One of the stories published in this issue of the Stabroek Business recounts the persistence in the face of considerable obstacles of a young mother and budding entrepreneur who would appear to have chosen a business path that aligns with her academic studies and her work experiences and who, in her exchange with this newspaper, served as a voice for a considerably larger number of small and medium sized manufacturers whose enterprises continue to be squeezed by constraints which, given the application of the appropriate initiatives, are eminently remediable. We are, of course, not referring to the weightier challenges facing the manufacturing sector as a whole, not least, the failure, over decades, of the off-and-on state-run power company to provide a reliable power supply and, as well, the official dilatoriness over the future of the power sector.
Melissa Younge is a wife and mother and a University of Guyana Chemistry graduate who has turned her particular academic pursuits and subsequent work experience in an entrepreneurial direction. Having held some important quality control jobs both here in Guyana and in Trinidad and Tobago she turned her attention last year to the manufacture of a range (eight products to be precise) of detergents, bringing to bear in the process her know-how as a student of Chemistry.
Here, it is important to note, that it is unlikely that any other local small or medium-scale business in Guyana is simultaneously focusing attention on the manufacture of eight cleaning agents and disinfectants, simultaneously from her operating base in Lamaha Springs. It needs to be said that this is an accomplishment that not only local women entrepreneurs but the entire manufacturing sector and state-run enterprises responsible for business and entrepreneurship should be celebrating.
As far as business goes Melissa may not have hit the proverbial wall but she does little to conceal the sense of eagerness which she feels for a meaningful business breakthrough, which breakthrough, we believe, she deserves but which, in our opinion is being stymied by circumstances that can be remedied.
A major part of the problem has to do with the incurable dilatoriness of government in putting in place mechanisms that can impact positively on the business environment which is precisely why she wondered aloud during our interview as to whether there might not be some merit in government’s hastening of the actualization of the clause in the Small Business Act that allocates 20% of government’s contracts to small businesses. She believes, with some justification, in our view, that with such a condition in force, her own company, called Dunae Trading would stand an infinitely better chance of accessing valuable state contracts for the supply of cleaning supplies.
There are other concerns that Melissa raised. Like tender considerations that would appear to shut her products from the bathrooms and waiting rooms of most state-run offices and far from insurmountable barriers that keep those products off the shelves of the urban high-end supermarkets. Here, the exorbitant costs associated with a level of marketing that can provide products with the access that they need is something that modest investors cannot afford to ignore. Here we believe that a case may exist for ‘trial windows,’ reasonable periods during which new local products can be displayed in high-end outlets then removed or retained, as the case may be, depending on customer response.
This newspaper has viewed a display of Dunae Trading’s products. We are not, we stress, in a position to make a chemical analysis of product quality. What we are told by some consumers who use some of the products, however, is that they serve their purpose well, and appear safe. What we do know, based on what we have seen, is that Dunae’s products have surmounted the age-old and still existing challenge of packaging and labeling limitations that continued to keep locally manufactured goods off of supermarket shelves even here in Guyana. We do not believe that Dunae products can be disqualified on those grounds.
We believe, as well, that there is an element of national pride, prestige to be derived from being able to parade what we produce, to have those products on the local market and to have consumers understand that we are capable of producing high-quality products. A cursory glance at the shelves of the Guyana Marketing Corporation’s Guyana Shop will demonstrate that there are several other products that make an eminent case for being brought into the limelight. We believe that both as a matter of national pride and in order to maximize the economic gain of investors who have, in most instances, sacrificed so much to put their products on the market, that those products should be given an adequate opportunity to shine, not on the basis of some arbitrary arrangement that turns product choice into a free-for-all, but on the basis of fair and objective choice that places our locally manufactured products on an equal footing with their more illustrious imported counterparts.
We, like Melissa Younge, are advocating no protectionist propensities. What we are saying is that products like Melissa’s Tidy Up line, and others that we know exist must see the light of day as far as market access is concerned. To persist in a drumbeat about accelerating the local manufacturing sector whilst squeezing such products out of the available marketing space is to indulge in an absurd double standard that is as counterproductive for an acceptable business culture as it is for investors like Melissa Younge.