Morocco: Chari, a new start-up that relies on tradition

By El Mehdi Berrada
Posted on Friday, 16 July 2021 11:51

Chari’s founders: Sophia Alj and Ismael Belkhayat. AmineChbani/Puresprit

In 18 months, Moroccan start-up Chari has succeeded in making its mark on the logistics and distribution landscape. The firm has developed a mobile application that allows local shops – which account for 80% of the country’s distribution – to order everything they need, at competitive prices and with the promise of free delivery in less than 24 hours.

Since January 2020, 15,000 users have registered on the application and used it at least once. In April this year, 5,000 of them used the app at least three times. In view of the company’s steadily improving results, its founders – Ismael Belkhayat and Sofia Alj – estimate that overall turnover will reach $25m by the end of 2021.

Since it was established, Chari only had one warehouse that was located in Casablanca and that covered the entire Rabat-El Jadida area. However, it has just recently opened another one, in Tangiers, which serves the northern part of the country. The two founders hope to cover the entire kingdom by the end of 2022, and then establish themselves in French-speaking Africa.

With some 200,000 convenience stores located throughout the country, the scope for growth is enormous.

In fact, they are well ahead of schedule as they opened their first subsidiary abroad in Tunis on 1 June. “The Tunisian market is very similar to the Moroccan one, as grocers play a major role in distribution, just like they do in West Africa,” says Belkhayat. “This establishment is important because we want to show that we are capable of duplicating our model outside of Morocco.”

Margin for growth

It is also a way of attracting investment funds. The start-up, which is currently valued at $20m, has already managed to convince the US incubator Y Combinator and France’s Orange to invest.

“Local commerce is still the most culturally appreciated way of doing business in Morocco, and this will not change any time soon,” says Belkhayat. At 37, the younger brother of Moncef Belkhayat (boss of Dislog and president of the family holding company H&S Invest) is convinced that the development of large-scale distribution will in no way hinder Chari’s growth.

The company currently has a fleet of 20 trucks and is ultra-efficient. ”We have developed all the applications we work with in-house and thanks to technology, [we] have optimised everything, including transport costs. Now we are able to take and deliver more orders every day, travelling the [least] kilometres,” says the entrepreneur.

It is often not easy to put the minds of small traders at rest as they are often reluctant to use the application and share personal data. To counter this problem, Chari has hired locally-based ambassadors who speak the same language as small retailers and can convince them to use the platform. And with some 200,000 convenience stores located throughout the country, the scope for growth is enormous.

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