We have two goals on this trip to southern Africa. First is to go to Lesotho, pronounced “Lesutu”, and meet with Tumisang (Tumi) Taabe, our next Sister Shop entrepreneur and THE bike guy in Maseru, the capital city. Lesotho is a small, mountainous country completely surrounded by S. Africa. The second part of this trip is to meet with our new partners, Rob and Andrew Carle, and improve and develop our bike distribution system for the existing Sister Shops.
Rob is our guide and will be taking us to Maseru for a couple days, then up to Johannesburg for the weekend and finally up to Gabs to see Bones and the plan for distribution, which will be based there.
The distribution plan is the next evolution of our Sister Shop program. Having successfully opened three shops over the last several years, we’ve passed the hurdle of how to get a shop up and running. The issue now is a lack of supply of parts and replacement bikes. Our original plan was to set up a supply chain of parts from existing regional distributors, but we underestimated the difficulty of both small quantity shipping and remote payments for goods within southern Africa. Milton in Zimbabwe can’t just pick up the phone and order more tubes and brake pads. And now that their shops are set up, they can’t handle an entire container of 500 bikes. They don’t have the space to securely store that many bikes, and they don’t have the funds available to make a meaningful contribution toward the shipping and duty expenses, which is a key part of our long term goal of sustainability.
It has become clear to us that a central distribution point that allows each shop to “order” in manageable amounts is what is needed. That is where Rob and Andrew come in, and they have been totally integral to setting this up. They own and operate a trucking company with warehouses in Joburg and Gaborone. Part of their business is to bring goods into S. Africa and distribute them all over southern Africa from both warehouses and to the same countries where we have Sister Shops. They both also happen to be serious MTB fanatics and they share a strong belief in our cause. Rob lives in Gaborone and has been invaluable in assisting Bones and Jerry with business practices at JonMol, and he has helped formulate this plan for central distribution of donated bikes, which we believe to be the first of its kind.
In addition, over the last couple years, Rob and Andrew have become frustrated with the severe lack of supply of high-end bikes, components, and accessories in Botswana and even South Africa. So they decided to start their own bicycle distribution company, Bicycle Recycle Botswana, as an ancillary business to their main trucking and distribution operation, and they’re starting to serve the shops they frequent in Joburg and other parts of S. Africa. The magic of our relationship is that they are willing to treat our Sister Shops as their customers, but not mark up any of the goods passed through to them. Further, the profit that Bicycle Recycle makes on their high-end goods helps to pay for the overhead they spend supporting the Sister Shop sales and assistance. More details to come soon on how this new model works and why it’s awesome!