By: Tebogo Mokwena
For aspiring township entrepreneurs to make a dent in their sector, they need to focus on building relationships, be resilient and stick to their vision no matter how difficult the journey becomes. These sentiments were expressed by Imbizo Shishanyama founder, Rita Zwane, and Drip founder, Lekau Sehoana, who were panelists at the inaugural Township Retail Investment Summit in Thembisa.
Zwane and Sehoana partnered with Jason McCormick of Exemplar REITail, which manages, develops and owns retail space, to host the event which included discussions and solutions to create actionable change in the retail sector in rural areas and townships. Zwane said that much of a business’s success centred around forging good relationships.
“During the pandemic, our fridges were full of stock, and you thought that the lockdown would only last for 21 days and did not think it would go on for months,” she said. “It was the type of relationships that we built that enabled us to go back to our suppliers and constantly negotiate for stock. “Those relationships which you would have built in the first 20 years of business gives you leverage (in difficult times).”
Zwane also said that developing strong relationships often saved a business during a rainy day. “If for example your business is doing well and a competitor comes and offers customers the same product for 30 or 40% less, it is the type of relationships that you build that will keep your business running,” she said. According to Sehoane, who launched his sneaker company three years ago after losing his job and failing many times as a businessman, it was difficult to start and maintain the business without the finance.
“The factory that manufactured the prototype for me wanted me to order 500 sneakers for a bulk order in order to manufacture, so I started getting pre-orders, and I was able to pay for the manufacturing,” he said. “Right now, we have a relationship with the factory where they manufacture the sneakers and I can pay them later.” Sehoane also said that his mission to stay out of poverty kept him going.
“I had nothing to lose, and for me, I was not comfortable with sitting around and doing nothing,” he said. “I had to keep moving and shaking, and I wanted to change the situation at home,” Zwane said that she was driven by the vision she had for the business. “For me, it was more than just selling pap and braai meat. I wanted to bring restaurants to the township, and I wanted to sell the ultimate braai experience. “I also wanted to see what value I would bring to the community other than merely making a profit,” she also said.