For nearly 41 years, Katula by Africana (formerly Africana Imports) has served as a retail cultural touchstone in the city of Los Angeles drawing a clientele that is multiple generations deep.
Now as the boutique morphs into its next phase of life, sisters Nyambo and Kay Anuluoha are working to build an international brand in part using social media that has taken the siblings “back home” to their Zambia-Nigeria roots.
Nyambo talked about their experiences during a recent Doing Business in Africa Forum and Resource Fair held Friday at Holman United Methodist Church. Sponsored in part by Rep. Karen Bass, the event drew more than 100 people including a hand full already doing business on the continent like the Anuluoha siblings and a larger collection of people interested in learning what it takes to be successful.
In addition to Nyambo and Kay, Uchenna Nworgu of California Natural Foods and Dontcher Bramlett of Combustion Associates Inc., added their company’s experiences.
Among the challenges Nworgu talked about was the need to “know your stuff” when doing business in Africa. “You need to know what their needs are, and realize that these needs may be different from, what we do in America” said one of the co-owners.
According to Bramlett, whose company competes with Fortune 500 companies like General Electric and Siemens to provide electricity and related equipment to African nations, among the challenges his small firm has encountered include obtaining financing and handling competition.
One solution, his and the other companies agreed helped the endeavor, was having the name and reputation of “American made” associated with their product. “Made in the U.S. is an edge in Africa,” points out Nworgu.
Another fact to keep in mind said Nworgu, is that it is critical to have your product in as many markets as possible, and to do that requires traveling, understanding what the customers need and delivering it consistently.
Pricing is another factor that small businesses must keep in mind, pointed out Nyambo. This means watching the value of the dollar in each country in which you do business and understanding when is the best (and most advantageous) time to do business with potential customers, said Nyambo. That requires watching the exchange rate, added Nworgu.
Having your paperwork is also a critical necessity because it helps speed up the process and simplifies complications. Bramlett also advises that the first step in the export process is knowing exactly what you want to do.
All three also say it is critical to understand what resources are available from the U.S. government and taking advantages of them. This can range from help financing to assistance making connections.