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The Rise And Rise Of Skinny Sbu Socks

Sibusiso ‘Skinny Sbu’ Ngwenya took a rather esoteric hobby of sock collecting and turned it into a viable and exciting business opportunity.

GG van Rooyen

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Vital stats

  • Player: Sibusiso ‘Skinny Sbu’ Ngwenya
  • Company: Skinny Sbu Socks
  • Established: 2013
  • Contact: skinnysbu.co.za

You know what’s cool and fun? Not socks, that’s what. Socks are boring and dull – unless you’re a marathon runner searching for the perfect non-chafing sock, it’s a grudge purchase at best. There is no way to take an item like a sock and make it ‘cool’.

Well, as it turns out, this isn’t true at all. Socks are cool — more particularly, socks that are colourful, distinctive and bold are cool. As a clothing item, the sock is experiencing something of a renaissance. Although distinctive socks were popular in the European courts of the 16th and 17th centuries, they were relegated for many, many years to the underclass of the undergarment.

No longer. The sock is back. And one of its biggest enthusiasts is Sibusiso ‘Skinny Sbu’ Ngwenya. Moreover, Ngwenya is no late-comer to the sock revolution. Even as a child, he enjoyed collecting socks.

Related: How Merchant Capital And Retroviral Were Built To Sell

Start small

When his collection had reached epic proportions, Ngwenya’s mom asked him why he didn’t start selling socks on the side. Was there a market for it? As it turned out, there was. He started out simply – buying socks that were on sale at large retailers and reselling them to friends and acquaintances. He had a good eye for style, and people were keen to buy what he was selling.

Lesson: Ngwenya didn’t start by investing loads in his sock business. His mass-produced socks were acting as minimum viable products (MVPs). He wasn’t going to make a lot of money from them, but he now had an elegantly-stockinged foot in the door. Ngwenya had evidence that he had discovered a viable business opportunity.

Build a brand

Even at the start, Ngwenya realised the importance of creating a brand, especially in the fickle and image-conscious world of fashion.

“I looked at all the big fashion houses and realised that a lot of them were named after the people who had founded them, so I decided to call my brand Skinny Sbu Socks,” says Ngwenya.

As the company has grown and it has started to create its own high-quality products, Ngwenya has positioned the brand at the premium end of the spectrum.

“Don’t be apologetic about your pricing. If people believe there is value, they will pay the price. We want to attract people who don’t mind paying R200 for a pair of socks.”

Lesson: Be sensitive to perceived value. Why are Apple products so expensive? Sure, they’re expensive to produce, but people are also willing to pay a lot for them. Thanks to the great user-experience and elegant design, Apple products have a very high perceived value.

Perception is reality

Before Ngwenya had even properly started producing his own sock creations, he was thinking about his brand image. He bought socks from Mr Price, repackaged them, and gave them away to celebrities at the South African Fashion Week. Suddenly, celebrities were posting images of ‘his’ socks on Instagram.

Lesson: Thanks to social media, there are more marketing opportunities for small businesses than ever. However, there is a lot of noise out there, so you need to find a way to stand out. Giving something away for free is always a good way to get people to ‘endorse’ it.

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

Stick to what you know

Even though Skinny Sbu socks are now unique creations, they still aren’t produced in-house. “We focus on design and have the actual sock production outsourced. Our socks are made from high-quality materials and need to be perfect, so we leave the production to people who know what they are doing. Design is our area of speciality, not production.

Lesson: “Do what you do best and outsource the rest,” management guru Peter Drucker famously said. By trying to take on complex functions such as manufacturing too early, you can easily end up bankrupting your business. Stick to what you know and outsource the rest.

GG van Rooyen is the deputy editor for Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa. Follow him on Twitter.

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Lessons Learnt

#Wealthiest List: 8 Self-Made Millionaires On How They Built Their Wealth

These inspirational self-made millionaires built businesses with nothing less than hard work and sheer determination.

Catherine Bristow

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1. Nick D’Aloisio Wrote a Million Dollar App At Age 15

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At the age of 15, Nick D’Aloisio wrote an app while sitting in his parent’s bedroom in the UK. At the age of 17, D’Aloisio sold his app Summly – a mobile news summarisation app to Yahoo for a staggering USD 30 million.

As one of the youngest millionaires, D’Aloisio is also the world’s youngest entrepreneur to be backed by venture capitalists – having secured seed funding from Sir Li Ka-Shing, Hong Kong’s billionaire, as well as raising USD 1.23 million from celebrity investors, including Yoko Ono and Ashton Kutcher.

“The number one thing I did that I think was wise was to get, through some of my advisers, was a Chairman; basically someone who was a very experienced business person, an industry veteran — Bart Swanson, who had been at Amazon and then Badoo. Then, myself and Bart really started finding people and growing the team.”

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7 Cannabis Industry Millionaires Making It Big In The Marijuana Business

These entrepreneurs have capitalised on a new market set to continue to grow rapidly as more countries legalise marijuana across the world.

Catherine Bristow

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1. Brendan Kennedy

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Brendan Kennedy worked on job sites as a carpenter to pay his way through university, with his eyes set firmly on becoming an architect, until the allure of Silicon Valley changed the course of his direction. While working at technology start-ups Kennedy began thinking about the possibilities that medical marijuana provided.

“I was really sceptical of medical cannabis,” he says. “It took a year of having conversations with patients and physicians and hearing the same story, repackaged but essentially the same, over and over and over again, where my scepticism eroded and I became a believer.”

In 2013, Kennedy and his partners applied for a licence from Health Canada and launched Lafitte Ventures, which was later renamed Tilray. Today, the company is a global leader in medical cannabis research, cultivation, processing and distribution.

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Scaleup Learnings From Our Top Clients – What The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Do Right

So, how do our successful clients move through these constraints to scaling up? We see four key drivers of success, and they are: people, strategy, flawless execution and finance.

Louw Barnardt

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You’re out of your start-up boots, staff is increasing, your client base is growing, revenue is up and you’ve proven your case to the market. Now it’s time to scale up. The challenges of this vital growth phase are different and it’s a time that demands different mindsets and different actions. In a world littered with small business failures, it helps to be well-prepared for scaling up using a proven methodology. At Outsourced CFO, we get an inside look at the success factors of our clients who are mastering the transition.

On the one hand, scaling up is a really exciting phase; this is what moves you into real job creation and making an impactful contribution to economic growth. On the other hand, it is really hard to scale up successfully. We see three major constraints that limit companies’ transition from start-up to scale-up:

Leadership

The business has to have the leadership that can take it to the next level. When you start scaling up, especially rapidly, the founders can no longer do everything themselves. The team must grow and include new leadership talent that can take charge and execute so that the founders are working on the business instead of in the business.

Infrastructure

The processes, procedures, networks, systems and workflows of the business all need to be scalable. This is imperative when it comes to your infrastructure for the financial management of your business. You’re only ready for growth when your infrastructure can seamlessly keep pace.

Market access

Scaling up demands more innovative marketing and storytelling so that you can more easily connect and engage with the new employees, clients, network partners, investors and mentors that need to come along with you on your scale-up journey.

Businesses that build a market conversation and a compelling brand narrative during their start-up phase are better positioned to have this kind of market access when they need to scale up.

People

It is critical to have the right people on your team. Our successful entrepreneurs have what it takes to attract, inspire and retain top talent. A strong team of smart, ambitious and purpose-driven people who love the company and want to see it succeed contribute greatly to a world class company culture. They are adept at communicating a compelling vision and establishing core values that people can take on. These entrepreneurs are tuned into the aspirations of their people and focus on developing leaders in their teams who can in turn develop more leaders.

Strategy

It is planning that ensures that the right things are happening at the right times. At successful scale-ups strategies and action plans are devised to ensure that the most important thing always remains the most important thing.

Strategy includes input from all team members and setting of good priorities for the short, medium and long term. Goals are clear and everyone always knows what they are working towards. The needle is continuously moved because 90-day action plans are implemented each quarter to achieve targets and goals that are over and above people doing their daily jobs.

Flawless execution

Top entrepreneurs are not just focused on what operations need to achieve, but how the business operates. They have the right procedures, processes and tools in place so that everyone can deliver along the line on the company’s brand promise. Frequent, quick successive meetings ensure the rapid flow of effective communication. Problems are solved without drama. There is no chaos in the office environment. Everyone is empowered to execute flawlessly to an array of consistently happy clients.

Finance

Everyone knows that growth burns cash. A rapidly scaling business faces the challenge of needing a scalable financial infrastructure to keep the company healthy. Our successful entrepreneurs pay close attention to finance as the heartbeat of the business, ensuring that everything else functions. They look at the tech they are using for financial management and for the ways that their financial systems can be automated so that they can be brought rapidly to scale. The capital to grow is another vital finance issue.

The best way to finance a business is through paying clients on the shortest possible cash flow cycle. However, when you are scaling up and making heavier investments in the resources you need for growth, it is likely that you will need a workable plan for raising capital. Our scale-up clients know the value of accessing innovative financial management that provides high level services to drive their business growth.

Navigating the scale-up journey of a growing private company is one of the hardest but most rewarding of careers to pursue. Having people in your corner who have been through this journey before helps take a lot of pain out of the process. No growth journey looks the same, but there are tried and tested methods that will – if applied diligently – lead to definite success. Happy scaling!

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