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Choppies Wrestle Tough Zim Market

When Choppies Group of Companies took a bold decision to invest in the risky Zimbabwean retail market three years ago, the country’s biggest retailer said it was targeting a gateway to high-growth markets.

Despite rampant food shortages in the northern neighbour, Choppies was expected to take full advantage of the population in Zimbabwe and build more outlets after making profits.

This was after the regional retail chain had secured at least P1.5billion from Barclays Bank of Botswana with the aim to expand its business operations in Zimbabwe which could have seen an additional 12 new stores opened before the end of last year.

The retail group which announced a secondary listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) mid last year had its sights set on an additional 50 stores being opened in Zimbabwe in the medium term.

However, fast forward to 2016, the retail giant’s expansion plan appears to be experiencing a strain as they attempt to grow beyond their 30 stores that are mostly concentrated in Bulawayo.

Despite its powerful backers, Choppies that has thrived on selling almost everything from food to electronics, were 20 stores less than the envisaged 50 by end of last year.

Choppies’ slow inroads into the rest of Zimbabwe, touted as the next big growth area, highlight the challenges of doing business in the northern neighbour and raises questions about the retail giant’s goal of rapid expansion abroad.

“It has been a little tougher than last year, but we still have hope in the next couple of months coming up to Christmas time,” lamented the Choppies Group Chief Executive Officer Ottapathu Ramachandran in response to a questionnaire.

However, he could not be drawn into discussing the reasons behind Choppies’ slow progress on navigating Zimbabwe’s retail market.

He told the Voice Money in a statement that he would rather dwell on the few positives Choppies has achieved in Zimbabwe.

Ottapathu said the Choppies Group was positioning itself as the full national player in the Zimbabwe retail market.

He said Choppies recently opened its 30th store in the cotton growing township of Gokwe in the Midlands Province.

“In a place like Zimbabwe we have been able to employ about 2000 people permanently and that is a critical role played in an environment with so much unemployment,” he said.

According to Ottapathu, Choppies’ target is to open three or four more stores by the end of the year.

For his part, Choppies Zimbabwe Director Siqokoqela Mphoko said the company has invested close to P7million (US$700 000) in the new Gokwe business.

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