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Bottoms Up!

Bottoms Up!

Robert Ssemwogerere, an entrepreneur in Kampala, Uganda, shares his pandemic survival tips and lessons for businesses in the liquor and entertainment industry.


Keeping a bar afloat during a pandemic

In Uganda, bars have been closed for one and a half years now. Unfortunately for some, going under has not been an option but a sure destiny.  

My business – Fusion Auto Spa - has managed to keep afloat by diversifying. We have always had a car washing service and also had a kids’ play center which isn’t fully functional now due to the restrictions. We had gardens for parties, and as long as the flowers are growing, people will keep coming either for photo or video shoots and they pay for using it.

We have accommodation facilities which have continued to serve the local tourists even during the lockdown. Now, we are also into farming – spices and other vegetables - that serve our restaurant. Pre-COVID-19, we were too preoccupied to consider poultry farming, but we have now started. There’s a poultry farm for broilers and layers which again will reduce our expenditure in procuring chicken for the restaurant.

Devastating as the last one and a half years have been especially on the entertainment industry, we have had to unlearn certain things especially regarding how our business operates.

I have realized that we relied on a huge labour force and this comes with a lot of expenses, including wages. My business employs over 100 staff. These include DJs, entertainers, waiters, cleaners, salon attendants, health club staff, gym staff, gardeners, security personnel, managers, media personnel among others. Yet it is possible to reduce on the staff and outsource some of the services that some of this staff used to do.

The most important lesson for us the entrepreneurs is to diversify investment and spread out the risk. You don’t have to invest only in bars. Most businesses have been running on a model of opening a bar, and when it succeeds, they open the second and third bar in different locations.

Unfortunately, this makes supervision difficult because it strains you. And the more our businesses register success, the more our managers have become very clever and shady. They have learnt to manipulate systems and collude to make an extra buck. Alternatively, once they have mastered how our trade works, they will open their own business next door and take your clients with them.

The ideal model would be to use the profit from your first venture to invest in another business other than another bar. For instance, a business such as property development (rental units) for low-income earners. If I put up these apartments, they will be my security if I need a credit facility from a bank, which will help me expand my business.

The rough patch that our sector is going through is also an indictment on us the business owners to have financial discipline and be frugal.

Why do you have to drink and get wasted like a client, yet you’re the owner of the business? Drink a little just to mingle. And that’s if you must. The biggest factor that leads businesses to collapse is the habit of giving freebies to customers. When you accept drinks from clients, that’s a trap, because, they expect you to return the favor. We must learn the habit of politely declining these offers. Make up an excuse.

Related to this, is the issue of living beyond our means. Just because your business has made profits doesn’t mean you buy an expensive car and start renting a mansion of $2,ooo. That kind of lifestyle will eat into your capital and profits.