WakaWaka, one of the newest members of the European Outdoor Conservation Association (Eoca), is an expression that means ”great light” in Swahili, one of the local languages in East Africa. It's the name of a Dutch manufacturer of special, patent-protected, portable solar chargers and lights, power banks and other solar-powered solutions. The company wants to have a stronger presence in the outdoor sector, where these products and others, like its solar-powered LED flashlight, can be used for a variety of activities.
Like Patagonia and other brands, WakaWaka is a Benefit Corporation that wants to do business and good at the same time. It insists on sustainability and corporate social responsibility across the supply chain. So with every purchase that its customers make, WakaWaka helps people to get access to light and power. The company has been involved in more than 350 relief actions and other projects for people in need of electricity, supplying them and 275 service organizations with some 250,000 solar-powered lamps and other products from their range. It works with Habitat for Humanity, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Save the Children and other non-governmental organizations.
WakaWaka has reinvested some of its profits to help about 1.2 million people in 37 countries in Africa and other parts of the world to use solar power instead of kerosene candles and fossil fuels for their daily lives through its own foundation under the tagline ”Share the Sun.” It wants to raise the number of beneficiaries to five million people by 2020.
Initially, WakaWaka was offering solar lights and chargers to people in need. It then started selling the same products to consumers, especially to power their smartphones and other electronic devices. It recently began to differentiate the product development process, putting out specific products for outdoor users as well.
In its bid to address the outdoor sector, WakaWaka had a booth for the second time at the last European OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen. It will have for the first time a stand at the next Ispo show in Munich, using a new exhibition area dedicated to sustainable brands. It will again exhibit in Friedrichshafen next year and participate in other sports and outdoor trade shows including next January's Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show in Denver and the new Outdoor Trade Show in Manchester in July.
WakaWaka has also hired an experienced 49-year-old agent for the German-speaking countries, Arne Pelzer. He will be working with a German distributor, Komsa, that already represents some suppliers of wearable electronic products, and a distributor for the Swiss market, Thali. WakaWaka already has important clients in Germany such as Unterwegs, but its biggest client in the country is Greenpeace Media through its transactional website.
Other important clients that cater for outdoor enthusiasts in Europe are Bever in the Netherlands, Nature & Découvertes, a specialized retail chain in France, and AS Adventure in Belgium, Luxembourg and France. Its products are sold in about 750 stores around the world, with a strong focus on the Netherlands and the U.S. Most of its sales of about €4 million last year were in outdoor stores, but the company wants the ratio to grow further. Its relatively new website is getting some traction.
WakaWaka's business idea started with the 2010 World Cup of football in South Africa, where two Dutch entrepreneurs, Camille van Gestel and Maurits Groen, decided to make the tournament climate-neutral by harnessing the energy of the sun and creating solar solutions for people living in areas without electricity. The company was founded in 2012. The two entrepreneurs were and still are involved in various other companies and community projects related to sustainability.
WakaWaka began to sell its products in the more developed countries on the basis of the same buy-one-give one principle used by brands like Toms in the footwear sector, focusing mainly on the Dutch and U.S. markets at the start. In less developed countries, the company has been pursuing a policy of marketing affordable solutions that can be paid by the final users on credit over a period of six to 12 months.
Last May, after hiring a new marketing manager, Mark Gijlstra, who comes from the healthcare sector, WakaWaka conducted market research that led it to change its business model, partly by addressing more the casual consumer as well as participants in outdoor activities in terms of marketing, sales and product development. Many new products are in the pipeline for introduction shortly based on this business plan.
In the outdoor sector, WakaWaka is targeting the “extreme” outdoor adventurer who needs power for many days during an expedition as well as the ”millennial explorer” who needs it just to power his or her smartphone and other electrical items on the beach and elsewhere. It has a lower-priced range of products that target older people and families who go on extended biking or walking excursions.
WakaWaka began to sell its products on its own web stores in the Netherlands and the U.S. about five years ago. Its coverage has been expanded since then to get orders also from customers in the U.K., Belgium, France, the Scandinavian countries, Japan and Australia.
Gijlstra believes in transforming WakaWaka into an inspirational brand with a focus on the outdoor enthusiast. He and his team have revamped the brand's website and are now preparing several videos that should come out soon, telling the WakaWaka story, its mission and how to use WakaWaka in the outdoors. They have been using Google Media to get the message across in various ways, such as an ad in a recent page of Footwear News' newsblog.
WakaWaka feels that its focus on the outdoor sector, its social model and its mission should allow it to compete better with other suppliers of power banks and solar chargers that have been used mainly for consumer electronics such as Xtorm or others such as Biolite or Goal Zero. According to Gijlstra, they have been selling their products to outdoor consumers without the same strong, declared commitment to help people in developing countries who have no access to electricity all year round.
Reports indicate that 800 people die in Africa every year from burning accidents caused by the use of kerosene lamps. Local people cannot use cell phones for emergency calls due to the lack of electrical power. Furthermore, many children don't have enough light in the evening to read books and do their assignments.