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Mara guns for Samsung, Huawei, Apple in SA smartphone market

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 17 Mar 2021
Sylvester Taku, MD of Mara Phones SA.
Sylvester Taku, MD of Mara Phones SA.

Mara Phones, manufacturer of “proudly African” smartphones, is aiming for the top three spot among smartphone brands in SA, says newly-appointed MD Sylvester Taku.

“I think we should be amongst the top three [smartphone brands] in South Africa; that is my and our target, to be in the top three smartphone suppliers in the country.”

To achieve this, the smartphone manufacturer will have to dislodge Samsung, Huawei or Apple, which currently hold the biggest smartphone market share on a global and local scale.

It also faces stiff competition from other brands, such as Xiaomi, OPPO and Vivo, which have tapped into SA’s lucrative smartphone market and are already making inroads.

As a new entrant in the local market, Taku is aware of the competition, pointing out that Mara Phones currently doesn’t have the market share it is capable of achieving.

“I don’t think we are at the level we know we can achieve,” he says. “We started and then COVID hit, but the reception has been great nonetheless.”

It is because of the “great” reception that the company is targeting cracking the top three, which Taku would like to see happen within two years.

“Obviously, the brands we compete with are long-established and well-known brands. There’s that aspect of overcoming the brand perception and becoming well-known, entrenching our brand awareness within the South African market that we are still working on.

“Having said that, we are learning that because we are producing high-quality affordable phones, making them affordable and accessible to consumers, they [consumers] love our story and are gravitating towards Mara smartphones.”

The Mara experience

Mara Phones is a subsidiary of the Dubai-headquartered Mara Corporation, which manufactures what it terms “proudly African” smartphones.

It made its South African debut in October 2019, opening a hi-tech smartphone manufacturing facility at the Dube Trade Port Special Economic Zone in KwaZulu-Natal.

Since then, Mara Phones has increased its portfolio smartphones to five, and added a rugged device and a tablet. It has also signed distribution deals with local outlets and banks, and opened SA’s first Mara Experience Store at Maponya Mall in Soweto in November.

Taku explains: “We started with two devices when we launched, and now we’ve got three more smartphones, we’ve got a rugged device and we’ve got a tablet. We keep on growing and each time we grow, we improve on our already-good quality and the usability of the devices as well.

“The entry-level Mara smartphone retails for R799; it’s a 3G device and of high-quality. We went through hard lengths to bring the entry point down, so that we meet those consumers that want to get into the smartphone space.

“Our most expensive device is currently retailing for R3 899. It’s a 6.7-inch device with a 5 000mAh battery life and enabled with NFC technology. Our top-range device competes with other devices in the market…but what we are not trying to do is compete on price; what we are doing is competing on quality and specs.”

The MD says Mara Phones are sold nationally and are available at Vodacom, Mr Price, Pick n Pay and Game shops, and will soon be available at Pep stores.

“We also sell our devices via FNB and Nedbank Avo – our devices are also listed there. TFG’s online side have got them, as well as Takealot, the Mara Web site and Proudly South African site.”

Taku describes South Africans’ appetite for locally-produced smartphones as “amazing”.

“We all had this pre-conception that it is going to be an upstream swim in trying to convince South Africans and Africans that locally-made is quality.

“We are finding, positively so, that there’s already that affinity – South Africans want to and are proud to buy a locally-made phone and want to go local. We are very excited by the affinity to the brand.

“We are positively surprised that people actually love the story, which is not the general view that one might have had about us and wanting to buy local. As a populace, we might have thought that people prefer imported, but what we are finding with our devices is that people actually love local.”

To boost the market response to Mara devices, Taku says the company will rely on its unique selling points, as well as a marketing campaign it has been slowly launching.

“What we are really counting on is the fact that we are producing high-quality phones, we are producing locally, and we managed, during this period, to grow very strong relationships with our partners.

“We are counting on what is our unique selling points…we want to grow the industry and we want to focus on that.”

He adds the plan is to also open more franchise stores. “We have a rollout plan for stores and locations of where we’d like to go. We plan to launch, within the next year or so, another 50 Mara Experience stores. Within two years from now, we should attain that number.”

Looking to the future, Taku emphasises the aim is to hit full capacity at the smartphone manufacturing factory.

“Future plans are really to grow the brand and create our marketing campaign for the brand awareness that we want to achieve. Every South African should want to know about this story; we want to get to full production and supply the market because the demand is there.”