In a patriarchal society, the business of selling car parts, especially engines and gearboxes, is ordinarily a preserve for men, but one young woman in Masvingo has defied the odds and went on to dominate the field.
Growing up in Masvingo, Primrose Chirongoma had a humble upbringing, and she most probably never imagined making the phenomenal achievements she has made at a young age.
At 30 years of age, Chirongoma is the director of Partland Engines and Gearbox which she built from scratch.
The company operates two branches in Masvingo town, one in Chiredzi, one in Kadoma and yet another one in Zvishavane; altogether employing up to 20 people.
The brand has grown phenomenally, and its flagship shop along Shuvai Mahofa Street in Masvingo, is unmatched in terms of stock size and variety.
Chirongoma attended Dikwindi Primary School before proceeding to Ndarama High School for her secondary education. She could not complete her ‘A’ Levels at Mutero Mission High School in Gutu because her widowed mother Fadzai Chin’anga could no longer afford to pay her school fees.
“I did not allow this setback to suppress my spirit for too long. Instead, I looked forward with determination and decided to make the best of that bad situation,” Chirongoma told EnviroPress in an interview.
Using her small savings she had kept after a very brief period of employment at Tohori, a local company which manufactured foodstuffs, she became an informal trader at the Chitima market, selling clothes she bought mostly from South Africa.
With an eye for detail and for opportunity, she was to soon operate many stalls at the shanty market and she now employed some helpers.
At the age of 18, she bought her first car, a Toyota Noah which she used to transport passengers between Masvingo and Gutu. In no time, she had bought more vehicles which she deployed and serviced Masvingo, Bondolfi and Muchakata routes.
She was able to make some considerable savings which she then used to buy Toyota Hiace omnibus vehicles which plied local routes between town and her neighbourhood of Runyararo West.
Chirongoma managed to purchase a 30 tonne tipper truck after selling off some of her passenger vehicles. The tipper would be hired out to people seeking to move large amounts of sand and quarry for construction purposes.
In 2016, at the age of 23, she bought two Mercedes Benz Sprinter omnibuses which she deployed on the Chiredzi route, and the fleet later grew to 10 vehicles which were famously branded ‘Zanzibar Tours’.
“You may want to describe business as an intelligent gamble. I did my best to identify opportunities and take them. My eyes and ears are always open, and I definitely know when to buy and when to sell,” said Chirongoma.
Business diversification and growth
Chirongoma moved into the more highly rewarding yet highly capital intensive engines and gearboxes business in 2019 with her first shop at the corner of Leopold Takawira and Eddison Zvobgo Street.
Due to space limitations at that shop, she opened another one along Shuvai Mahofa Street in a building which used to house the famous Ritz Nightclub. This became the hub of engines and gearboxes of vehicles of all makes and sizes, with the first branch now concentrating on smaller components and accessories.
As an executive director, Chirongoma has to shuttle to and from her other business branches in Chiredzi, Kadoma and Zvishavane almost on a daily basis.
“It’s quite hectic managing such a growing enterprise but I have the energy and the passion. I will not tire until the business has grown to where it should be. We are currently planning to open another branch in Beitbridge so that we can more conveniently serve the interests of our customers there,” said Chirongoma.
She said the business has a standard operating procedure which allowed all work and communications to be carried out systematically with less mistakes and misunderstandings.
“There must be no cutting corners,” she said.
Challenges and aspirations
Chirongoma laments the devastations wrought on her business and her plans by the Covid-19 induced lockdowns.
“Suddenly, we could not import and clients were fewer than what we could have ever imagined. It was a struggle just to stay afloat, forget about business growth. We had opened a branch in Harare but it did not do well and we closed it down,” she said.
Asked why a customer should buy from Partland Engines and Gearbox instead of any other shop, Chorongoma said what sets her business apart from others was the emphasis on customer satisfaction.
“For us it’s not entirely about the money and nothing else. We create relations with our customers and do follow-ups to make sure those that give us business are satisfied.
“We have an open door policy and I have told my staff to allow customers to communicate with me directly should any grievance arise,” she said.
A word for (aspiring) businesswomen
“Be bold, be strong, be focused and have no fear. There are many people who would discourage you along the way but don’t look back,” said Chirongoma, who in 2020 graduated from Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) with a Bachelor of Commerce Honours Degree in Business Management.
A holder of a Class 1 driver’s licence which allows her to drive buses, Chirongoma said she is a woman who has always felt challenged to succeed where men succeed.
“I want to grow and I encourage women and girls to do the same. I have my mother to thank for standing with me and supporting me, and I have always felt challenged to do all the things that are often considered to be male domains,” she said.
She pleaded with government to aid women-led businesses so that they can have easier access to land for development purposes.
“It is difficult to find a prime piece of land in town where we can build our own premises and develop ourselves. Women-led SMEs need to be prioritised in order to create and distribute wealth more equitably,” she said.