When Allan Ntanda set out to start Wine Garage, it seemed a journey into an unknown world.
At the time, many people, including his friends, considered wine as a drink for the affluent.
If one had to enjoy a frothy drink, beer was the first choice. His motivation to go into wine business was partly experiential.
He had worked as a marketer at ‘The Seller’, a wine company run by Geoffrey Mulwana. There, he had cultivated connections within the network of wine suppliers in foreign markets.
In 2005, when the idea to start a wine business occurred to him, he had Shs16m savings.
He needed more start-up capital so he sat down with a friend, Daudi Karungi, an artist and director of Afriart Gallery, and sold him the idea of starting a wine company.
Much as Karungi was keen on the business, since it was not tried and tested, he voluntarily partnered with Ntanda whose marketing career was convincingly good.
He was a marketer with Celtel Uganda as well as Club Silk.
“Our first consignment was a humble one of three wine pallets we imported and transported by road, from Nairobi. It cost us $6,000 (Shs22.5m) at the time. We needed to start slow because wine business is slow,” Ntanda explains.
With the new business, Ntanda was willing to do anything in his professional abilities to promote a wine culture and consumption in Uganda. He had to set aside a budget to promote the new business brand.
He made offers to female friends to enjoy wine at the garage and encouraged them to go along with partners, colleagues and friends to see the place and also enjoy some wine.
Then he talked to his boss at the time, Elvis Ssekyanzi, about the possibility of partnership where he would promote the wine in Club Silk through specialised theme nights.
His aim was to establish a new customer base, of patrons who appreciated fine wine. It was a win-win partnership, in which Ssekyanzi, as director of Club Silk, would benefit from increased sales on wine while Ntanda, as a supplier of the wines, boosted the Wine Garage brand.
By 2009, the wine business had picked up and as Ntanda was growing his acumen in business.
He realised that whenever he was not at Wine Garage, business would suffer as workers would take advantage of his absence to bring in their own wine and sell it, which would affect his sales.
His job as a marketer at the club was demanding. It was both a day and night job. He quit his job and concentrated on the business.
He grew the wine portfolio through reaching out to consumers during theme night promotions as well as door-to-door marketing.
As his graph of sales went up, his friends were happy and encouraged him to introduce beer to complement the wine.
He did not buy into the suggestion because he wanted to maintain his original concept of exclusively running a wine business.
The good sales whet his appetite to expand which turned out to be a regrettable decision as he burnt his fingers. From the profits the mother branch of Muyenga made, the entrepreneur had gone on to open branches at Village Mall, Shoprite in Nalya, Entebbe and at Blacklines House.
“I learnt that people take time to accept products in new places and as such business gradually grows. Then there were control systems I had not put in place to manage thefts by workers. This affected my profit margins and expenditure. Amidst it all, I still had to pay rent and salaries, among others. It has been a big lesson,” he says.
Ntanda adds that to run a successful wine business, he has had to be patient. “I have had to be patient and more importantly consistent. Wine consumers are particular and you have to know what they need to enjoy their wine. They like certain cheese, olives and salty biscuits.”
Diversifies into coffee
In 2016, his wish list grew. He smelt coffee and yearned to brew it. At the back of his mind was a question to which he sought to find an answer. From his observations of running Café Kahwa, whose premises are within the same compound with Wine Garage, he realised coffee is mostly consumed and enjoyed by non-Ugandans.
How could he get Ugandans to enjoy coffee? Ninety per cent of the coffee grown in the country is exported. Ntanda went all in, first by growing Robusta coffee on three acres in Matugga and then researching to understand the ins and out of the coffee industry.
His plan is to develop a farm to cup strategy. The coffee he grows was not enough to satisfy the supply chain that would make business sense so he started reaching out to farmer groups.
From interactions with farmers, he went on to share knowledge from his research findings on ways they could improve their yields. He currently associates with 1, 621 farmers.
Builds coffee factory
Under his new brand Imara Coffee, he has set up a coffee factory in Buziga in which he has invested close to Shs250m. “I would like more Ugandans to drink quality coffee. Much of the instant coffee consumed locally is of subsidised quality. I would like to change that through what I have called the ‘Coffee bag concept’, starting in February next year.”
The marketer cum entrepreneur would like to create coffee bags in an effort to get the Ugandan coffee into offices, homes, hotel rooms, flights and onto local and international commercial shelves.
It could be the second filter paper coffee bag produced in Africa, after those in South Africa. Part of Ntanda’s strategy is to eliminate international beverages served in sachets so that Ugandan coffee gets its rightful place because it is unique and tasty.
Already, he has crossed borders with Imara Coffee which has been tasted and tested in United States of America (USA) and India.
“The American embassy has been supportive in getting Ugandan coffee out there. We are now members of the American Chamber of Commerce. I have been to the Seattle Specialty Coffee Conference to promote Ugandan coffee. Some business people, under the trade name of Equa Tropics, have gotten interested in Imara Coffee and it has been tested in laboratories. It passed and I have been issued with a food and drug certificate to allow us sell in USA,” Ntanda further explains.
With the certificate, Imara is now available on Amazon premium online trading channel. The intricacies of running business, over the years, have taught him a number of lessons, first that partnerships are important if well managed.
He would like to actually find an investor to boost his entrepreneurial efforts. He hinges this on the fact that running business requires one to have running capital at any one time because companies pay at different time and even when they do, they immediately demand for products so a business person would need some good money at any one time.
“It is important to stick to your plan and strategy. My original plan was not to spread out fast and when I did, I burnt my fingers.”
His qualm is with the heavy taxation levied on machinery which entrepreneurs need to add value to agricultural produce like coffee.
To him, revising taxes on machinery will ease doing business as it will bring down the cost of doing business for those willing to invest in order to add value to local produce so as to export.