The Jamaican woman, resilient, creative and determined, is claiming her place as an important player in the country’s vibrant small and micro-business sector, blazing a trail of success and creating new markets in the industry.
Harold Davis, Executive Director of the Jamaica Business Development Centre (JBDC), which is a leading provider of business and technical support for small business development, tells JIS News that female entrepreneurs are involved in various types of businesses, ranging from services to manufacturing and other non-traditional areas.
He notes that although there are no up-to-date statistics on how many women are involved in the industry, an interesting finding is that micro businesses are largely dominated by women. According to Mr. Davis, some 58 per cent of the estimated 100,000 registered businesses, are owned and operated by women.
An assortment of tantalizing treats from Sonia Dunstan’s JD Chocolate Fudge Factory
The areas in which female entrepreneurs are involved are diverse, and include niches such as the manufacturing of dolls. “That business in particular is very successful and very innovative,” he points out, adding, “we also have female clients involved in the production of candy, confectionery (supplied to the Things Jamaican chain). Those ladies have been very successful and very innovative in terms of the type of products that they introduce to the market. Those who enter with good products tend to do well and exceed expectations”.
Cecile Escoffery, Chief Executive Officer of ACE Woodwork Limited, offers a success story of putting creativity to work and earning from God-given talent. She tells JIS News that the business, nestled in a quiet cul-de-sac off Hagley Park Road, began 24 years ago and that she has not looked back since. The business produces beautiful hand crafted wood items such as salad bowls, plates, jewellery boxes, and vases, as well as embroidery, and cutwork.
ACE also does furniture restoration, repairs, upholstery repairs and antique reproduction. Only the best material is used such as hardwood, mahogany, cedar, purple-heart, fustic, juniper, blue Mahoe, Spanish elm, sweetwood, and ebony.
Miss Escoffery explains that tourists especially, are very interested in her craftwork, which are mainly for export and are also sold in hotel gift-shops. She says she has not experienced any major difficulties in setting up or carrying on her business as she approached the idea with a sound business plan, and had done market research. Miss Escoffery stresses the importance of knowing the business that one is interested in getting into. Particularly for her business, which was a male-dominated field, Miss Escoffery notes that she had to earn the respect of those she worked with and employed.
She notes that it was not hard to earn respect, since she knew the mechanics of her business, having come from a family background of craftwork and art. “Know your work, know your market. Do your homework, especially in this business, when you employ men, they want to test you, so, you must know how to do the work from start to finish,” she advises.
The Yuletide season is usually the busiest for ACE, which employs between 10 and 12 persons, including two females. Miss Escoffery says the feedback from her work has been good and that she has also been recognized with two awards from Barbados in 2003 and 2004. She tells JIS News that the JBDC has played an important role in assisting to market her goods through its shops at the island’s airports.
Meanwhile, Sonia Dunstan’s dream and subsequent success began with a fudge. Today, she is the Marketing Director of JD Chocolate Fudge Factory located on Cargill Avenue off Half-Way-Tree Road, where she creates tantalizing treats such as sweets, jams, fudges, among other goodies.
Explaining how she started in the business, Miss Dunstan says that most of her experience came from her work in the hotel industry for 10 years. “I used to work with a five-star hotel and the guests sometimes complained about the quality of the items that they took back. I thought about all the things I could do.I loved baking, I can cook well.so I went ahead and I made a fudge”.
She got rave reviews for the treat and shortly after she received a promotion but thought that she could go further by marketing the product on a wider scale. “I did a test market in the in-bond shops. They were very hesitant in buying the product, so you had to give them knowledge, such as what is a fudge, shelf life and how it compared to chocolates,” she explains.
On her days off from work, she toiled long hours to create batches of fudge for sale. Miss Dunstan said she decided to quit her day job and squeeze into the unique market that she had discovered. The fudges were selling like hot cakes and she felt the time was right.
“I gradually expanded in the market. The tourist market was what I knew best and I knew what the clientele wanted and the price range that they were willing to pay. Nobody really wants to buy a gift for more than US$10, so I made sure that the product was of a good quality, that the presentation was good and all of that”.
Sonia’s business now also makes jams and jellies, utilising Jamaican fruits such as ginger and Otahiti apple. The pineapple and pepper jelly is particularly interesting as well as the guava jam. She notes that there are plans in the making to also work with coffee and other Jamaican fruits. JD Chocolate Fudge Factory also makes seedless tamarind balls flavoured with rum , mint balls, and roasted coffee beans coated with chocolate, products which she says have taken off.
“It is still a very young company and it will take some time for the name to get established,” she remarks, pointing out that for now, the products are being sold at smaller places as she tests the market. JD products are sold in gift shops from Kingston to Negril, and selected supermarkets.
Meanwhile, Sonia’s sister Sheryl, who operates from the same location, has also found a niche in the world of commerce, creating a special line of aromatherapy products inclusive of candles, bath salts, soap, and incense.
Offering words of advice for women who may want to start their own enterprises, Miss Dunstan says, “You have to have confidence, you have to be very brave about your product. If somebody knocks you down and tells you that it’s not good enough, take the advice and continue to pursue your dreams. You must be willing to give up everything to do what you want to do. I gave up everything to do what I am doing now, and I am the happiest person, I’m smiling everyday.there is nothing like when you are doing something for yourself, creating products and people are happy”.
She adds further, “If you provide good quality product, there is always a market for it, but if you provide shabby stuff, then you will be at the bottom. So, write down what it is that you want to do, how you want to do it, your target market and if you are able to, there are other organisations that can help you like the JBDC”.
The JBDC provides a wide range of services from product development to business development and offers advise on packaging, pricing, marketing, financing and bookkeeping.
“We offer some industry specific technical assistance in food processing for instance. We have a food technician on staff, garment technicians, and fashion engineers. We offer general business development services, helping you to do your business plan, helping you to access relevant funding, helping you to access other non-financial technical assistance that might be relevant to your business,” Mr. Davis informs.
The staff consists of engineers, designers, and business specialists, who guide clients from the concept stage through to the market level. “And of course, we have our Things Jamaica chain of shops that hosts more than 300 suppliers. These are all 100 per cent authentic Jamaican products,” he adds.
These clients average more than $30,000 in profits per month. This can be as much as $200,000 monthly in some instances, Mr. Davis informs. “That is a real opportunity for our clients to get to mainstream markets directly. We pride ourselves on what Things Jamaican has been doing and how well it has been doing it. We offer a whole suite of services and what we don’t offer here, we will broker for you,” he assures.
Speaking to future projects and initiatives, Mr. Davis discloses that the JBDC is in the final stages of successful negotiations to secure a line of credit from India that will provide equipment and raw material for small businesses in Jamaica. “In terms of quality and cost, India is one of the ideal locations for that,” he remarks.
Meanwhile he informs, the JBDC is participating in a European Union programme in partnership with JAMPRO and other private sector organisations to provide support to the small business sector. This includes technical support, and consortial technical assistance. Some $20 million Euros will be made accessible through that programme over the next three years.
In addition, Mr. Davis says, the JBDC recently launched a programme called ‘Jamaica Entrepreneur’ search, “which is really the glue that will bring together persons with the new ideas and the new potential entrants into business, and the persons who wish to provide technical assistance and funding for these businesses. Ourselves being the middle broker, we will bring together the persons with the ideas and we are targeting tertiary institution graduates.”
He adds, “If you have a great idea, you need to put it down and structure it and we will assess it and see how it goes. And if you come out with a good solid business plan, we will make sure that you get the relevant technical assistance through JBDC and our partner agencies”.
Through the Ministry of Industry and Tourism, the JBDC has been able to successfully negotiate $60 million as seed money for the particular venture, which should come on stream this year.
He also spoke to other specific assistance coming on board for micro and small businesses in relation to areas in food processing such as confectionery, dehydrated products, wines and vinegars. “We will be negotiating assistance for persons, who are involved in those types of businesses”.
“We are negotiating constantly with financial institutions, and with other providers of technical assistance to see how we can package appropriate services, products for small businesses. We are constantly evolving and constantly upgrading our packages that we offer,” Mr. Davis adds.
Mr. Davis emphasizes that the JBDC’s doors are always open to anyone requiring assistance to grow or start their business. “Persons approach us from various angles. We do a lot of workshops for the public. If you have an idea or if you are in business already and you need help to grow your business, to make some more money to start your business on the right footing, if you even need to have some good ideas as to business opportunities that are available, just come to us or give us a call and we will assist you in whatever way we can,” he says. The JBDC is located at 14 Camp Road and can be reached at 928 5261-5.
Meanwhile, Mr. Davis says that more effort should be put into collating statistics on small business. “This is something that we have been advocating at JBDC for quite a while now. Even in terms of the exact figure as it relates to the contribution of the country’s gross domestic product, that figure is not known really. ‘Guestimates’ are done and so on, but we should have a tighter grasp on that figure,” he states.