Successful entrepreneur Siyanda Mthethwa (36) has responded to the escalating fuel costs that are crippling small, rural businesses and households in Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal, by launching an online grocery business.
Established in 2020, Kuloola, which is derived from the Zulu word Kulula ('it’s easy'), delivers groceries to the doorsteps of rural homes and spaza shops in Eshowe.
Kuloola operates through WhatsApp, SMS, Please Call Me and online. Grocery orders are packed and delivered by local third-party delivery agents within 24 hours, at a fee of R40, which is up to three times less than what customers typically pay for transport.
According to Mthethwa, villagers had to travel more than 40km to town. Rural spaza shop owners, including his grandmother, were hard hit by the rising fuel costs as they stock twice a week.
In 2019, he bought a bakkie and started operating. His customer base increased, which prompted him to formalise it and seek funding.
“I received private funding of R1 million, which helped me to get three delivery vans and a small warehouse where we operate our call centre in Eshowe. The call centre is a critical component of our business because people do not have internet access here and they do not have airtime in most cases. They can simply send a ‘Please Call Me’ and we will respond,” he says.
Kuloola has since added seven vans to its fleet and now employs 22 permanent employees. Mthethwa provides delivery services to over 2 000 customers each month, the majority of whom are owners of spaza shops.
Young people with smartphones also have opportunities to work as ambassadors to recruit customers from their villages and earn commission. Mthethwa says he is earmarking the next town, Empangeni, to offer the same services.
He says he has partnered with supermarkets that prepare orders instead of using his warehouse.
“After the July 2021 looting and persistent fuel hikes, the demand for our services has increased. There is now a demand for other items like appliances that we need to take into account,” he says.
Mthethwa’s plan is to grow the business across the province as a solution to escalating fuel costs. He also plans to add long-distance services from the city to rural areas.
For more information about Kuloola, visit www.kuloola.com.