South African communications company ZOK Cellular, in collaboration with national cellular provider Vodacom and other partners, has introduced an entrepreneurial project that will supply communities with essential retail, financial and communications services.
The ZOK facility is a compact multi-function business unit that operates out of a refurbished shipping container. The name is taken from the initials of the three original partners – the Zion Christian Church, and top local football clubs Orlando Pirates and Kaiser Chiefs.
The ZOK brand was initially established in 2005 by ZOK and a company associated with JSE-listed Blue Label Telecoms, based in Johannesburg. Now the ZOK container has been officially launched with assistance from Blue Label Telecoms and in partnership with Vodacom, Absa Bank, and Premier Foods. Other key partners are software giant Microsoft and wireless internet provider iBurst, while the three initial partners are still shareholders in the ZOK brand.
The container project has as its primary objective community upliftment, and is expected to create about 9 000 jobs as containers have the potential to employ two or three people each. With the pilot phase successfully concluded, ZOK intends to distribute more than 2 000 containers over the next few years across South Africa, rolling out between 30 and 40 every month.
Containing the essentials
Each container costs R35 000 (excluding VAT) and is divided into two sections, one offering communication services such as four public telephones, two internet stations, and banking and faxing facilities, and the other operating as a small spaza shop that will sell prepaid airtime and electricity, lottery tickets and basic fast-moving consumer goods such as bread and maize meal.
A spaza shop is a small informal business that is usually run from home. According to trade publication Spaza News there are over 100 000 spaza shops in South Africa with a collective turnover of more than R7-billion a year. Since each shop employs two or three people who support an average of four family members, this means that about one-million people across the country depend on revenue from a spaza shop.
Other services are optional, such as the sale of Pirates and Chiefs merchandise. The unit will also contain an ATM. In short, says ZOK, most products and services available in the containers cater to the necessities of daily life in a South Africa township.
Once the container has been installed on site, the operator will be able to start trading immediately. ZOK will assist in choosing the ideal location and will install the unit but the onus lies upon the operator, says the company, to ensure a constant power supply. Due to the recent difficulties experienced by national power provider Eskom in matching supply and demand, electricity supply can, at times, be unpredictable.
Those who buy a license to operate a container, says ZOK, will find themselves in a position to gain financial independence without the risk and difficulties often associated with starting a small business.
Skills for the future
ZOK provides operators with comprehensive initial and ongoing training in various essential aspects of doing business, equipping them with valuable skills to take into the future. Training is compulsory and includes input not only from ZOK but from the company’s strategic partners, including Absa, Premier Foods, and the Itec Group, which supplies the office automation equipment. Therefore, operators will know the facts about the products and services offered as well as how to manage them in terms of brand awareness.
Containers remain the property of ZOK, however, once the licence fee is paid up front, all income goes to the operator – apart from monthly costs to service providers. After six years the ZOK container will then belong to the operator. There are a number of terms and conditions which operators are expected to adhere to.
ZOK, in conjunction with Blue Label Telecoms, who is facilitating the provision of products and services within the container, is planning to expand the range of services offered and is in negotiations with various parties so that those in underprivileged communities will soon have even more choice.