There is a new store situated at 68 Parika Highway, East Bank Essequibo, which is attracting increasing public attention. The proprietrix, a slight 32-year-old wife and mother of two named Sonia Deonauth, is a woman with seemingly limitless entrepreneurial ambition. She has named the establishment Zarah’s (Princess), a sobriquet that seeks to communicate the high standard that she has set for it.
Sonia says that her entrepreneurial ambitions were cultivated as a child and from a tender age, she has been single-minded in her pursuit of that goal. The launch of Zarah’s (Zarah is the name of the older of her two daughters) on Saturday, December 22 was the accomplishment of one of what she hopes will be many milestones. Since 2011, she had been the owner of another store, an establishment named Urban Apparel which is located in the Bollywood Mall on the Parika Main Road.
The recent launch of Zarah’s, Sonia says, is a reflection of her confidence in the economy, though she says that in pursuit of her entrepreneurial goals, there are still many mountains to climb. She believes that Zarah’s can form the base of a strategic economic hub given its potential to attract customers travelling to and from Bartica, the Essequibo Coast, its various islands and the communities comprising the West Coast of Demerara. The clientele, she says, is only just beginning to take shape and she is prepared to be patient. Christmas patronage, she says, was an encouraging portent.
It is not, she says, simply a matter of ‘wishing and hoping.’ She is prepared to ‘put in the hours.’ She has grown used to closing at 10:00pm frequently. On Old Year’s Night, she ‘saved the day’ for quite a few revelers who had difficulty making selections from the offerings in Georgetown stores.
Facebook is her main port of call insofar as advertising is concerned. She says it has worked for her. Customers come to her from as far away as Berbice, a circumstance which she says is a tribute to the effectiveness of her Facebook page. She believes that the attractiveness of her advertising signage coupled with the fact that she has limited parking (for about six cars), works to her commercial advantage.
Zarah’s offers rugs, among other things, for sale. The prices range between $1,500 and $23,000. Shoes and dresses can be bought at prices beginning at $3,000.
After completing secondary school in 2005, Sonia considered going into business but her mother persuaded her to further her studies at the University of Guyana. This she did, graduating with a degree in Computer Science in 2009. That, however, did nothing to change her preoccupation with entrepreneurship. She engaged her father on the subject of startup funding but was turned down flat. Somewhat deflated, she secured employment in the banking sector, raising some startup capital in the process. Her father, meanwhile, had undergone a change of heart and engaged her regarding specific terms on which he was prepared to help set her up in business.
In 2011, just prior to Easter, Sonia engaged the proprietor of the Bollywood Shopping Mall at Parika to secure rental space to embark on her first business enterprise. The space having been granted, she then approached Mr Blades, a ‘west side’ clothing trader to make her first purchases. Blades cut her a deal which she could hardly have hoped for. He agreed to hold off on payment which she was ready to make for the clothing and to afford her US$1,500 in clothing and apparel on credit for one month. The debt was repaid within two weeks and another order for clothing negotiated. To this day, she still credits Mr Blades for showing her ‘the ropes’ in the clothing trade. Eventually, he even agreed to have her accompany him on one his shopping trips to Panama, one of the most popular ports of call for Guyanese clothing traders. She acknowledges, as well, the support of her two siblings.
Over time, Sonia’s knowledge of the clothing trade has grown and her ports of call for shopping also include Suriname.
The initial trading success of the Urban Apparel store enabled her to recruit five members of staff though in 2015, a significant downturn in patronage compelled her to retrench three of the five. Ironically, it was that very initial success that motivated her to establish an electronics enterprise on Robb Street in 2012 under the management of her sister whose migration in 2013 forced the closure of the establishment. Two years later, she took a further entrepreneurial leap, establishing Zarah’s. This establishment, she says, is the first phase of what she promises will be a venture into exclusive lines of female clothing, shoes, accessories and home furnishing.
If the challenge of transitioning from employee to businesswoman has not been particularly challenging, Sonia concedes that a far greater challenge reposes in ‘doubling up’ as wife and mother on the one hand, and a businesswoman on the other. It is, she says, “a juggling act” though she concedes that in recent years, she has learnt to cope better.
These days, her sights are set firmly on the future and more specifically, on the self-imposed task of designing a three-storey complex in which to help build her dream. She is anticipating challenges in persuading workmen to responding to her wishes. She has already succeeded in negotiating a loan from her parents amounting to two thirds of the total construction cost of around $18 million. Both her parents run separate businesses of their own.
By March, Sonia says, Zarah’s will be aiming to offer bridal outfits, electrical gadgets and home improvement items. She is seeking to deploy her own line of home furnishing countrywide, offering home delivery and on-line payment arrangements.
Last July, Sonia made what might well be considered an unexpected diversification. Having gained access to a steady supply of fruit, she began to experiment with cold pressed soursop juice. The experiment has grown into what she says is a lucrative market at Parika and elsewhere on the West Coast Demerara. Arising out of this, she is currently considering the launch of an agro-processing enterprise, a project for which she has countrywide distribution ambitions. Earlier this week, she engaged the Small Business Bureau to discuss her plans for financing. For Sonia Deonauth, it seems that the entrepreneurial sky is the limit.