Cross border business started as far back as the 90s when economic hardships began to bedevil the country. To date, many people looking to eke out a living prefer cross border trading because of its low capital requirements. In addition, it is highly informalised and this allows anyone to wake up and decide to start operating without the need for cumbersome paperwork. Let us look at the opportunities that are available for Zimbabweans in cross border trading.
The most common opportunity, and perhaps the easiest, is importation of goods for resell. Many Zimbabweans are thriving on this alone. The business model is very simple. You go to neighbouring countries and buy goods which you bring to Zimbabwe and sell at a mark up. Most goods are generally cheaper in other countries than here for a number of reasons which are a topic for another day. Local commodity shortages also help cross border traders as they then import those commodities and sell at high prices.
Normally, cross border traders import foodstuffs, clothes, electronic gadgets and beverages among other things. As mentioned before, entering into this business does not need much investment. You can start with as low as R5 000. Unfortunately, competition is stiff due to the fact that barriers to entry are non-existent. As a result, you always have to stay ahead of the game, impressing your customers all the time. Moreover, legislation such as Statutory Instrument 164 of 2016 tend to have a negative impact on importation of goods and you need to always be on the lookout and to adapt as and when required to do so. For now, that Statutory Instrument has been suspended.
Since many years ago, cross border traders have been going to South Africa and other countries to sell their wares there. These were mostly home-made items like woollen hats, jerseys, straw baskets and the like. Although there are fewer people still doing this, cross border exporting is a sure way of getting foreign currency especially if you can make unique items or if you can access them and have a market in other countries. In the old days, the cross-border traders would go and stay for an average of one week selling their items mostly door to door. Nowadays, one can look at doing this on a large scale. Beef, chicken, eggs and other commodities are known to be in short supply in many countries, South Sudan and Equatorial Guinea included. Although this will require a lot of formalities, it is worthwhile. In fact, the Zimbabwe Cross Border Traders Association has made some progress in exploring export opportunities for cross border trading and checking with them may be a good starting point if you are interested in this business.
Thousand of Zimbabweans cross the borders to South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Tanzania daily. As such, there is an opportunity to provide them with cross border transport. Safe and reliable transport, that is. If you can register buses or mini buses to ply lucrative cross border roots, you are in for some good business. Apart from passenger transport, there is also room for luggage transportation, cargo trucks maybe. Again, your service needs to be top notch so that you attract customers and gain the much-needed market share.
Your vehicles should be properly registered to avoid unnecessary brushes with the law. The general view is that transport operators are uncouth and lack basic customer care tenets. If you decide to get into this business, you need to portray a clean, fresh image, different from the rest. It must be noted, however, that venturing into this business requires substantial financial resources. Procuring a bus is not a joke. You must be financially prepared for this. Insurance costs can also be a hurdle.
Bureaux de change
It is a fact that the majority of cross border traders have been getting their foreign currency from the parallel market at a time when banks did not have it and bureaux de change were non-existent. If you are keen to move with the times and have the required financial muscle, venturing into a bureau de change business might just be for you. For now, your main target customers should be cross border traders because they are always looking for foreign currency at good exchange rates. You have to be cognisant of the fact that this is a highly formalised industry requiring a certain level of expertise, integrity and proper licensing. But it is good business for now.
Unfortunately, government policies do change with time and this opportunity may not be a lifetime one so its viability is only for now. This is also not a business to be done from “under a tree” so investing in your premises and branding is also a must. Apart from this, you can look at offering cross border traders some financial products like flexible loans as well. This may need different licensing altogether but research on the ground show that banks are not always interested in affording cross border traders loans due to lack of collateral. If you can find a way around this, and you have the right expertise, you stand to make a killing.
While this list is not conclusive by any means, it touches on the most important opportunities that you may want to pursue as far as cross border trading is concerned.