Since the dawn of democracy in 1994, Malawi has embraced trailer and hood manufacturers of all sorts, only to suffer a battering when the majority of them closed shop. However, some Malawians have resuscitated that dream, as Brown Trailer Manufacturing (BTM) Managing Director Brown Precious Chipapi discusses with RICHARD CHIROMBO. Excepts:
When did you establish your business and how many people are part of it?
Brown Trailer Manufacturing was established in 2020 and, so far, we have employed about 11 people.
What inspired you to venture into this work, and not paid employment?
Having understood that not all people are lucky enough to be employed, I and my team came up with the idea to start our own garage, known as Brown Motors. That was in 2003. At one point, in 2019 to be precise, I went to South Africa to buy vehicle spare parts as we normally do. While there, I came across a number of Malawians who are in the logistics business, especially that of purchasing trailers. I discovered that some tracks were brought all the way from Malawi to South Africa to be repaired. In fact, I found both Malawians and people and representatives of other countries. I began to question myself why the people were coming from far away countries, including my own country Malawi, just to have a trailer repaired or for general maintenance of vehicles. I started my research and discovered that we don’t have well established trailer manufacturing centres in Malawi. I, therefore, introduced the idea to my team and we started working on it. That is how Brown Trailer Manufacturing Company was established.
What do you specialise in?
We specialise in trailer manufacturing, trailer repair and maintenance, van manufacturing and van repairing.
Recently, the government gazetted rules that will ensure that 60 percent of businesses go to indigenous Malawians. Do you see yourself benefitting from the initiative?
Yes. If we have more job opportunities, the more we employ and reduce unemployment rates. We can develop our country as well as impart a great deal of knowledge in those interested in working in the manufacturing industry.
What products distinguish you from the rest of the competition?
We, at BTM, specialise in many metal productions. Sooner or later, we are introducing our newly designed mobile clinic van, food service trailers, among others, in order to satisfy both the Malawi and foreign markets.
What is the advantage of venturing into entrepreneurship?
History has shown that major innovations come from individuals or small businesses, which is quite important to the growth of our economy. Thus, it is a great way of expressing creativity. Entrepreneurship also awards the drive and inspiration of following a vision and fulfilling it while growing from the experience along the way. There is great potential in profit-making, especially where resource allocation is flexible, allowing us to save up some money with reduced spending.
How many branches do you have and what are your plans from the next five years?
Currently, we have one branch here in Blantyre but it is our sincere hope to endeavour on catering for the whole of Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region. There are many countries in Sadc, thus widening our scope of service delivery and capacity in production.
How have you contributed to employment creation in Malawi?
We have employed people from different regions in Malawi. We are also giving youths an opportunity for internships in this field.
What are the opportunities in the business?
Seeing the gaps in the market and being able to fill that gap is a great opportunity for us. As a manufacturing company, this gives us a greater platform to be innovative such that we are able to have custom-made products for our specific clients in accordance to their demands in transportation.
What challenges are there in Malawi?
One of the biggest challenges is that of acquisition of production materials, which are mostly obtained from abroad, thus the need for huge sums of foreign exchange in order to get materials. Once the materials are purchased, it is also quite challenging to get them delivered in the right space of time with consideration of some of the travel restrictions placed upon some countries. The manufacturing business is not the easiest way to start as it requires heavy investment not just on purchasing materials for production but also in machinery and people to develop the right skills to operate it. With high investment comes high risk. As we are building our brand, we will be building our reputation on a market that is not familiar with our work but we intend to work vigilantly to raise our flag high.