The Sinhala New Year is just a few weeks away, and this is the time when swings start showing up at Sri Lankan homes and gardens. Today I met Sunil Monarawila, an entrepreneur from Gampaha who runs a small business creating swings for both children and adults. “I created my first swing for my daughter, and I loved to see her and her friends using it. I did a few more for her friends and suddenly I was in to a business on my own which I enjoyed more than my day job.” Sunil modified the traditional swing and made the design more attractive, portable, durable and usable. He also created a step-by-step user guide on how to fix and use these new swings. The business was growing: his retailers kept asking for more units. He kept improving his product and made it safer by adding a safety belt, which became a key factor in boosting his sales for baby swings. “It took a couple of years for me to get to a profitable level and I slowly started to expand my operation because I saw a real demand and boost in sales. Then came the Chinese version and within months now I am struggling to survive.” The number one retailer who has been selling his stuff with a 100% price markup has started importing a low cost swing from China. Advertising was always expensive for Sunil and it was purely the word of mouth that drove his sales. People still go to the same retailer asking for Sunil’s swing which they have seen or heard about from elsewhere, and end up purchasing a ‘Made in China’ swing, which actually costs more than Sunil’s. During the past few weeks I had the opportunity to talk to quite a few entrepreneurs like Sunil, producing great products from household items, furniture, jewellery and designer wear. This was part of our short-listing process for storeowners for Colomboard – a web app idea that is about to become a reality. They all are passionate about what they do, and that has been their foundation stone in their entrepreneurial journeys despite all the odds. Even after years, some of them still have doubts about whether to continue with their passion full time or to get employed elsewhere and do it part-time. They have reason to do so: the cost of living is constantly increasing and biting away at their profits as well as resolution. Yet they all want to grow their businesses, improve their product quality and offer something more to make their customers happy. Colomboard will be our small way of making sure they succeed.
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