Gcwalisa Store: Democratising Staple Food Prices

When the need for something becomes essential, you are forced to find ways of getting or achieving it. Miles Kubheka, owner of the Gcwalisa store in Alexandra realised the essential need for affordable everyday products for people in low-income communities.

The unique store has prices that range between 50 cents and R5. “One thing we were very deliberate on was the aesthetics of Gcwalisa. Just because something is situated within a low-income community and sells lower priced products, it doesn’t mean that it has to look or feel cheap. People deserve to have aesthetically pleasing surroundings no matter where they are,” Kubheka tells Spot-On.

Gcwalisa is a branded refill dispenser found in April 2021, which allows customers to buy the number of everyday products that they need with the money they have available, so they can access these items when they need them and at the right price. These are the same quality products that you and I purchase yet presented in a way that is affordable to those communities. The store is subsidised by retailers and big brands such as Unilever, hence the incredible low prices.

Miles Kubheka of Gcwalisa. Photo supplied

Often in townships or black communities, there is an impractical sense of shame when it comes to purchasing things that are cheap, but Kubheka hasn’t come across this stereotype. “We have had the opposite reaction, in fact, we have been dubbed as the ‘Woolworths of Alex’.”

“The feedback from both the community and outsiders has been phenomenal. There is a great need for our business model in the community due to the current societal and economic climate. We recently conducted a market research study with our customers to gauge their perceptions on the business model and the feedback was almost all positive. I believe this is because our business model was built empathetically. We did our utmost best to ensure that Gcwalisa not only fits the communities needs and circumstances but positively impacts their lives and communities,” the social entrepreneur says.

Flocking In: Gcwalisa Customers queue outside the store. Photo supplied

The store was officially launched on Freedom Day last year. “The reason for this day in particular was because our mission is to democratise retail in South Africa and bring about meaningful food systems transformation,” he says.

According to Kubheka, statistically low-income or what he calls the poorly paid, not poor consumers spend majority of their income on food and beverage purchases. “This means that they cannot afford to buy products that are of low-quality as they cannot simply replace it. It was important for us to apply this to our business model because again, going back to empathy,” Kubheka says.

There is no limit to the number of items one can buy, but the Soweto-bred Kubheka warns that “There is however, a limit to the quantity of stock purchased due to our business model.”
The store has a green approach to its packaging. “The issue of single-use plastics and waste management in communities is one that has to be taken seriously. We are now seeing the detrimental effects of climate change and those who suffer the most are ones in low-income communities,” says Kubheka.

A Helping Hand: Gcwalisa employee Elenah Martha Mokwele. Photo supplied

When selling cooking-oil for example, his repeat customers come with reusable glass containers that the Gcwalisa provided. “We believe that design is also a mechanism that can be used in combatting climate change. Not using a single-use plastic is better than recycling a single-use plastic. If we are able to influence how products and even retail is designed, then we believe that we can substantially improve efforts in cultivating a zero-waste culture. Our model is challenging manufactures to think differently about how food is packaged and sold. Customers are encouraged to either purchase reusable Gcwalisa glass jars or bring their own containers. Through interactions with customers, we educate customers on the importance of cultivating a culture of reusing and recycling. From our model we have seen that it is possible to cultivate a zero-waste culture in all communities.”

Gcwalisa has 2 full-time employees and 2 part-time employees.

Kubheka is an optimist who sees challenges as opportunities for growth. “Understanding the challenges of the market we are serving and providing a solution that is an actual fit. Most solutions to the biggest challenges in society, are implemented through a ‘top-down’ approach. Meaning, what the market/consumers want is assumed and implemented by those at the’ top’. The ones not actually going through or have never gone through the challenges they are trying to solve. Oftentimes this approach doesn’t work or is not sustainable.”

Reusable glass jars used at Gcwalisa. Photo supplied

“What I believe works is what I call a ‘Bottoms up’ approach. Where we are empathetic and not sympathetic to the major challenges faced by consumers/the market. For me, empathy allows us to provide solutions that actually speak to the problems and result in a sustainable and meaningful change. We constantly have to remind ourselves to have an empathetic approach when looking for solutions to better serve our customer. Tech integration in our model is assisting us in better understating our customer and the environment in which we operate to ultimately better serve our customer.”

Kubheka is looking at launching the store in other townships.
For more information on Kubheka and Gcwalisa click HERE or send them an email to jk@wakanda.org.za