LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – When Cynthia Chitalu Sindani moved back to Zambia from South Africa in 2016 she had no idea she would be the owner of a fast-growing car dealership. As a seasoned entrepreneur Ms Sindani saw an opportunity to enter the car supply business and a year-and-a-half later her company, Red Olive Motors, is growing from strength to strength.
“Just before moving back to Zambia, I bought a brand-new Fortuner from South Africa and when I got here, I found out that buying brand new cars from showrooms was very expensive in Zambia and a realised that there was a business opportunity to import cars from South Africa,” said Ms Sindani.
Before she ventured into business, Ms Sindani worked for the Zambia Amateur Athletics Association. She was one of the founders of the now successful annual Inter-Company Relay.
While on a work trip to South Africa Ms Sindani met her future husband and moved to South Africa soon after obtaining her Degree in Public Administration at the University of Zambia.
Red Olive Motors is not Ms Sindani’s first business venture; while living in South Africa she owned a bottle sterilising business, and after that she moved on to a clothes supply business. She supplied uniforms to three top banks in South Africa including Standard Bank. Although her business was doing well, Ms Sindani quickly learnt the value of diversifying.
“In business you cannot only do one thing, there are so many opportunities and markets you can tap into.”
Ms Sindani decided to tap into the student accommodation market and provided housing for college students. This led her to buying the real estate franchise Re/Max in South Africa, and soon there was an opportunity for Re/Max to expand to Zambia. Ms Sindani bought the Zambian franchise and decided it was time to come home.
Soon after moving back to Zambia she gained an interest in the car supply business. Although Ms Sindani had never worked in the car business, she was not daunted by the task at hand.
“All I need to excel is a calculator on my phone, to calculate how much something will cost and what margin can be made. The rest I will put together afterwards, if there is money to be made, I will find a way to do it,” Ms Sindani said.
Ms Sindani reached out to her long-time bank, Stanbic for insight on how to best run her business.
“In South Africa I banked with Standard Bank and I was very impressed with their service, so when I moved to Zambia, Stanbic was the obvious choice for me.”
She met with the Stanbic Head of Private Banking Chilombo Tembo who put her in-touch with their vehicle and asset finance department.
Through the vehicle and asset finance department Ms Sindani found out that Stanbic was supplying second-hand vehicles to their customers but they had a shortage of reliable suppliers who could supply cars and get paid after the cars were delivered.
Ms Sindani seized the opportunity; she went to South Africa, found the cars, priced them and supplied them to potential clients - and Red Olive Motors was born.
After selling her first car, Stanbic Bank invited Ms Sindani to take part in their Anakazi Banking training sessions with Babson College. The sessions were a weeklong entrepreneurial masterclass conducted by leading entrepreneurship college Babson.
Anakazi Banking was introduced by Stanbic Bank in 2017 and focuses on both increased access to finance and capacity building activities for women entrepreneurs.
These platforms include training, mentorship and networking events to build knowledge in business management and access to markets, as well as assistance in business formalisation.
The masterclasses helped Ms Sindani further develop the Red Olive Motors idea.
“At the master classes we were taught how to do our books, read our financial and we also had to present our ideas and have holes pocked in our concepts. It was very informative.”
Red Olive motors has been operational for a year and a half now. They supply South African cars to the Zambian market. Cars are delivered within a week or two after they are ordered.
“Cars made in South Africa are made for the African terrain and thus are more suited to our country.”
Red Olive motors is unique as they do not need a show room or lot. They order cars according to their customers wants and needs. Their clientele is mostly businesses and individuals with access to bank financing. As is the case with any business Red Olive Motors faces obstacles.
“Our business is capital intensive, you have to have capital to run this business as we only get paid after we deliver the cars. Access to capital is sometimes a bit of a challenge. The fluctuating exchange rates also prove to be a challenge, we can quote a customer today at one rate and tomorrow it changes.”
To deal with their capital challenges Red Olive motors are in talks with Stanbic to set up a credit facility.
“We would like to set it up for our rainy days.”
Her advice to women looking to become entrepreneurs.
“Never say no there is always a way and you can find that way. Don’t focus on one business idea, the temperature in the Zambian market is changing all the time, you need to keep up