he know more trouble was brewing for him.

A Chinese retailer arrived in the area, just a stone’s throw away from where he operates, marking the beginning of a new problem for the determined businessman.

“Competition became so hard that l nearly found myself squeezed out of business, “he recalls with a sore heart.

His new competitor had a bigger building than his which gave him a greater advantage over him and, as if that was not enough, the Chinese businessman slashed prices so much that he virtually retailed his goods at buying prices.

That, he says, made business extremely difficult for him as in some cases his rival sold the goods at a price lower than the buying price.

“For instance, if an item costs M10.00 from a wholesale, my competitor would sell it at M9.00,” he recalls with sadness.

Ramokoatsi says since his competitor had a bigger building than his, he had more stock this made it easier for his competitor to increase prices on items that he did not have and slash prices of the goods he had.

“The business was tough and I went for almost seven months making insignificant profits. It was literally difficult to trade during those trying times,” he says, remembering how he remained resilient amidst all these challenges.

Hopes for keeping his business, let alone grow its business tentacles nearly vanished as he seemed to be groping in the dark but he resolutely saved every cent that he made from the profits, and kept telling himself that he had to keep his business afloat.

“I took all the savings that I had made so that I could set up a building equal to that of my competitor,” he says.

At that time the business was drowning in financial hardships but he did not crash out.

Now, Ramokoatsi is operating a retail business in a bigger building with his brothers who have helped build a family business.

“When one brother goes to fetch stock in town, we are left here serving the customers,” he says.

He underlines that if he did not have some personal savings, he would have been pushed out of the business by his competitor.

“You have to love your business and give it a tender care,” Ramokoatsi says.

He firmly believes that the Chinese competitor did not come in the area to trade fairly with him but to push him out of business.

Ramokoatsi’s Pula-Maliboho General Café sells almost every item that people in his area need at affordable prices.

He advises aspiring entrepreneurs not to aim for profits within a short time.

“Most people want to enjoy fortunes within a short time unaware that they have to push business to grow first,” Ramokoatsi says, adding people have to love their business and to support it.

The Chinese businessman has since closed down his shop because he failed to out-compete Ramokoatsi, a unique case at a time when Basotho countrywide always complain that Chinese traders take over their businesses and push them out.

The secret of Chinese retailers’ success, he advises, is that buy in bulk at a huge discount so they can afford to sell their goods at lower prices.

Chinese retailers are all over the country even in hard-to-reach areas precisely because of this, he notes.

Most of them started operating in towns then slowly moved to remote areas, conquering the market with cheap prices, drastic cost-cutting measures and bulk-buying through deep-pocketed syndicates.

Most family businesses that used to dominate the villages are crashing out in droves, leaving their owners in poverty, while the owners are squirming as marauding Chinese retailers are taking over markets locals thought were their preserve.

Across the country there are sad stories of business people who close shop as soon as Chinese retailers land in their area.

Ramokoatsi seems to have found a way to deal with this seemingly overwhelming competition.

Every morning, donkeys are seen in front of Ramokoatsi’s supermarket loading gas cylinders, mealie meal and other goods items.

People in the area see no need to travel to town to buy goods which they can easily buy from Pula-Maliboho General Café at fairly competitive prices.

Ramokoatsi says his deep passion for the business saved him and he has since gathered wealth of experience in business which he has imparted to his brothers.

The law that seeks to reserve business ventures like small shops, bars and cafes for locals has not stopped the Chinese from making forays into the retail sector and in some places, it is the Basotho who call the Chinese to operate under their own business licenses.

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