How Busi Skenjana Is Tapping Into The Stokvel Market

Busi Skenjana has tapped into a lucrative niche market by focusing on what she knows - and linking that to brands who need her knowledge and understanding.

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One of the first rules of entrepreneurship is to do what you know. It’s when you understand market’s unique challenges that you’re able to offer solutions to pain points that people are willing to pay for.

Mike Turner Photography

Busi Skenjana has been a stokvel member her entire adult life. It’s an industry she understands intimately, which is why it made sense for her to focus on this sector when she launched her own marketing business in 2002.

“I knew I needed to find a niche for myself, and this was a market I understood,” Skenjana explains. “I could also see where brands were getting it wrong. Big companies were doing these brand activations in black communities, but they were missing the mark. They tended to focus on taxi ranks and shopping malls, because they had the perception that this is where everyone is.

“They were missing a social path to their target market. Every Saturday there are thousands of stokvel meetings happening around the country. People are engaging with each other on a social level. It’s an engaged audience, and far more focused than people at taxi ranks or in malls.”

Skenjana inherently understood two core rules of entrepreneurship and marketing: Understand your customers, their needs and their challenges, and determine the best way to relate your message in such a way that your audience cares about what you’re telling them, and can relate your product or service to their own lives. Armed with this insight, she launched SBK Marketing. 


Spotting an opportunity

Great businesses are often formed when an entrepreneur recognises two different groups of people who can benefit from each other, but do not necessarily have access to each other. Traditionally, magazines and newspapers use this model by providing advertisers access to a readership base, while making readers aware of products and services that relate to their lives and interests.

Another more recent example is the sharing economy. Uber and Airbnb are both based on this model, linking people with a product or service (in this case cars and accommodation), with people who need access to those products.

Skenjana recognised that the stokvel industry has over 800 000 clubs, 11 million members and spends R44 billion a year. It’s also a captive community audience. However, this didn’t mean that marketers automatically understand stokvels, or how the community works, particularly because stokvels exceed traditional socio-economic lines. Skenjana spotted an opportunity. She was uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between stokvel members and the brands who wanted access to them.


Focus on the customer

Skenjana might have understood stokvels, but she needed a compelling pitch for marketers, and so she set about mastering stokvel touchpoints. It was another astute observation around business success. Simply being a member of a community is not enough. You need to critically analyse the motivations behind why consumers choose the brands that they do, which will give you insights into their needs and choices.

“My business is built around giving big brands access to stokvels in an environment conducive to hearing their message. This meant I needed to show the benefits of face-to-face interactions that are smaller and more personal than large activations at malls, where thousands of shoppers will walk past you.

“I needed to prove quality over quantity, and that required research and an in-depth understanding of stokvel members, as well as the business objectives of the brands who are my clients.”

Skenjana soon learnt that timing is everything. If you want to access Stokvels you need permission from all members and this can be a lengthy process. These insights gave her an edge over competitors, because she took the time to understand her market.

“Too many business owners focus on their own needs to the detriment of their businesses,” she says. “If you put your market first and really focus on their needs, success will naturally follow, because you’ll be offering a service that adds real value to businesses and lives.” 


Lessons learnt

  • Focus and passion are not just clichés — they’re the backbone of a successful business and career.
  • Continuously seek knowledge. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I still don’t know it all. Far from it. I learn about my market and customer needs every day. Markets are dynamic, so you can never know enough.
  • Markets evolve. Stokvels have been around since 1932, but people change. Never assume you know everything about your customers or their needs. Always push to go deeper into their psyches.
  • Don’t make assumptions. Assumptions are the death of businesses. 
  • Analyse your competitors. Not to copy them, but to stay ahead of them, and to keep pushing yourself to remain relevant.