WHY should I fight with them?
This was part of the answer by Ravi Chand, the acting head of the National Centre for Small and Micro Enterprises (SMEs) Development when asked how SME entrepreneurs were to identify market trends and act accordingly to ensure their businesses survived.
He was relating about a trip to the Lautoka Market a few years back to buy fresh, the operative word being fresh, moca or chauraiya. His problem was that it was after midday and he knew vegetable sellers came early in the morning.
Ravi nevertheless went asking and was told there was a gentleman selling at the triangle, outside the market opposite the old Globe Theatre who would have what he wanted.
When he asked the farmer if there was chauraiya to be bought, the answer was yes. When he asked if it was fresh, the vendor took offence and asked if Ravi wanted to do business.
Ravi explained it was now 1pm and very much doubted if the chauraiya would be still fresh.
He was given a free lesson in marketing.
The vendor explained the spot he occupied had in the morning been full with, as he put it, big farmers from Vaivai against whom he could not compete. So instead of being an early, but also losing bird, he picked a time when he knew all those from Vaivai would have sold their crops and would be doing their groceries shopping. He caught the 11am bus into town, did business when the field was all his, and was often on the 3pm bus back home with his pockets full of cash.
Ravi explained the vendor had come up with a successful strategy after surveying or observing the trends in that particular vegetable market.
The acting NCSMED head is also very quick to point out that while business principles will be the same, no two SMEs are the same and so "there are no generic answers".
He said NCSMED, a statutory body, began operating in 2003.
Ravi says this was in recognition of the fact that SMEs play an "extremely role" in the national economy.
This a is part of government's efforts to achieve Millenium Development Goal 1, to eradicate extreme poverty, and it ties in with Pillar 8 which aims to reduce poverty to a negligible level by 2015
It must also be appreciated SME entrepreneurs go into business with different levels of knowledge and skills. NCSMED therefore runs several programs which are to help SMEs play their extremely important role of "providing real opportunities in terms of jobs and livelihoods" for the thousands who are this sector's beneficiaries.
For those who do not make use of their knowledge and skills straight away, it has there to be drawn upon as and when the need arises.
There are programs that help SMEs, which are everywhere, start a business. There is also an incubation program where SMEs hold the hands, so to speak, of businesses that need nurturing. Ravi explains they provide a "supportive environment".
The centre also runs business advocacy, business and technical training, business cluster development, business linkages and business mentoring among others.
Ravi emphasised the need for people to be enterprising. He said centre once those were identified, did its best to further develop or grow the SMEs.
He says a problem in their line of work is mind-sets.
Parents send their children to school telling them to persevere in their studies and become teachers, doctors, nurses, accountants etc.
"Why can't they send their children to school and say, 'study hard and become a businessman or woman'. Why can't be business be viewed as a noble profession? Why can't we start with our children."
This was after he had told me the centre would, together with Westpac, be running a workshop for 40 retirees.
The centre is not the only organisation that is offering help to SMEs.
The Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation is also linking SMEs and business mentors from NZ.
To qualify for this assistance, business must have been in existence for at least two years and must have a valid/registered business.
SME owners are made aware of this service through word of mouth. There is also some advertising through the print media, radio and TV. Word is also put out through the Chamber of Commerce Nadi/ Lautoka and through the FCEF membership database.
To further promote this avenue, the FCEF in repsonse to emailed questions said success stories are shared through the Pacific Business Mentoring Website. One will be developed one for Fiji once the first year of the project is completed in March 2013.
Since the mentors are from NZ, all clients who sign up must have email addresses for database recording purposes. With technology, emails are the most commonly used mode of communication which is cheap and very efficient.
Emails can be used for monitoring each client after the respective mentor has left. FCEF only acts in a co-ordinating role.
This program started in March 2012. Those who want to enlist the services of these NZ mentors must be ready to be on the program for 12 months. The mentors visit them twice a year, and they undergo training with the manager Pacific training covering all aspects of business (foundation, money, planning and people) — improving productivity; increasing profits modules.
At the moment there are close to 80 businesses from Suva and the west and the FCEF is looking at SMEs in the north.
The FCEF says the mentors have been well accepted by the clients. Mentors visit their business, experience where they operate from, even those in rural locations).