By Joselyn Biira Mwine
Uganda was recently ranked as the world’s most entrepreneurial country and yet only a few of the businesses that are started survive to see their fifth birthday. In fact, Ugandans are making beautiful products such as jam, peanut butter, natural skin and hair care products among others that are capable of thriving on both local and international markets. At present, many companies emphasize innovation and advertising rather than product quality and performance for the long term. No matter how smart your advertisement is, it is the product that consumers are going to use and experience. If your product gives a bad user experience, different from what is said in the advertisement, then that company will be driven out of the market sooner or later.
However, there are businesses that have stood the test of time. How have they been able to stay afloat? These companies have understood the importance of implementing standards in their production processes.
While entrepreneurs save and invest money into their businesses to buy or hire the necessary equipment and manpower to grow the business, many do not invest in standardization. I like to think of standardization as capital. Entrepreneurs must understand that standards for products or services are necessary to survive and thrive. One reality Ugandan companies need to appreciate is the fact that consumers are demanding products of high quality which cannot and will not be compromised just to accommodate local players. This means that local companies especially SMEs need to step up their game and move away from giving consumers the bare minimum and aspire to put the best product or service on the market.
Start-up companies with only large competitors have to produce a level of quality that exceeds what the competition is doing. Today, companies are facing fundamental changes in the way they must do business. Strategies and business practices are continuously being evaluated to determine how to maintain and increase market share, reduce costs, increase productivity and safety, and achieve and maintain a competitive edge. New technologies, economic shocks, disruptive competitors and failure to adequately anticipate and prepare for future challenges are the key reasons why businesses do not live to see their fifth birthday.
The solution is the implementation of product and service standards.
Standards are documents that provide requirements, specifications, guidelines or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose. The purpose of a standard is to create order or a common understanding of a process, a service or a product and are developed at national and international levels.
Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) develops national standards that provide requirements for materials, manufacturing, testing, packaging and labeling to ensure that products, processes and services are fit for their purpose and are safe for human consumption and the environment. Standards have been in existence for many years. In fact, UNBS has been developing and adopting standards for thirty years now. However, some companies consider standards a burden – something that cannot be avoided at times, but that is perceived as an additional cost or obligation with a negative impact on the company. Organizations that don’t even consider participating in standards development, or that are not aware of the potential contribution that standards can bring to their activities.
That must change. Today, standards are recognized as being essential to helping companies remain innovative, reduce costs, improve quality and maintain competitiveness on the local and international marketplace. As we move towards a global economy, standardization issues continue to grow more complex and yet essential. As more international trade agreements are being signed and implemented, domestic manufacturers will face growing competition from international players who have embraced standards. Manufacturers who want to reap the benefits of the local and international markets will have to implement standards relevant to their products and services. Standards are about helping organizations not only survive, but achieve sustained success.
UNBS continues to adopt and harmonize standards with other regions to make market access easier for Ugandan products. UNBS recently announced that all East African Community (EAC) member states will recognize each other’s valid product certification permits and will not subject such goods to pre-export verification of conformity. This means that Ugandan companies intending to export their products without certification will not cross the border because there is no guarantee of safety and quality.
Using standards can offer a set of powerful business and marketing tools for organizations of all sizes. Manufacturers can use them to fine-tune performance and manage the risks the business may face while operating in more efficient and sustainable ways.
Businesses may claim to always work to high standards but the clients need to know and understand it too through certification permits. It is easy to look around and research the reasons why successful companies are so. The common denominator will most often be that those companies have understood that in order for them to grow, they must implement standards relevant to the products and services that they are putting onto the market. UNBS provides a list of certified products on the website and think of any local successful brand and you will most likely find their products on that list. If it is not on that list then you cannot be guaranteed that the product is safe for consumption.
The writer is a Public Relations Officer at Uganda National Bureau of Standards