Carolina Zishiri

Carolina used to contribute to the development of until June 2020. She supported iBAN’s outreach activities and the compilation of the online magazine. 

Conquering the Egyptian FMCG market with female salesforce

Insights on how to build an impactful business 

On 21 March 2018, iBAN and Global CAD brought together a group of companies that had benefited from their ‘Strategic Advisory Service (SAS)’ for companies in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector. Overall, 15 selected companies from Egypt used this tailor made advisory service to address challenges regarding the reach of their business models.

One of the companies that participated in the programme is Brimore (‘Bring more’), a retail company that uses a network of women who act as individual point of sales all over the country. In this interview, Brimore’s founders, Ahmed Elsheikha and Mohamed Abdulaziz, explain how their business creates impact for their sales women and for local manufacturers.

1. What is the business model of Brimore and how did you start the company?

We started our business in early 2017 when Egypt suffered from a devaluation of currency. High quality products disappeared from the market because importation has stopped. We both used to work for Procter & Gamble and had a good understanding of the FMCG industry. Our objective was to build a distribution infrastructure for quality products from local producers.

We started our business in four main product categories: food and beverage, personal and body care products, home care products and textile. We source from local manufacturers of medium and small size. Recently, we also had some meetings with manufacturers that engage people from the base of the pyramid (BoP). Once they pass our quality assessment, we list their products in our monthly portfolio that sells through WhatsApp, Facebook and a website. Then, we organise the distribution through a network of women who sell the products in their surrounding areas. The women have sales targets and make sure that our products reach people all over the country.  Furthermore, they can create sales force teams and manage women in other cities.

2. Why did you choose to organise the sales via a women sales network in different cities?

In Egypt, there are three distribution channels to access the market, but none of them was ideal for our objective: There is traditional trade with a local store or a mobile van. You will put goods everywhere and collect the cash later. The second channel is modern trade in shopping malls or hypermarkets. This involves high overhead costs to get a product on the shelves and very strict conditions. For example, you will receive your money only after 70 to 90 days and that affects the cash flow cycles for manufacturers. Finally, there is online trade but the technology infrastructure is not well developed in Egypt and FMCG decisions are not made online.

We identified direct selling as a fourth channel. Direct selling is found all over the world, but in Egypt it is a relatively new thing. When we started our business, we realised that direct selling could be very penetrative in the community. A mid-level manager can manage 2000 to 3000 sales persons in other cities. Such networks already existed in Egypt, but only for the products of one or two companies. For us the question was how to leverage such a design for local manufacturers who were mostly underutilised at that time: They either worked only one shift per day or sold in a territory of limited reach. These local manufacturers had neither the capacity, nor the knowledge or resources to create a good distribution network to reach the market in a good way. With Brimore, we wanted to change this.

3. How many women do you engage with in your sales network?

Initially, we had a meeting with two women. These two women brought about 20.000 registrations of women who wanted to work with us across 14 Egyptian cities. This shows how strongly women in Egypt connect with each other through informal networks. Out of the 20.000 registrations, we chose 1.000 to test our business model. Every month, we are now adding 300 to 400 women to our sales force. Our sales model is mostly popular among BoP and middle class women who are very sensitive to costs. We sell products cheaper than the market and working with us gives them extra income on a monthly basis.

4. What challenges did you encounter when you were building the business?

When we started the business, the industry norm was that women receive printed catalogues that they show to people. This process involved high costs and operational barriers. So we created a digital PDF of our portfolio in a WhatsApp friendly version that we send on a monthly basis to our ladies. At first, the women did not know how to deal with the technology on a professional basis. Therefore, we started some training programmes online in four main categories.

  1. Direct selling: how to create a successful sales team and how to better position a business.
  2. E-commerce: how to create a Facebook or Instagram page, how to do ads and search engine optimisation (SEO) on Google.
  3. Financial literacy: How to calculate profits and manage financial resources in a better way.
  4. Soft skills training and time management: how to organise efficient meetings or how to negotiate with people.

We were amazed by the attendance rate of the women. We expected a retention rate of 35 percent at most, but the actual retention rate was at 95 percent. The women attended every single session and did every single assignment that we gave them. Their sales performance improved dramatically. Now we are creating a curriculum and a methodology to scale this training for every member in our team.

5. Why is it important to engage women and provide them income opportunities?

The working environment for women is tough in Egypt. There are not many working opportunities and the culture in Egypt does not welcome women leaving the house in order to go to work. Many women end up spending the whole day at home, doing nothing or running after the children. Women do not have an independent source of income, but have to rely on someone else to feed and cater for their basic needs. This also leads to the abuse of women in relationships. Then, it is difficult for many women when their children reach adultery and leave the house. They often feel like their lives have ended because they don’t see any other meaning of their life.

We believe that when we give women the opportunity to work from home, we support not only the economic but also the social needs of them. In the morning, a woman can be a housewife or a local teacher at a school, but in the evening she is a team leader of 20 or 30 ladies that are waiting for her directions, having advice from her and following her, thereby discovering a different kind of leadership. Finally, we also see that the environment where the sales women live has changed dramatically. We really believe that engaging women in the business model has various positive effects on society.

Read now what happened three months after Brimore launched their business: How they encountered and dealt with financial failure and their advice to other entrepreneurs.