- Player: Mikie Monoketsi
- Company: Mama’s Spices & Herbs
- Established: 2012
- Visit: mamaspicesandherbs.com
- Contact: +27 (0)11 021 2205
In 2011, Mikie Monoketsi had lost everything – her call centre business and marriage. Having read Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, she made a life altering decision.
“I decided to stop worrying about the future and how to turn things around, and just start with something in the now.”
For her, that started with getting out of bed and hitting the gym. It didn’t just get her back in shape and feeling good about herself, it was a networking place that launched her entrepreneurial career.
Start-up tactic #1
Find an accessible market
I know that the township market is huge and very lucrative if you have the right offering. As a lover of health, fitness and lifestyle I was surprised at how many people in the townships are misinformed about spices and seasoning and their health benefits.
From this, I realised a need to educate the township market. Through my research I discovered that the spices customers used by townships are cheap and of poor quality, with high levels of salt, MSG, preservatives, additives and bulking agents – which all negatively impact health and contribute to high levels of hypertension and diabetes.
Start-up tactic #2
Get on the ground and get talking
I come from a PR background and I find it very easy to talk to and build relationships with people. I started with informal research in Diepsloot, Randfontein, Cosmo City and Lion Park where I’d park the car, talk with people and visit their kitchens – some of which really shocked me, but you’ve got to humble yourself to people from all walks of life.
Through this research I learnt what they were cooking – skop, mogodu, maotwana, kota (cows head, intestines, chicken feet, bunny chow), potato chips, fish, braai, stews and curries and fried chicken.
This gave me the idea to create my own unique blend of healthier spices that would complement these foods that are already consumed, but offer better quality, with health benefits, and at an affordable price. I’d also use their feedback to adjust recipes to their liking.
Start-up tactic #3
Approach existing businesses to get started
I didn’t want to be like so many other would-be entrepreneurs who procrastinate because they don’t have the resources to start big.
I approached an existing spice manufacturer with the relevant certification including Kosher, Halaal and ISO ratings, and they began blending my unique spice recipes. Now we’re producing approximately 1,2 tonnes of spices monthly for Mama’s Spices & Herbs.
Start-up tactic #4
Use people’s own networks to sell your product
I came up with a ‘business in a box’ concept where individuals could buy spice starter packs and they’d keep whatever they made when reselling.
It worked really well because people trust their friends, family and colleagues far more than a stranger. From there, they’d recognise it at their local shops and would spread the word themselves.
At the moment I have ten sales reps working in the townships on a commission basis, which helps keep my overheads low. They get paid weekly for their sales, and I’ve got 12 consistent distributors who pay upfront for orders and sell amongst their networks.
Gyms are the new golf (or, leverage your networks like crazy)
At gyms you can network, strike up partnerships, get connected and meet people who can be instrumental in building your business. It was at the gym that I found a spice manufacturer and met an executive producer. He pointed me in the right direction and today,
I’m on SABC 1’s Yo-TV, hosting a four minute exercise programme every Saturday morning. I get to promote my vision of health and fitness, demonstrate exercise, and occasionally throw in a good word about my business!
Start-up tactic #6
Record and cost every cent
When you start your business, ensure that every cent is accounted for, especially the non-tangibles like labour, packaging, cost of sales, and time. I found that because I didn’t cost everything, despite my sales improving I wasn’t making more money.
I realised I wasn’t factoring in the samples I was giving out – and when you’re in food, market samples are critical but you must factor in their costs. I also realised that using the business as a personal piggy bank was hampering growth – a few thousand here and there adds up – and I was no more sophisticated than the spaza shops and road-side shisa nyamas I was supplying to.
I didn’t get expensive software or an accountant, I bought a Croxley notebook and wrote down every expense and invoiced all customers. Once I did that I started seeing a difference.
Start-up tactic #7
Make sales worth your while
In the township market people don’t have a lot of money to buy in bulk, therefore it was impacting my stock management and projections. Turnover was hugely inconsistent – sometimes low and other times high.
I made the decision to leverage economies of scale and incentivise my distributors and direct clients to buy in bulk. I created a tiered pricing structure that really rewarded bulk purchases, and though I lost some business, turnover is now growing at a steady pace.
I’ve also had people approach me from all over South Africa and even neighbouring countries asking to sell my spices. These people are required to pay cash upfront for stock tailored to their needs and target market and are required to find their own delivery mechanism if post isn’t the best solution – I’m not a logistics expert and I’m not afraid to ask them to help.
When post isn’t an option customers take advantage of malayitsha services (informal courier services operating from Zimbabwe to South Africa). Their rates are cheaper and they’re very reliable.
Start-up tactic #8
Stay focused on your vision
I stay focused by concentrating on the present. I create yearly goals and categorise and prioritise these goals according to certain time frames in conjunction with the business and its operations.
Though I’ve branched into a few other product lines I always stay true to my vision of promoting a healthy lifestyle, fitness and longevity. Some of my new product lines include MSG-free spices and seasonings, popcorn sprinkles, homemade sauces, marinades, stews and soups, and spicy health teas.
I recently identified an opportunity in the market and launched our Ready Mix Concentrate Ginger Beer – people find it too much of a hassle to brew their own, so we’ve manufactured a ready mix concentrate that makes 20 litres per 750g (and because of its natural source it’s great for colds and flu, in keeping with my vision). All you do is add water, leave for 24 hours, refrigerate and then drink.
Some customers then tweak it with pineapple and raisins, bottle it and sell to their communities, creating their own businesses. In the first month of its launch we sold 100kg of concentrate.
Start-up tactic #9
Learn your mistakes quickly
I initially dabbled in white labelling but realised it was diluting the brand. The Mama’s Spices & Herbs brand was not growing because entrepreneurs were rebranding with their own packaging and branding. People would enjoy the unique flavours but didn’t know the producer.
It’s been great to discover that while I identified a niche market in the townships, health, fitness and longevity is common to all markets and consumers, which allowed me to open the products to a larger marketplace. Because we’re now focused on brand building, we get to enjoy extensive growth even in neighbouring countries because there’s no confusion of who the spices and seasonings belong to.
Start-up tactic #10
Make smart mutually beneficial partnerships
I have partnered with an entrepreneur who started selling potatoes with a one-tonne truck. He’s grown to a six-tonne truck and delivers 15 tonnes of potatoes per month to informal food outlets.
I approached him to tap into his network of customers to sell my best-selling potato and chip spice. He gets to add value to his customers, and to make extra money by taking a cut of the spice sales, and I get added business.