By: Tebogo Mokwena
The importance of SMMEs in building the economy and creating jobs was constantly in the news this year as well as the topic of discussion at various conferences and workshops. While everyone agrees that small businesses need to be bolstered, it was a year filled with successes, failures and lessons for SMME owners. Vutivi News spoke to a few SMME owners about their experiences. For many of them, the most valuable lessons they learned had to do with refining their target market and adopting new business strategies.
Angel Theledi, who owns Mkhala Gin, said she had to adopt new measures to understand why her business was not performing as well as she had expected. Theledi learned that if a product was good, it would be supported by customers regardless of the competition. She also got to know her target market. “This year was a strenuous year, and it came with many eye-opening lessons,” she said.
“When Mkhala Gin launched in 2021, I was able to sell around 300 bottles per month as the alcohol industry experienced a resurgence coming back from the lockdown period where people did not consume alcohol,” Theledi said. “Things slowed down this year, and while part of the reason was that I stepped back and did some introspection, I also realised that I was doing something wrong.” Theledi appointed a team to help her market her product properly and to fine-tune how she marketed her gin to her client base.
“I also believe that I will be investor ready, as I had to understand which parts of the businesses needed investment,” she said. Theledi also called on the government to be more supportive of beverage-manufacturing SMMEs. Paul Masilo, who owns Freshmo mouthwash, learned that the most important lesson was to be flexible and always have a contingency plan. “We had to change our strategy and how we did business because of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he told Vutivi News. “We had initially had a strategy that was geared towards enterprise supplier development funding, but that changed as many businesses had to cut costs and adjust their budgets.”
Masilo said that he was changing his focus to targeting independent outlets, general practitioners and smaller pharmacies as opposed to big retailers, after learning difficult lessons. He slammed retail buyers for making the process almost untenable, and bigger brands for unsavoury business practices. “Buyers would impose difficult standards to meet, and when we met those standards, they accused our products of not tasting like more popular brands,” he said.
“One buyer from a major retail store blatantly told us in a meeting that our products are under threat because while they are brilliant, bigger businesses will simply offer more money in order to buy more shelf space to prevent smaller brands from making it onto shelves. “That is why I am changing tact and will be focusing on smaller establishments, as I believe that the communication chain is not as difficult as with big businesses.” He noted that his highest point this year was getting media exposure, which boosted his brand.
“I am grateful for the exposure that Vutivi Business News gave our brand,” he said. Tiyani Maluleke, who owns the Soweto-based burger mobile truck Grub Worx, said that this year came with unforeseen circumstances, which in the end worked in his favour. He noted that due to the increase in petrol prices he relocated from Naledi to Chiawelo, which is also in Soweto and close to where he lives, and this resulted in an increase in sales. “The first month was a bit rough, but as the months progressed, I got more customers,” he said. “I was also booked for more corporate gigs than last year.”
Maluleke also said that he experimented with his menu and added combination burgers, which had received positive feedback. “We now serve chicken and rib and beef and rib combination burgers as well,” he said. “This year was also about networking and establishing strong contacts, as I had to rebrand the business and rediscover the business’ brand identity. “I am happy to say that I managed to secure a few deals that will result in the growth of the business in the long run,” Maluleke said