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How A Rwandan Girl Manages Wine & Liquor Business During #COVID-19 Crisis

5 Min Read

Sometime in February 2019, Keithia Kayonga, a university student then, started a wine and liquor store business in the capital Kigali.

Despite the fact that she was young and still had school to attend, Kayonga knew her priorities and how to juggle both business and school.

Starting a business at a young age and taking on strong responsibilities did not stop her from going forward. The teenage girl dived in and took the risk.

She started with Rwf2 million (US$2,100) she had mobilised from her family and some savings from her small job she had acquired after high school.  

“I did not have the guarantee that my business would be successful, but I started it anyways with the small capital I had, and today I am proud of myself for not giving in to the fear of taking risks,” she says. 

Kayonga, now 21 years, looks to be too young to handle her this tricky business, but with commitment and believing in herself, she has managed to sail through.

As she says, owning a wine and liquor store can be challenging.

She has shifted to three locations in less than two years. She kept studying the dynamics of the market and making swift decisions to remain in business.

Each major busy location of the city has multiple liquor stores. New entrants get squandered and squeezed out of business. “It is rough,” she says. “The dirty games of the trade can swing you off the cliff so easily.”

Besides that, dealing with uncultured clients with all kinds of behaviours can discourage such a young girl to continue facing such a challenge. 

Also being able to secure reasonable contracts to supply hotels and bars, largely dominated by men and large businesses can scare off any prospects, but Kayonga has begun penetrating through.

Meanwhile, Kayonga has chosen to pitch her market through online marketing and physical mobilization through research and observations. She has also partnered with e-commerce platforms such as Flutterwave to occupy the digital space. 

The tough young entrepreneur finally graduated with a degree in transport, logistics, and management from the University of Tourism and Business.

She told Taarifa that she intends to use her knowledge to build her business as she has always done with the help of focusing on what is important.

Dealing with Covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic crisis did not spare her. Kayonga’s business was affected drastically. Sales went down and overheads to remain in the business sore.

Additional to being a supplier to the hospitality sector like hotels, resto-bars Kayonga’s wines liquor store faced a reduction of clients during the lockdown, and continuously after.

But that did not give her a reason to quit her business.  After the lifting of the lockdown, Kayonga deployed strategies that are helping her business survive even under the current unfortunate circumstances. 

She is currently injecting more capital to prepare to supply reopening hotels and restaurants. “I am also using gorilla tactics,” she says. 

“It is not easy to operate now, not for me or for most other businesses, but it doesn’t mean we should give up. As a business person, you learn to be patient about the tough times in the short run and focus on investing in the success of the long run and using all sorts of tactics to remain in business,” Kayonga told Taarifa.

Very optimistic, Kayonga has hope in the future of her business, despite all the stigma it carries for a young girl to be running a business that is culturally rebuked as a business not meant for women. 

Kayonga has a thick skin and is a perfect example of a new breed of Kigali’s metropolitan young entrepreneurs taking on business with all the muscles.

She is looking forward to becoming one of the biggest wines and liquor suppliers in the country. She does not mention how big her business is worth at the moment, but she says it has more than quadrupled. 

“The truth of the matter is, I treat business with a lot of seriousness, and I can tell you it is not easy and it is not for the soft-hearted, but when you put in all your heart in it, you definitely get something out of it,” she insists.