Powering Zimbabwe one battery at a time
Art Corp are charging forward in Zimbabwe. Marketing Director Mr Mukarakate tells Africa Outlook more about their manufacturing specialties
Writer Matt Bone
Project manager Ben Wigger
Amalgamated Regional Trading Corporation, (ART Corp), is the holding company of a manufacturing group of businesses in Zimbabwe with distribution operations in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Art Corporation was incorporated in 1912 and is one of the largest industrial companies in Zimbabwe involved in paper manufacturing, paper converting and distribution, pen manufacturing and lead-acid battery manufacturing and distribution, employing over 1,800 people. Marketing Director, Franklin Mukarakate, says that investment is the single biggest priority for the company right now: "We need to ensure that we maintain our machinery to a high standard, and this requires investment which in turn, will bring our costs down and keep our production line running at the best possible quality."
Products to Suit Customers
Art Corp has several subsidiary companies that are providing consumers with high quality products that have seen the company gain a substantial market share in recent years. Battery Express is one of these subsidiary companies. The company has been in the business of supplying and servicing batteries for more than twenty years, commanding a market share of 59 per cent. Battery Express is the largest distributor of automotive batteries nationwide and it has six branches in the country. Mukarakate is very pleased that despite continued competition, the batteries continue to sell well: "We have seen repeat business and key clients come back to us with large orders, who have chosen to stay with us over the years."
One of the biggest subsidiaries of Art Corp is Eversharp, formed in 1972. They have become a leading manufacturer of ball point pens, rulers and markers in Zimbabwe. Eversharp's strategic focus is to provide a diverse writing instrument product line within its core competencies. In particular, the provision of quality, reliable and affordable writing instruments is the driver of its operations. The Eversharp product array is well assorted to serve the market's need for writing, be they students, business people or professionals. The brands are available in Malawi, Zambia and South Africa; this is to fulfil the Company's promise of distributing high quality goods to as many countries as possible.
Asian Importation and Industry Depression
With certain goods coming from Asia falling below Africa's standards, Mukarakate recognises that competition is currently high in the market: "We have seen more and more cheap Asian imports coming into the energy market. Our batteries are very high quality and the imports do not last as long and there is no customer service for problems that may arise. Customers who buy these batteries are quickly finding that the battery does not last as long as it should, and are subsequently paying out more in the long term than if they had chosen a local, reputable company like us." Art Corp are always looking at new and innovative ways to cut costs and raise capital, but so far it has proven very difficult. However, there is still great positivity around the company as Mukarakate explains: "We are still producing great products that benefit the consumer in their everyday lives. Our workers come into work every day knowing that they are making a difference to people's lives with every product we make."
High importation tax has been a problem for Art Corp, with on average half of their suppliers coming from abroad. After rounds of talks and negotiations between industries and the Government, a resolution was found. The Government of Zimbabwe has looked at several ways in order to help the industries within the country get back on their feet and kick start the economy. One such measure was to relax, and in some cases abolish, importation tax and duties on a variety of raw and finished materials. Mukarakate has seen this positive approach already begin to show signs of helping the markets Art Corp currently work in. "The Government has helped us a lot by reducing and abolishing several importation taxes on our key materials and supplies. This has been a huge help to us, as we can now redistribute the money that would have been spent on taxes into areas of production and support that are in need of a cash injection."
A substantial amount of Art Corp's products are distributed to Zambia, Malawi and South Africa through its regional businesses of Regional Stationery and Battery Express. The Group has established trade links with Mozambique, Namibia and Botswana, and is making in-roads in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya. This expansion into neighbouring countries has accounted for the steady stream of income over the last 12 months. Mukarakate believes this expansion will prove to be a wise and profitable business decision: "The company has seen good growth from Zambia and Malawi and I feel that this is one of the key reasons we have managed continue prospering in this industry. We do not want to get too big, but at the same time we want to be able to offer our products to as many people as possible, but in a way that will not compromise on quality of products and other important factors."
Mr Mukarakate has a positive outlook on the next 12 months: "With the right approach to the challenges Art Corp faces, we will make sure that our staff remain positive and happy as, after all, without our workers we do not have a business. We will continue to do as much business as possible, without compromising on quality," he concludes.