STEVEN MVULA, Lusaka
IT WAS last month that the Kitwe City Council (KCC) confiscated goods belonging to Chinese traders who were conducting business on the streets in the central business district.
The move by Kitwe City Council followed complaints by local Zambian street vendors who were recently removed from the streets by the local authority.
Council assistant public relations manager Dona Mbalwe did indeed confirm that officers from the city council had confiscated phones and phone machines from the Chinese nationals who were conducting business on the street.
At the centre of it all was a Chinese company, Auto Phones Factory Limited, whose employees were accused of being “street vendors” in Kitwe.
But the company says this is simply not true; what the local Zambian street vendors were referring to are actually automatic vending machines.
Auto Phones Factory Ltd operations manager Lawrence Nyirenda says automatic vending machines do not have any negative impact on the outlook of the city and the corridors, as it modern way of doing business.
“Unlike the booths used for selling subscriber identity module [SIM] cards and airtime, the automatic vending machine is much smaller, whose width is about 450mm.They have brought fancy and vigour to Kitwe,” Mr Nyirenda says.
Mr Nyirenda says to promote the new mode of retailing and to encourage more Zambians to be engaged in automatic vending machines, the company has decided to sell them many of its vending machines.
The company will also lease the machines on monthly basis to local entrepreneurs.
“We are also willing to offer the necessary training for the technicians to operate these machines, and provide the maintenance and service needed,” Mr Nyirenda says.
He says it cannot be true that local shops of mobile phones have witnessed slow business since the introduction of automatic vending machines in Kitwe.
“There is competition in any industry, and it is normal to witness new-comers and others dropping out. We are sure that the introduction of automatic vending machines, whatever they are selling, will create employment and bring superior merchandises for consumers,” Mr Nyirenda says.
“…Either Auto Phones Factory Limited or any other may come to Kitwe and the competitors may come either this year or next year. The market will kick out any player who fails to adapt to the change with innovative technology or products.
“To our understanding, the more competition in the industry, the more benefits for the customers, including but not limited to lower price, superior product and better service. On the contrary, if there is monopoly in any industry, the customers have to suffer from exorbitant price and bad service.
“It is our sincere wish that more and more retailers choose to purchase or lease our automatic vending machines, and we also wish to make friends with retailers in whatever fields they are engaging now. The win-win situation will come true by forming the partnership between us and all the interested shop owners.”
According to Auto Phones Factory’s estimation, it is feasible to instal 200 to 300 automatic vending machines in Zambia, which may create employment of not less than 300 sales persons for the local community.
“If this new retailing business through automatic vending machines is supported by the local governments in Zambia, more and more Zambian entrepreneurs will be engaged in selling different products through automatic vending machines, and the retailing sector will create thousands of employment for the local community,” Mr Nyirenda says.
But are Zambians familiar with automatic vending machines?
Not necessarily if the reactions of the vendors in Kitwe are anything to go by.
But in many developed nations, the selling of merchandise and services is done through automatic vending machines.
The advantage of automatic vending machines is to accommodate and display as much merchandise as possible in a minimum space.
In short, an automatic vending machine is a mobile mini depot and showcase device.
In comparison with booths that are used for selling airtime, the automatic vending machine is indeed much smaller.
“The automatic vending machine is energy-saving with the minimum cost of 1Kwh per day, and there is no noise, no pollution and no occupation of stores on the streets,” Mr Nyirenda explains.
“The machines have improved the outlook of city corridors, and regulated the order of retailing business. They do not have any negative impact on the outlook of city corridors, and on the contrary, they have brought fancy and vigour to our city”.
And Auto Phones Factory chief executive officer Cheng Chong says it is not true that the Chinese nationals “go on the street to vend.”
Mr Cheng says it is unfortunate that there have been some stories in the media painting a picture that Chinese nationals have been selling phones on the streets of Kitwe.
“Some of our Chinese employees have been found at automatic vending machines repairing and servicing them. They have never sold any mobile phones on the streets of Kitwe,” Mr Cheng says.
He says his company is willing to award K10,000 to anyone who is able to provide them with photos or videos of any of their Chinese employees selling mobile phones on the street and is further willing to pay any penalty by any government agency should the claims be substantiated by impeccable evidence.
For now though, the company has offered to partner with local Zambian entrepreneurs in the automatic vending machines as a new mode of retailing business.