Regular readers of our Entrepreneur interviews will know that we love to share stories of people who are on the journey and have established businesses that are doing great things in Zimbabwe. I had the pleasure of looking at a business that combines two ideas that I believe have a lot of untapped potential in Zimbabwe, baking and gifts. I caught up with Maxine Chisweto, owner of a business named MaxiTreats which she calls a one-stop birthday and gifts shop.
When talking about Maxitreats, Maxine calls it a bakery and florist business that also provides a gift registry. The idea is simple, one place where you can find all your needs to make someone in Zimbabwe feel special on any occasion or just because. Calling it a bakery and florist does perhaps oversimplify what they do. They provide creative and beautifully designed cakes, cupcakes and aesthetically pleasing flower bouquets. They have anchored their offering on these two and added the gift sourcing service to deliver on the promise- a one-stop gifting shop.
Perhaps the most interesting discovery to me was that the business was started at University. Maxine studied at Rhodes University in Grahamstown South Africa and saw an opportunity in the lack of affordable baking services for her fellow students. It is a start where you can with what you have a story. She does credit the ease of conditions in South Africa with her startup journey. She moved to Zimbabwe and has been operating maxi treats since 2018.
The business to date has a small team of 4 people but do not let that detail make you think the business is small. Maxitreats counts customers from as far afield and China though they maintain the bulk of their business comes from Zimbabwe and South Africa. In addition, they employ delivery drivers to facilitate their transport and logistics. The majority of delivery successes in Zimbabwe are by companies that handle their delivery logistics. Maxine also mentions that cakes, cupcakes and gifts are precious cargo which requires special handling, as such using their own delivery team guarantees the condition of the gifts upon arrival.
As we got to talking about Covid-19 and all that is associated with it Maxine mentioned that the business was a beneficiary of the lockdown. As a business that had already setup up systems for delivery and partial eCommerce, they experienced a surge that they continue to enjoy today. The nature of the business, particularly baking is low risk with very good profit according to the Maxitreats owner. So moving the business from one country to another was a surprisingly smooth transition. Most of the equipment acquired from her time operating in South Africa setting in Zimbabwe was simplified.
Business by nature is full of challenges, your success is determined by how well you handle the challenges. The greatest challenge cited by Maxine is finding the right people to work with. As mentioned before finding the right delivery driver is important but it goes beyond driving skills. They need drivers who are courteous, flexible, good at dealing with people and prioritise keeping time. On the issue of the number of entrants in the market and the possibility of saturation she glowingly reveals how the markets she operates in, baking, flowers and gifts are not prone to saturation. These markets are highly niched and you can find space for your specific gifts and abilities in the market. To this end, she formed a Bakers association group that helps her and her peers in the baking industry. They refer customers to each other and use collaboration rather than competition to grow.
Never be afraid to jump into a market. No matter how saturated it looks- there is a corner for you on the market. Get into something doing what’s most natural to you- it gets hard yes but loving what you do is important.
Maxine states that the best thing she ever did was start. You can reshape your vision whenever you want but only if you start. This is something that Maxitreats is a living example of as they have trailed many new product offerings, especially in their gifts range. They have added more products such as books to widen the variety. In the future, the business will move towards farming their flowers and having a factory for packaging their gifts and perhaps manufacturing some.