When it comes to buying a mattress, all I am concerned with is something that is made of foam and soft to give me a good night sleep. I do not put so much thought into it because to me it is just something on which I lay for the less active time of my life,” Kubwimana Alex, a Kigali resident offered.
Similarly, various people aspire to buy world class car brands and at times other luxurious assets but few put thought into the kind of mattresses they sleep on. This is so even though, according to Ali M. R. Manji, the Managing Director of VIVA Products Ltd, Manufacturers of QFL-Magodoro Dodoma Mattresses in Rwanda commonly known by its local brand name Matelas Dodoma – “a human being on average spends at least a third of their entire lifetime sleeping.”
“It is astounding how little people care for the place where they spend a third or more of their lifetime yet a lot is done to accumulate luxury products which at times may not be as necessary.”
In an interview with Hope Magazine, the Managing Director of VIVA Products Ltd spoke about the quality of the Matelas Dodoma brand of bedding materials, the company’s contributions to the Rwandan economy where he shared that the barely six months old factory employs over 80 staff, only four of who are expatriates while the rest are Rwandans especially youth, who have benefited from training and are managing the manufacturing line at the factory. Below is an excerpt from the interview.
Hope: What attracted Dodoma Mattress to invest in constructing a factory in Rwanda?
Manji: There are various factors that are responsible for what is currently known as Matelas Dodoma in Rwanda but key among them is the need to getting closer to our customers. We had been exporting our products into Rwanda from the Tanzanian based factory. However we realized that by the time these products got on the market, they would be more expensive than they normally should because of the additional transport cost.
Hence we resolved to set up a factory in Kigali to serve the local market but also to operate as the regional factory for the Burundi and Eastern Congo markets plus other markets that we will be able to establish in the future.
Besides, the other factor that attracted us into Rwanda was the supportiveness of the government to private investors who channel their resources into the country.
When I came to Rwanda in 2011, I realized the good business environment that was being created here and it was just natural that Dodoma Mattresses amplifies its presence in this market.
For instance, after solidifying our intention to become local players in the Rwandan market, we received support from investor facilitators at the Rwanda Development Board, which made it possible for us to construct, and begin operations in just seven months; a task which on average takes us at least a year in all the other countries where the company operates.
Hope: What is the capacity of the Matelas Dodoma factory in Kigali and to what extent are you utilizing the potential?
Manji: Currently, we are still operating under the factory’s capacity, operating at between 10-15% of the capacity. This has a lot to do with the fact that we have been in operation for just about six months. We are already making efforts to increase demand for our products and these are undoubtedly paying off. We have recruited dealers in various parts of the country in and outside the capital Kigali, and we are seeing enthusiasm for our products is increasing.
Hope: For the time you have been around, what have you made of the purchasing power of the Rwandan market? Is the market mature enough to demand for your commodities?
Manji: First I would say that we are very enthusiastic about the market here and that we have seen good uptake of the Dodoma products. However, I would also mention that there is still an issue of mindset change like in many other African markets, concerning mattresses. People do not tend to care much about the quality of the mattresses they buy.
Someone would rather be more concerned with the car they drive than with the mattress on which they spend at least a third of their lifetime. We are now trying to educate the market on what buying a mattress, and for that matter a quality one, means and slowly I believe we will achieve the goal. Besides the local market, our plant in Rwanda is also strategically positioned to serve the markets in Eastern DRC, Burundi and other Central African countries, and we believe that the choice of location for the plant could not have been any better.
On the other hand, just like I earlier said, our main intention is to make sure that our products are sold at affordable prices, we are still making efforts to minimize costs and ensure that the people of Rwanda can have access to high quality mattresses.
Hope: Speaking of quality mattresses, what defines a good mattress from a poor one?
Manji: Important to note in regards to mattresses is that the best mattress for a healthy sleep is a high density one. Usually because of the high costs involved in producing high density mattresses, many manufacturers chose to produce the less costly low density mattresses.
The major and most important difference between these two kinds of mattresses is the ability to quickly return to normal shape after being compressed like during sleep. To this element, low density mattresses take long to, or never at all, return to former shape when compressed during sleep while high density ones retain their shapes.
The distorted shapes in case of the low density mattresses are responsible for many health anomalies like back aches, insufficient physical rest even after a long sleep among others.
For QFL-Magodoro Dodoma / Matelas Dodoma, our brand since conception in 1992 produces high density premium quality mattresses and this is something have maintained all along and will continue to uphold. For buyers, it is not only to say that you buy Dodoma mattresses, but what is most important to note is that one ought to purchase good quality high density mattresses.
Hope: How can buyers be assured of getting the premium quality mattresses, even when they buy from your dealers?
Manji: Like I said before, the best mattress is a high density one, which maintains its shape no matter how long you sleep on it. All Matelas Dodoma are premium quality high-density mattresses, which are the best for your health. Also we have various kinds of these mattresses to serve special needs including the orthopedic mattress, which is good for people with sever back pains. After some time of using this mattress, the results are self-testifying.
We offer the best technology spring mattresses in various sizes, and we also make complete BedSets (this includes beds, mattress and headboard), and furthermore we also supply pillows, cushions for sofa sets, and we have also introduced a sofa cum bed product (it’s a sofa and you can open it to make it a bed). Back to how buyers can ascertain that what they pay for are the high density Dodoma mattresses, they (buyers) should look for the Matelas Dodoma Label on each product or in other mattresses there is a tape wrapped around the mattress having the Matelas Dodoma trademark.
Hope: Speaking of your export aspirations, how are you faring in this regard?
Manji: We are faring quite well on exports especially because of the good political relationships existing amongst nations in the region. Using the East African Community Cross Border Trade Protocol, we are able to sell our commodities with limited bottlenecks in the various markets. Also the COMESA protocols are facilitating trade with other African countries. Generally, cross border trade is well facilitated and all that one may hope for is that the treaties and achievements made this far are sustained.
Hope: As manufacturers which unique challenges have you faced in your operations for the last half year in Rwanda?
Manji: Most of what classifies, as challenges are factors, which all manufacturers face not just in Rwanda but also in various other countries.
What is important to note here is that the Rwandan Government is showing good progress in addressing these factors, as good strides are being made to increase the availability of electricity, which would subsequently lower the unit costs.
Importation of Raw Materials is quite costly due to high costs of bringing in consignments by road from Dar-es-salaam Port, and we only hope solutions can be ascertained due to reduce this major cost factor.
As Matelas Dodoma, our main challenge has been packaging. We usually wrap our products in PVC sheeting but this is not allowed in Rwanda, a factor that limits our ability to deliver hygienic products to our consumers as the concern lies during handling, storage or during transport. Even though this challenge remains, the government is working with us while we try and come up with a sustainable solution.
Hope: Going forward, what is your promise to Rwandans and your other customers in the region?
Manji: First, we want to inform our customers and prospects alike that we have a fully-fledged manufacturing factory in Kigali Rwanda in the Kigali Special Economic Zone, which is ready to satisfy any demand that may arise. Secondly, we are resolved to continue innovating in the production process, working on economies of scale to make available high quality products at affordable prices, so that everyone can own a long lasting, comfortable mattress and we assure “Quality is not an accident, we make it happen”.