Stationery suppliers in the country have decried the devastating effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on their businesses as schools and educational institutions remain closed.
The third quarter of the year – July to September – which has traditionally been the high season for stationery sales as it precedes a new academic year, has this year been marked by a downturn in sales.
With most schools yet to reopen, except for final-year students taking their exit exams and with many offices operating at less than optimal capacity, the two primary segments of stationery consumers – educational and corporate institutions – have limited their purchases. While the degree of impact seems to vary between distributors who specialise in either segment, the downward trend in sales has been expressed by all.
Speaking to the B&FT, some distributors of books and stationery in the Central Business District (CBD) of Accra expressed their frustration with the turn of events.
Enoch Sarpong of the Wichard Mega Enterprise which caters primarily to office stationery stated: “This is the first time I am experiencing such a dry season with regard to sales. I can’t give you an exact figure, but we are recording, at best, 20% of what we would ordinarily post at this time of the year.
“It has been quite tough I must confess, especially as we have obligations to our suppliers. However, with many offices reopening, we have seen a decent demand for items such as A4 sheets, paper-clips, printing cartridges and files.”
With the education segment responsible for approximately 70% of books and stationery sold, the outlook was gloomier for small-scale suppliers, often referred to as ‘table-top’ sellers. They noted that due to their specialisation in stationery for schools, they have been hardest hit.
This comes against a recent upward trend for the segment as, over recent years, factors such as a growing population, rising number of student enrollment, increasing literacy rate, improving economic conditions as well as a change in consumer preference and product innovation have led to an upturn in demand for stationery – with a steady growth outlook forecast for the medium-term.
For Aunty Esi, a table-top dealer, said the condition is dire with very little optimism in the short-run. She noted that the problem for most small-scale dealers precedes outbreak of the pandemic, as a government policy directive had led to changes in the curriculum – rendering what they had in stock functionally useless.
“Even before COVID-19, government changed the curriculum suddenly without giving us ample time to phase-out the textbooks we had in stock. We are now left with books that cannot be sold, and to compound the problem we are yet to receive books with the new curriculum.
“We have heard of some books being rejected as being outdated. The dissemination of information has been poor, and the uncertainty is, perhaps, doing us more harm than the lack of sales as we do not know what plans to make. No, I’m not optimistic. I have ruled this year out and I’m looking to schools resuming next year. It is quite disheartening,” she stressed.
Schools, along with other public gatherings, were closed from Monday 16 March, 2020, in a bid to curb spread of the virus.
Emmauel Owusu, another small-scale seller, echoed the sentiments expressed by Aunty Esi. He stated that ordinarily, even prior to resumption of the new academic year, parents would purchase items to enable their wards execute their holiday assignments; but that has not been the case this year.
Moreover, he indicated that the lack of a cohesive and properly-functioning association has left them without the collective strength needed to plead their cause. “We have an association that isn’t vibrant; as such, at a time like this with its great uncertainty, we lack a unified voice to engage stakeholders – especially at the Ministry of Education,” he stated.
He expressed optimism that those who have applied for assistance from government’s GH₵1billion Coronavirus Alleviation Programme Support Scheme will receive favourable responses.