THE number of small businesses exhibiting at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair rose 15 percent to 109 from 94 a year ago as Government deliberately focuses on grooming fledgling enterprises.
As big companies fold, a new economy led by SMEs has emerged and now accounts for 50 percent of all employment.
ZITF general manager Mrs Nomathemba Ndlovu said the Fair did not have special space reservations for SMEs, but they were supported through bigger umbrella bodies such as ZimTrade and Government ministries.
Over the years, the number of small companies showcasing at ZITF has increased, said Mrs Ndlovu.
“We welcome this approach to SME exhibits, especially for first-time exhibitors because it affords the SME support, training and market exposure that they otherwise would not have had,” she said.
According to figures obtained by The Sunday Mail Business, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce sponsored 11 SMEs to participate at the ZITF.
The SMEs ministry brought 13 and the Higher Education and Youth portfolios had 20 and one each, respectively.
The biggest number of small enterprises exhibited under the umbrella of the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development at 44, while ZimTrade had six SMEs
For the first time in ZITF’s history, the ruling Zanu-PF party brought some 14 SMEs to exhibit.
Most of the small businesses deal in arts and crafts, food processing, and clothing and textiles and some have been attending ZITF for years.
Ms Anne Bonnett of Femina Garments, whose company has been exhibiting at ZITF for the past eight years, said the massive exposure at the showcase always worked in her favour.
The company established new markets and orders at the fair to supply corporate wear, school uniforms and trending clothes to boutiques.
In addition to that, exhibiting at such a premier event would tell the world the true Zimbabwean story, that industry may be struggling but still active, she said.
“What we like at the ZITF is that people think local industry is totally dead, but when we come here they know we are still around.
“If the world doesn’t know we exist, then we cannot get any investment. We get new business throughout the year because of the fair,” said Ms Bonnett.
Among some of Femina Garments’ clients are Zimplow and Mater Dei Hospital, and the company is currently eyeing the export market.
Ms Bonnett commended Government for supporting SMEs on a “thin budget”, while also thanking other organisations that promoted the sector’s growth.
Based in Chinhoyi, Great Brands Enterprises returned to the ZITF after nearly 10 years owing to financial constraints.
But this year, a bold decision was made to participate, anticipating brisk business afterwards.
Company director Mr Gwaze Makokova said the company, which manufactures leather products, had last exhibited at the ZITF in 2007 and took a break following the hyperinflation of 2008 which threatened their existence.
“We experienced massive improvements in our business the first time we came to ZITF with a lot of enquiries and orders from locals.
“Right now we are hopeful of turning around our company, we have already seen interest from both local and regional markets,” he said.
Other SMEs representatives said big exhibitions such as the ZITF enabled them to network with their local and regional counterparts and presented new market opportunities.
ZITF also provides a learning experience.
While there are other exhibitions meant for smaller businesses, such as the SMEs Expo, bigger events always provided bigger businesses giving scope for their participation.
“After this exhibition, we expect more enquiries; get more clients and a bigger market share.
“That is why we come to exhibit here, this is an opportunity to be known by Zimbabwe and globally,” said Global Solar business development officer Mr Andrew Maweni.
First-time exhibitors like Shawn Fashions said they appreciated big events like the ZITF as a marketing tool ideal for brand visibility.
The company got orders from Mozambique and Zambia, in addition to local ones.
“The market is there and ready to buy products, but does not know we exist. We came to make our brand known and so far we are pleased with the results,” said Shawn Fashions finance director Mrs Fungai Makwenje.
SMEs say they have adequate skills to produce world class goods and meet export market expectations, but lack funding and vital information.
Given adequate support, SMEs say they have potential to turn around the country’s economic fortunes through increased production, value addition and beneficiation as well as creating employment as espoused by Zim-Asset.
As part of its commitment to the growth of the sector, Government last year formed the Small Business Advisory Council to advise the State, local authorities and statutory bodies on issues relating to SMEs and assisting in formalisation of operations, among other duties.
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