Top of the rank in Zimbabwe
Rank Zimbabwe are the number one stationery and paper distributors in Zimbabwe, who aspire to be the trusted one-stop shop for local schools, offices and print companies
Writer Emily Jarvis
Project manager Tom Cullum
Lotus Stationery manufacturers, trading as Rank Zimbabwe, were initially started in 1981 as a manufacturer and general wholesale company focussed on the grocery market in Zimbabwe. In 1995, Rank decided to increase capacity and focus on the stationery and plastic markets in line with its key competitive advantages: Being a local company, trusted brand name and having quality products. In the last five years, the company has expanded further, increasing their workforce and implementing a paper trading arm. Rank is proud to be a 100 per cent indigenous with 134 members of staff. We were fortunate to speak to Ketan Naik, Finance Director of Rank Zimbabwe.
The decision to focus on stationery was based on a drive to develop the education sector in Zimbabwe, and Rank have long-standing relationships with nearly all primary and secondary educational institutions in Zimbabwe, as well as the ministry of Education. They produce scholastic products including stationery and books and some plastics for home use.
Rank is now the leading stationery supplier in Zimbabwe, distributing directly to businesses as well as the leading chain stores such as OK Zimbabwe and FoodWorld. Rank also distributes a wide range of paper and board products to the printing industry. Rank shares a logistics partnership with Vision Freight Services, who offer a complete solution to their logistical needs. It is their strategically located network of independent agents that sets the company apart from its competitors. In addition the plastic ware line, distributed through Speedline marketing, Rank supplies retailers and chain stores alike with a growing range of household products. Rank also operates a manufacturing plant with 22 plastic injection moulding machines, 2 fully automated exercise book machines, 7 envelope manufacturing machines and other various paper and stationery machines.
The company's focus in 2013 was to expand their paper trading side of the business as Naik explains: "we want to get more technical in terms of the paper products that we supply. We have a very good relationship with SAPPI, who are the largest paper producers in the world based in South Africa. As a result of this relationship, we are trying to expand our range of products."
Rank's two biggest own-brand products are merit exercise books and the Kian range of office and scholastic stationery, which they are keen to promote in order to stay ahead of the competition from the Far East and within the region. This promotion is in line with a local campaign called Buy Zimbabwe, where there is a focus on locally manufactured products and hiring local companies boosting the country's economy, as Naik outlines: "With the increase of imports in Zimbabwe, it becomes a more difficult environment for local manufacturers. However, we are a huge supporter of Buy Zimbabwe. we are proud to still be the number one stationery manufacturer in Zimbabwe and wish to give back to the local community."
With the limited range of machinery Rank have, their attention has been on marketing their products. "We already have an excellent brand and understanding of our customer's needs built up over thirty years, and we wish to ensure that our successful line of products continue in the future. We would rather be trading our own manufactured products rather than importing. this has been our focus." Naik says that as a result of limited local finance for capital expenditure, there is not enough capital that can be invested in securing new machinery for Rank's factory. However, in line with government policy,(known as ZIMASSET),to manufacture products locally they are seeking out second hand machinery from Europe in order to manage their long term finance in an effective manner. "This will keep our costs competitive, in line with other manufacturers in Southern Africa," states Naik. Reducing their cost base will mean Rank can establish a stronger export market, becoming more efficient. "We've got the skills, so we are looking at increasing our manufacturing base. We are working with a couple of banks such as BancABC, FBC and MBCa Bank to achieve these improvements to our facilities."
As a result of the trend that Zimbabwe imports more of their products, local manufacturing has taken a hit, and Rank are one of the few manufacturers still able to operate in this tough environment. In order to combat this, Naik is looking to increase company revenue by focussing on the quality of their products. "A lot of our competition doesn't have the range, quality or high stock levels that we retain. This year, we are hopeful we can reach our target to increase our revenue by between 7 to 10 per cent." In the last school season Rank estimated that they were able to manufacture and supply 80% of the exercise books in Zimbabwe compared to the previous season of 55%. The target for the next season is to manufacture 100% of the exercise books for Zimbabwe.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Rank have organised a number of donation drives providing schools with essential educational supplies and sponsoring prizes and awards. The trend in Zimbabwe for schools is that the Government distribute funds directly to schools, who then buy their books from Rank Zimbabwe. "Between 70 and 80 per cent of schools in the country buy direct through us or our distributors. We are proud to have maintained such a strong relationship with local schools."
Furthermore, Naik emphasised how Rank always want to give back to the community: "In 2013, we renovated and donated a computer centre to a local school which included furniture and computers." Moreover, every six months, Rank identify another school that needs either classroom space or computers, offering product donations where they can. "It is important to keep giving back to them. Most have been our customers for the last 20 years. The lack of funding not only hits businesses, it hits schools too. Zimbabwe has a literacy rate of over 90 per cent and has a strong focus on education. We are involved in the industry and want to contribute to this literacy rate as much as possible," Naik remarks.
Rank Zimbabwe aspires to be the "one stop shop" for any stationery and print consumer, ranging from individual scholars to schools, offices and industries. They offer friendly customer service coupled with a local, well-known brand name that customers can trust.