Helping local brands increase their digital footprint

Doing business in the digital age requires agility and innovation. Gone are the days when geographical barriers were an excuse for a lack of sales. Technology is creating opportunities that enable entrepreneurs to tap into new markets and reach larger target audiences beyond your physical reach.

Ekasimall, founded in 2020 by Katlego Sibande, is a virtual mall for local brands that will boost the township economy. Sibande’s vision is to promote local brands and attract consumers through the e-commerce platform developed by her team. As great as the idea is, she says, “Whilst reviewing consumer behavior, we discovered that consumers were not purchasing the brands, to the extent we had projected, due to lack of product recognition. We then had to find a way to forge trust and recognition of these products with consumers, to increase sales.”

However, this challenge turned opportuunity birthed Ekasimall markets, monthly events that allow brand owners to showcase their products directly to the public. This ingenious idea bridged the gap and created an opportunity for increased brand recognition and an environment for brands to build relationships with potential clients and builds trust that could result in sales.

As the brand grows, Ekasimall Markets are picking up steam. The July ‘red carpet affair’ planned for Pretoria will showcase local brands on a bigger scale. In true Mzasi style, the markets are purposely positioned to not only grow Ekasimall but to also grow other small businesses as well- because umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. Each market will promote local brands and show middle and high-end consumers that we have locally produced high-quality products that can compete with other more well-established products/brands. The markets also encourage consumers consciously buy local which creates job opportunities and grows the economy.

“Furthermore, the Pretoria July event, as with our other markets will give local artists a platform to showcase their talents. We have a variety of upcoming entertainers such as DJs, dancers, and MC’s performing at all of our events,” she adds

Supporting local wholeheartedly

Sbande’s vision includes helping entrepreneurs tackle challenges they face such as financial support as well as lack of consumer recognition. For her, Ekasimall is there to create an environment that encourages collaboration, increases brand awareness, and brand engagement, and helps brands penetrate various markets.

The first step is by eliminating the geographical barriers by bringing the consumer and the various brands together under one roof. “I am cognisant of the fact that these are not all the challenges being faced by entrepreneurs, however, I believe that it’s a start and a step in the right direction,” she adds.

Sibande further explains that events of this nature do a lot for entrepreneurs, depending on their goals, needs, and preferences. “Some of the benefits include providing access to the market, customers, potential partnerships through collaborations with other entrepreneurs, networking, learning, inspiration, or even investors,” she elaborates.

As the Ekasimall brand grows, Sibande encourages investors to assist in building the first mall that will be a home for these local brands. “We hope that this exclusive Pretoria July event will encourage investors, delegates, and interested parties to recognise the global commercial potential of these brands. Secondly, I hope that the exhibitors get other opportunities, which will lead them to receive the necessary support for them to grow their small business to greater heights.”

For Sibande this is important because entrepreneurship is a potential solution to the high unemployment rate, as it can create jobs, income, and opportunities for many people. “However, there are also many challenges and barriers that entrepreneurs face, such as a lack of access to finance, skills, markets, technology, infrastructure, and mentorship. These challenges can limit the growth and sustainability of local businesses, and discourage them from pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams,” she stresses.

We not taking anything away from initiatives and programs that are aimed at supporting entrepreneurs in South Africa, either financially or non-financially. However, she acknowledges that there are gaps in the support system, such as limited awareness, reach, coordination, and impact of the existing initiatives and programs. She says there is a need for more collaboration and communication among the stakeholders involved in supporting entrepreneurs in South Africa, as well as more research and evaluation on the effectiveness and outcomes of the support interventions.

The reality is that the township economy is important, it provides livelihoods, employment, and income for people who lack formal opportunities in the townships. At the end of the day, it plays a critical role in promoting inclusive growth and reducing spatial inequalities. Sibande adds that by supporting local entrepreneurs, businesses, and markets that cater to the needs of their communities, the township economy can help bridge the gap between the formal and informal sectors and create more opportunities for economic development and social cohesion.

So far there have been two successful Ekasimall markets, which have yielded a lot of interest from consumers. “The engagement we are receiving from the public regarding their interest in the Pretoria July has thus far been immense, so we can confirm that this will be an annual event and that we will only get bigger and better with time. We are giving people what they want.”

Sibande feels that entrepreneurs are the ones who will shape the future with their vision, creativity, and perseverance. According to her, entrepreneurs are the ones who will solve problems, create opportunities and make a positive impact on society.

She concludes by saying that she would like entrepreneurs and the rest of Mzansi to collaborate with others. “You don’t have to do it alone. Find people who share your vision, your values, and your skills, and work together to achieve your goals. Teamwork makes the dream work and lastly innovate for impact. Don’t just create something new, create something that matters. Think about how your product or service can make a difference in people’s lives, communities, and the world.”

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