What Our Product Clinics Look Like in East Africa
For many folks reading this article, the second image looks pretty familiar: a product clinic at your local outfitter. The one pictured above is from a recent stop on the Get Out More Tour.
The first image? Guess what – it's a product clinic too. Except instead of it being at REI, it's taking place in a rural village in western Kenya.
No matter where you are, having a chance to interact with a product first-hand is a game-changer. We’ve spent the past few weeks sharing updates from the Get Out More Tour, so for this article we're tagging along with a BioLite Burner to give you a front row seat to what it takes to pull off a powerful demo with our off-grid customers in east Africa.
Meet the Reps: Hilary & Randy
Hilary, pictured in the first image, is a BioLite Burner based in Kerugoya, Kenya. ‘BioLite Burner’ is the term we use for our local representatives in emerging markets. These are men and women who grew up in the regions they serve and are lighting fires inside HomeStoves multiple times a day to show potential customers how our products work. All of our Burners have personal experience using our products in their homes so that their recommendations are genuine, and their tips and advice are always rooted in reality. They're passionate about their work, making it easy to draw a crowd. Through enthusiastic, highly skilled demonstrations, they engage their audience by showing rather than telling, and by answering questions before onlookers even know they have them.
If you’ve attended an event like the GoPro Games or stopped by a demo at your local REI, chances are you’ve met the US equivalent of a BioLite Burner. Randy, who’s the touring host of the Get Out More tour (in the second picture) is one of them. He’s an avid outdoorsman and BioLite ambassador who’s road tripping across the US to spread the word about BioLite among local outdoor communities.
Let's take a look at a day in the life of Hilary – with a quick comparison to what you might experience at an upcoming GOMT stop with Randy.
7AM: Hilary Reports to His Local Microfinance Branch
There’s no REI or LLBean in rural Kenya – so Hilary has to find his audience through other community destinations.
Hilary starts his day at Kerugoya’s Juhudi Kilimo branch where he prepares for the day ahead with our site partner, Katherine. Juhudi Kilimo is a microfinance organization that works with local farmers to get them access to small business loans and our working relationship enables us to reach an engaged audience who have tools to finance their potential purchase. (Editor's note: for more on the long road to how we built these partnerships, check out this piece from our CEO.)
Hilary and Katherine review the upcoming demos - where they are headed, how many people they can expect and the most common energy needs of attendees. This discussion helps Hilary understand how to tailor his demos more specifically to his audience.
Meanwhile, on the Get Out More Tour: Each morning ahead of a GOMT event, Randy checks in with the local retail staff to get insight into his audience. Just like Hilary, he needs to know how many people he’ll be presenting to and what they might be most interested in. He gets details about the most common outdoor activities in the region so he can share relevant anecdotes.
8AM: Hilary & Katherine Hit the Road
On deck for today are two demos in the Kerugoya region. The first demo will be hosted inside the home of a Florence Mugambi (a local leader) with 7-10 expected guests. The second demo is held roughly 10 miles away at a nearby farm with 5-7 potential customers joining.
In rural Kenya, where there aren’t big retail stores, Hilary travels to meet potential customers in locations that are convenient - the homes of local leaders or neighboring farms. Hilary & Katherine leave plenty of time to reach these destinations as travel times can vary greatly depending on the mode of transport and routes used. It can take a couple of hours to get from one location to another depending on if they are hitching a ride on the back of a motorbike or driving (which can often involve multiple detours down bumpy unpaved dirt roads) or even walking back into town to get better directions.
Morning at the Get Out More Tour: Depending on the time of the event, Randy heads to the local outdoor retail store an hour or so early to get set up. He drives a van with a trailer attachment that pops out into traveling demo space. Unlike Hilary’s demos, Randy’s events are taking place outside of retail shops or at ongoing festivals that, fortunately, have a lot of organic foot traffic.
10AM-2PM: Driving It Home With Real-Time Demos
“I like to start with the solution,” says Hilary. After years on the job, Hilary’s presentation is dialed in. He roots it in personal experience and knowledge of local energy consumption. He knows that most potential customers are cooking over open fires with wood and using kerosene to light their homes - both of which are costly, inefficient, and could use an upgrade. Using anecdotes from years of product usage, he makes the case for why our products deserve a place in the home:
"Imagine you didn't have to buy Kerosene every week..."
"What would you do with those savings..."
"Imagine having your phone fully charged all the time..."
"Imagine no more smoke in your eyes..."
He begins enthusiastically firing off a list of questions to get the group engaged. He wants to get heads nodding and build consensus around the realities of cooking a meal or lighting a home with a rudimentary energy source. Once he sees the heads nodding - he connects the dots to the BioLite HomeStove and SolarHome 620.
“It’s not enough to just tell people - you have to show how it works.” Hilary’s been doing this long enough to anticipate the questions he’ll get from the crowd and demos each product in a way that answers questions before potential customers can even ask them - lighting the stove, explaining how the technology works, why there is no smoke, how to refuel it, how to charge devices, how to set up the SolarHome 620 inside a house, etc.
Inevitably questions do come up: How hot does it get? How long will it last? How do you set up the lighting system in your home? Whatever the concern - Hilary’s quick to respond with a solution. And believe us, it's hard to stump Hilary: after two years of testing and presenting both the HomeStove and SolarHome 620 he's a walking library of tech specs, applications, and troubleshooting tips.
At Get Out More Tour Events: Whether a potential customer is in Virginia or Kenya, they want to know the same things from our representatives: how a product works, how it will make their time off grid better, how to use it, and how it compares to existing products or solutions they have. In each of our demos we try to let our products speak for themselves by showing how they work.
Similar to Hilary, Randy has plenty of experience with our gear. Most recently, he used our HeadLamp 330s and SolarPanels on a trek through Nepal. He uses personal anecdotes from this trip (and from his time road tripping across the US) to make the case for why people should buy our products and so he can properly address any questions/concerns.
Moment of Truth: Joining The BioLite Family
How do Hilary and Randy know the demo went well? When someone raises their hand and asks, "so.... how do I get one?"
Success in either location is an exciting and humbling moment: in Kenya, it means a low-income household has determined BioLite will bring meaningful value to their daily life. In the outdoor world, it means that a customer has determined BioLite has earned a place in their (often highly competitive) gear kit.
In both cases, the day started with a room full of strangers and ended with a room full of community members with an expanded understanding of the energy that waits around them – they just need the right tool to unlock it.
4PM: Hilary Reports Back to HQ
With seven new orders on the books, Hilary connects with the Nairobi office to arrange product delivery to his new customer’s homes. He then heads home to rest before doing this all over again tomorrow.
Randy packs up his showcase and finds the perfect spot outside to camp and call it a night.
Let’s see how these guys did:
At the end of the day, Hilary and Randy are 8,000+ miles apart, but their daily responsibility looks remarkably similar: show what the future of off-grid energy can look like.
And their impact is bigger than that single demo day: when they turn a stranger into a BioLite customer, we find that those folks often become BioLite ambassadors themselves, telling their neighbors and family members about their new products.
So there you have it – a little demo goes a long way.
Looking to see how EM Demos add up to cleaner, healthier homes? Check out our Impact Report.
Want to meet Randy in person at a demo near you? Check out the Get Out More Tour Schedule.