True value is created through innovation and what is innovation but the application of new ways of thinking to existing ideas and opportunities. While it’s fair to say the corona-virus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns spurred the adoption of eCommerce and related technologies the world over it cannot be solely credited with the innovative spirit we have witnessed in response to it. Afroshelter is one such innovative enterprise that launched recently. They are a provider of 3D house plans on the surface but so much more. Let’s explore this brand new start-up that has a whole lot of promise for the future.
Back in 2016 co-founder Emmanuel Chari, an engineer was already in the business of drawing and selling house plans. Through the process of analysing sales, he realised that 3D house plans sold 4 times as much as the conventional 2-dimensional plans. Over the years as he continued the business he pondered over this information and how best to take advantage of it. By coming together with Shepherd Mahupa an accountant and Sibusisiwe Mukwakwami, a developmental studies graduate they created Afroshelter. The idea is to ease the house construction journey. Our starting point is providing future homeowners, with unique, modern elegant house plans and concept 3D designs. “We want our customers to visualize their home before you build it and experience the feel of it right at the beginning of your building journey,” says Chari.
These 3D designs are accessed via their website www.afroshelter.com. They ensure their customers get what they need and when they need it easily from anywhere across the nation or the world. “So we just don’t offer you the design, but we hold our customers’ hands to ensuring the house plan they purchase is approved by local authorities & municipalities” Chari further explained about the business.
3D House plans
The application of 3D design to house plans has been in use for quite some time and Afroshelter has managed to bring the idea to the Zimbabwean arena. Officially launching on the 1st of May 2021 the business can already speak of evident customer demand. 3D gives people the ability to visualise and see the house as close as possible to what they will experience in the constructed house. The innovation bridges the psychological gap between a house design plan and the real thing. It helps customers decide an easier way. The website features many options which are categorised by the number of bedrooms and further broken down into individual designs.
Same old plans, a bold new approach
There are two things I found particularly interesting about the approach that Afroshelter has to the business. Firstly the covid 19 pandemic brought about reasons for people to avoid travelling. However, the reality is selling something like house plans on paper was always complicated by the lack of reach. It was either inconvenient or expensive to expect customers to make cross country trips to visit your offices. Secondly and perhaps more importantly selling 2-dimensional plans over the internet though possible did not take advantage of the internet we are blessed with today. In many conversations about eCommerce, I have mentioned “the rule or er”; your being on the internet should result in a word that ends in er being attached to customer experiences. Better, faster, cheaper and any other superlative that amounts to improved customer experience.
Internet and the diaspora
The use of the internet adds another important dimension to the business. Zimbabwe has a large diaspora that is somewhat financially powerful. The fact is many people in the diaspora are responsible for building projects of a personal nature. By providing their service over the internet the way they do Afroshelter has opened itself up to a whole world of business. Assisting with getting those house plans approved by local authorities is the icing on a very well-baked cake.
It goes both ways
Afroshelter does not just bring convenience to customers for house plans. They state that they started the business to solve two sets of problems experienced on both sides of the market;
- Most house designers spend 80% of their time behind the desk creating house designs. This means they won’t have much time to man other aspects of business for them to grow like marketing and customer service.
- Most house designers are localized. If a designer lives in Chitungwiza he/she serves the Chitungwiza market only. Otherwise, it will be very expensive for them to serve customers in other corners of the country.
Future homeowners (customers)
- Customers had no exposure to unique modern house designs. This is the reason why if you move around most residential suburbs in Zimbabwe, you will see a lot of duplicate designs.
- Customers had difficulties in getting their plans approved with local authorities.
To solve these problems, Afroshelter builds a platform where designers can bring their work. Afroshelter team will do all the necessary customer service and administration work. This will enable designers to sell their designs anywhere across the nation from the comfort of their desks. On the other hand, customers will be able to choose their dream house design from a myriad of house designs.
Thus far the business has been well received and the team expect growth in the future. Whichever stage you find yourself at in building your own house, even if it’s just the dreaming stage you can connect with Afroshelter via their website and Facebook.