Comparing The O’Café And Smiling Panda Business Models In Gulu.

David Malo (1793-1853) a leading native Hawaiian historian and Christian minister once prophesied that, “if a big wave comes in, large fish will come from the dark ocean which you never saw before, and when they see the small fish, they will eat them up, such also is the case with large animals, they will prey on the smaller ones, the ships of the white men have come, and smart people have arrived from the great countries which you have never seen before, they know our people are few in number and living in a small country, they will eat us up, such has always been the case with large countries, the small ones have been gobbled up."

Similarly, as Gulu prepares for its city status, a peaceful and economically enterprising Gulu will attract a wave of big multinational entrepreneurs whom we may not see now but will come and out compete our small scale business geniuses because they come from big economies with bigger economies of scale hence more capital as compared to our geniuses from our subsistence economy.

In the first three months of 2017, Gulu has experienced two outstanding innovative business model concepts worth comparing.

The Smiling Panda Business Model from a Chinese business investor has hit the streets with pomp. The Smiling Panda Model is a giant, one stop center for recreation at a low cost.

It benefits from high turnover as it focuses on Gulu's regional strategic business location in northern Uganda. Unlike many cheap Chinese products that are perceived as low quality and not value for money. The Smiling Panda seem to offer value for money and has high quality products and services.

Similarly, O'Cafe is Gulu's latest sensation for urban, youthful and elitist clients. A week end without O' Cafe looks too sinful for pardon. O' Cafe's business model is what I like to term The Mutanga African Hybrid Business Model of running a Coffee Cafe in Gulu.

In the Mutanga Hybrid Business Model, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Founder Paul Mutanga uses a hybrid of the western business concept of Coffee Cafe but blends it with cultural dances and music.

While both business models aggressively use internet for its marketing and branding of their cafe's and other services, The Smiling Panda uses the Chinese Panda as its identity in business. The Panda is the emblem of China, the cuddly and lovable giant Panda lives nowhere else in the world outside captivity.

 The giant Panda is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) logo and is known as national treasure in China. Smiling Panda's use of a Panda throwing a strong back kick has been insinuated by the locals to mean China kicking away the Western Culture which is predominant in Gulu as a result of the numerous western Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) activities during the war and its wide acceptance.

Paradoxically, China is more known for its culture of kick boxing and Karate. So a Smiling Panda with a kick carries some mockery in it to whatever or whomever they are kicking. This may not mean much but could be a branding crisis while marketing it.

The Letter O, which is from Mutanga’s name Opolacen is synonymous with Luo names. To many native folks, O’ Café has our Luo identity. So local clients find, they have an identity with the Letter O’ since most names in Luo start with letter O’.

The letter O' has made the brand O' Cafe have a strong sense of ownership among native folks. As a distinguished and accomplished marketer, Mutanga uses his career background as a marketer with many international companies to develop an extremely strong local brand.

In terms of products, they both offer diversity and innovation. Gulu had never seen a Chinese mime a Chinese song or do an acapella in Chinese. But there is this lovely guy who sings out his heart in Chinese even when no one understands, but like they say good music is good even when you don't understand the lyrics.

Mutanga has introduced one of his greatest theme nights O’ Café Open Mic that is produced twice every month. He does a fusion of western style music band that plays country music and jazz in place for the evening cultural Acholi fireside(Wangoo) evening moment.

By David Martin Aliker.

1 Comment

  1. Great article. We are yet to witness a number of different unique but competitive business models in Gulu 'city'. The traditional businesses in Gulu ought to learn from the new giants and improve their services. Coffee Hut used to be the untouchable coffee shop in Gulu. They misused that position with dubious services. 2 months ago, I went to the Coffee Hut to have a skype call with my Supervisor. I needed a quiet place within town and what first popped in my head was coffee hut. Once at coffee hut, I ordered for a soft drink which goes for around 2K. On delivering the soda, the waitress boldly told me that with only a soda, I can't use their internet. She wanted me to order for something else.  I only wanted to use their space and not the internet. I had my mobile data subscription of about 2GB. BAD care for a GOOD customer. 

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