Thabang Molefi’s introduction to the world of entrepreneurship wasn’t easy. Sinking her R700 000 savings into a business that didn’t make money for two years left her despondent and desperate – but not demotivated.
When Soweto-based Roots Healthcare Centre wasn’t able to attract enough clientele to turn a profit, Molefi started giving away free consultations to Soweto businesswomen in the hope that they would spread the word.
The plan worked when a neighbouring entrepreneur told Lesedi FM’s Chomane Chomane, who invited Molefi on-air for an interview.
“We went from having no clients and no money to having over 30 clients the next day,” says Molefi, an iridologist who studied at the Indigenous Medicinal Plants Training College in Khayelitsha.
Driving word-of-mouth referrals is just one of many strategies she’s come up with over the years to secure Roots’ growth and profitability.
She entered the SAB Kickstart competition in the hope that she’d win enough money to purchase an iridology scanner – and promptly won R40 000 in the regional leg of the competition.
She followed this up by winning the R150 000 first prize in the national competition, allowing her to open a second brand.
But as money started rolling in Molefi made a classic entrepreneurial blunder – opening more branches than she could manage. “I was working full-time in the Soweto centre and didn’t have the capacity to manage the other branches.
“I was working too much in the business instead of on the business.
“I hired an area manager but the business started losing money to stock loss and theft,” she says.
Recognising that the business couldn’t be sustained, she acted fast and scaled back, closing six of the nine branches and focusing on those outlets that were working well.
“I’ve definitely learnt some lessons about managing steady growth,” she says.
Still wanting to grow the business, she hit on the concept of a mobile healthcare service for remote communities.
“This involves visiting small communities in remote areas to deliver the range of services usually offered in one of her branches.
“I came back to South Africa from working cruise ships in the US because I was passionate about giving back to my community and starting a business in Soweto.
“I’m still passionate about delivering affordable wellness services to communities, and the mobile units allow me to do this without having to open and manage branches,” she explains.
The mobile visits also target a captive market and generate crowds of 30 to 40 people at a time. It’s good business.
Molefi recently penned a book about her journey. Dollars to Soweto is as much about giving back to other local entrepreneurs as it is about generating awareness of the business.
“I’ve walked a hard road in business and made many mistakes. I’d love other entrepreneurs to learn from them and I hope reading the book will inspire them to believe, in spite of all the challenges, it can be done,” she says.
- Player: Thabang Molefi
- Company: Roots Healthcare Centres
- Est: 2000
- X-Factor: Resilience, determination and the ability to change tack quickly has turned the business around from a loss-making concern to a multi-million turnover enterprise.
- Connect: www.rootsclinic.org