From Aba, Portharcourt and Enugu to Ilorin, Osogbo, Lagos and Abuja, the impact of the scarcity of fuel, the hike in fuel price and fuel queues is taking a grave toll on small businesses in Nigeria. While many lament the decline in sales as a result of increase in price which is a direct consequence of the fuel scarcity, others count losses experienced as a result of the current situation. Informal businesses running mainly on power such as hairdressing salons, barber shops, business centers etc, many of which account for over 50% of the nation’s GDP according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS, seem to be the worst hit.
Ope Ige, a farmer based in Ilorin tells a sad story of how she lost over N3m on eggs and vegetables due to the fuel scarcity as the bus she hired to move eggs and vegetables from her farm to the city ran out of fuel and the bus couldn’t be refueled in time. Apart from dealing with the nonchalant response of the driver who couldn’t be bothered as he had been paid, she had to deal with the frustration of getting fuel. When fuel was eventually gotten and the journey resumed, she noticed that the eggs had began to rot and the vegetables had wizened. Similarly, a fruit vendor in Enugu, Mazi Udogba shared the unpleasant consequences of the fuel situation on his business. Explaining that he has to pay almost double the amount he used to for his supplies because of the increase in the cost of transportation, he noted that patronage had also dropped drastically. As against paying N1800 for a bag of oranges, he now pays N3500 and pays N5000 for a bag of garden eggs that he used to purchase at N1500. Also, from stocking and selling 200 pieces of water melon in a month, he now sells just 50 in a month. These stories resonate with business owners all over Nigeria as tales of low patronage, increase in transportation prices, and increase in supplier prices continue to stream in because of the fuel situation.
With the gravity of the situation at hand, we have compiled some survival tips that small business owners can adopt:
Work with a power rationing plan: If your business runs on power consistently, consider organizing work to be done at certain times of the day when you can power machines for use after which the generator or power supply is turned off to conserve it. Where this is not possible and the generator has to be turned on every time a client walks in e.g. in a business centre or beauty shop, turn off power when there is no need for it and use only when it is absolutely necessary.
Consider alternative sources of power generation: With an influx of battery and solar powered devices into the Nigerian market, consider investing in some of these alternatives e.g. solar powered lamps to provide light and battery powered fans for cool air. For heavier machinery, consider investing in inverters or solar power generating systems.
Outsource: Outsourcing aspects of your business operations could also be an efficient and resourceful strategy to adopt in these times. For instance, if you run a business that is heavily reliant on delivery, you may want to consider outsourcing the delivery of your products by engaging a reliable person or company to handle this aspect. Also, you could offer your clients the option of picking up products from your farm or factory at discounted prices.
Be open and brainstorm with your team: With the current situation, everyone is understandable worried about the future. Be open with your employees and let them in on the situation of things. Share your plan and strategy to keep the business afloat and get their buy-in during team brainstorming sessions. You may not have all the answers but sharing your strategies will inspire confidence in your team. Also provide a clear explanation if there will be cuts in salaries and allowances.
Adopt the right pricing strategy and offer inexpensive complimentary services: With the increase in price of supplies, it is important that you adopt the right pricing strategy so that your products are not overpriced or underpriced yet covers cost of operations. While your products may be slightly overpriced because of the current situation, consider offering inexpensive complimentary services to compensate for the increase in price e.g. as a fruit vendor, while you may reduce pieces of fruits sold for a certain amount because of cost, consider introducing washed and ready-to-eat fruits as a complimentary service.
Leverage the internet and technology to work virtually: The internet and technology now make it possible to get work done virtually. You can hold official meetings and team meetings via Skype and hold in-person meetings only when it is absolutely necessary, saving time and fuel. You can also respond to mails and work on the move with your mobile devices.
Stay positive and retain your sense of humour: With the current situation, it is easy to slip into a state of melancholy but tough times come and go so stay positive and retain your sense of humour as your mental wellbeing is very essential to the survival of your business and the strength of your team.
 Nigerian Tribune, April 10, 2016. Fuel Crisis: Our businesses are suffering – artisans, traders, others speak on low patronage, http://tribuneonlineng.com/fuel-crisis-our-businesses-are-suffering-%E2%80%A2-traders-artisans-others-speak-on-low-patronage Accessed April, 19, 2016
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