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Charlotte Rhys: Janet Rhys & Shaun Mcdermott

Building a business on people’s taste for indulgence

Monique Verduyn



Charlotte Rhys

What do you do when you’ve never worked,you’re in your late 50s and you suddenly have to start generating an income?One solution is to befriend a retail pharmacist who has a wealth of business experience and create a range of luxury bath, body and home products that have set a new standard in the South African market.

And because you want a brand that exudes an air of timeless, understated elegance and romance, you name it after your grandmother. That is what Janet Rhys did and the result is Charlotte Rhys, a company that she and business partner Shaun McDermott launched in 2000.

Turnover that year was a modest R30 000.That grew to R550 000 in 2001 and in 2006 it hit the R10 million mark. The company has three retail stores in Cape Town and recently opened in Sandton. It also has a website where customers can shop online. Rhys and McDermott recently visited the UK to explore opportunities to break into the overseas market.

Their story began in Rhys’s dining room,where she and McDermott experimented with making eau de linge (scented linen water). Neither had cash to spare and with no hope of securing finance, they started small. Rhys focused on packaging, design and sales while McDermott worked on product development.

“We used recycled hydrolyte drip bottles from the hospitals because we liked the look and because there were few other suitable options,” says Rhys. “We wanted something stylish and different from the ordinary.”

They also needed top-quality fragrance so they contacted a local agent for Charabot – one of the most prestigious perfume companies in Grasse – who obligingly sent them a range of samples that kept their production line running for several months.

It took two years for Charlotte Rhys to start turning a profit. During that time Rhys and McDermott moved production to a garage, and then to a rented factory, all the while adding to the range. They were joined by Rhys’s erstwhile gardener Mbelelo Belabana, who is today the manufacturing supervisor.

In 2004, they bought some land in Westlake and built a factory that houses the company’s 30 employees, most of whom are drawn from the local community. “This was one of the smartest moves we ever made,” says McDermott. “The advantages of owning your own business premises are immense.”

Charlotte Rhys’s first customer was a home store in the Cape Town region. “Our big break came in 2002 when we secured our first customer in the hospitality industry, the Cape Grace. Today many hotels and guesthouses use our products as gifts for their guests.

Our customers are people who have received the products as a gift and then become loyal users,”says Rhys. She takes her job as brand policeman seriously because that is what differentiates Charlotte Rhys from the many bath and home products out there. “In the early stages we contracted someone to make our body lotions and shower gels.

It was a huge mistake as we had no control over quality, delivery or customer service. From 2003, we made sure we did absolutely everything in-house.” What makes the products stand out is a commitment to elegance. “I spent a lot of time in the UK as a pampered wife, doing serious shopping in the world’s top stores,” Rhys says frankly.

“I’ve seen how Armani and Valentino package their products, and we wanted to be the first to do the same in South Africa. We provide customers with a marvellous shopping experience that is rounded off with the luxury tissue paper and the carrier bag.”

Competitors have sprung up, but Rhys and McDermott agree that ongoing research into new products – such as an upcoming spa range – and a focus on continuous improvement is what keeps Charlotte Rhys one step ahead.

“We recently embarked on a massive staff training initiative that has been supported by the Department of Labour and we’re about to get our first payout from the department for skills training,”says McDermott. “This will enable us to recoup some of the investment we have made in our people. Entrepreneurs often forget that the department is there to assist with growth, if not with start-up.”

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

Keep your finger on the pulse of the start-up space by using our comprehensive list of SA small business to watch.

Nicole Crampton



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Entrepreneurship in South Africa is at an all-time high. According to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), total early-stage entrepreneurial activity has increased by 4.1% to 11% in 2017/2018. This means numerous new, exciting and promising small businesses are launching and growing.

To ensure you know who the innovative trailblazers are in the start-up and small business space, here are 50 of South Africa’s top establishing companies to watch, in no particular order:

  1. Livestock Wealth
  2. The Lazy Makoti
  3. Aerobuddies
  4. Mimi Women
  5. i-Pay
  6. AfriTorch Digital
  7. Akili Labs
  8. Native Décor
  9. Aerobotics
  10. Quality Solutions
  11. EM Guidance
  12. Kahvé Road
  13. HSE Matters
  14. VA Virtual Assistant
  15. Famram Solutions and Famram Foundation
  16. BioTech Africa
  17. Brand LAIKI
  18. Plus Fab
  19. LifeQ
  20. Organico
  21. 10dot
  22. Lenoma Legal
  23. Nkukhu-Box
  24. Benji + Moon
  25. Beonics
  26. Brett Naicker Wines
  27. Khalala
  28. Legal Legends
  29. The Power Woman Project
  30. Aviro Health
  31. AnaStellar Brands
  32. Data Innovator
  33. Fo-Sho
  34. Oolala Collection Club
  35. Recomed
  36. VoiceMap
  37. ClockWork
  38. Empty Trips
  39. Vula Mobile
  40. SwiitchBeauty
  41. Pineapple
  42. The Katy Valentine Collection
  43. OfferZen
  44. KHULA
  45. Incitech
  46. Pimp my Book
  47. ART Technologies and ART Call Management
  48. Prosperiprop
  49. WAXIT
  50. The Sun Exchange
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How 28-Year Old Entrepreneur Adam Fine Is Leveraging The Global Phenomenon Of Five-A-Side Football

Adam Fine of Fives Futbol discusses how he leverage a global phenomenon and the value of strategic partnerships in business.

Monique Verduyn




Vital Stats

Nothing about Adam Fine is by-the-book. The 28-year-old entrepreneur describes himself as a slightly big child. He’s the CEO of one of the most exciting start-ups in South Africa, having leveraged the global phenomenon of five-a-side football to start a business that has grown almost as fast as the game itself. Not bad for a venture that was launched with the princely sum of R85 000 — Fine’s life savings at the time.

He started it in 2011, with a strong focus on corporate social investment and making a positive social impact. It was by forming strategic partnerships that Adam really managed to grow Fives Futbol. He’s opened pitches in prime locations that serve both the school and corporate markets, while still being accessible for social impact interventions in local communities.

Related: 3 Local Entrepreneurs Share Their Business Challenges And How They Overcame Them

Pivoting at the right time is key to growth

The challenge:

In the last 18 months, Fives Futbol has trebled in size, and achieved some amazing milestones — it now employs 50 full-time staff, and 80 part-timers. It’s one of the factors that drives Adam, as many of his employees support up to eight family members. It’s now also represented in four provinces and 15 locations around the country. By September, there will be 18.

Quick growth means you have to be able to pivot quickly when things do not go according to plan, and mostly they don’t, Adam says. “If things are not working you should be able to ‘pivot’, to shift your focus. And do it fast. It’s not a sign that things have gone wrong by any means, on the contrary, it means you have the insight to recognise that there is a problem with the assumptions on which you have built your business model. The decision to pivot is a big one, and not something to be taken lightly. It requires you to take a hard look at your reallocation of resources, and to do it with an open mind.”

The solution:

In Adam’s case, construction delays, councils taking their time to approve, or having to put money into rolling out sites as opposed to marketing, means the promotion of a new site will slow down, for example, because the business does not yet have a large marketing budget.

“When we run behind on the construction of a new site, R40 000 can suddenly become R100 000 — but here’s the thing: If a deal comes along that will probably harm your business in the short-term but enable significant long-term growth, sometimes you have to juggle what you have so you can make it work.”

The Lesson: Choose your investors carefully

Fine says he’s lucky to have a solid group of investors that he has cultivated over six years. “Their input is invaluable. They’ll say, ‘slow down’ or ‘have you thought of this?’, ‘have you factored in that?’ The ability to develop a good relationship with our investors has had a significant impact on the success of the company. Over and above money, they provide wisdom, guidance and connections.”

His relationship with his investors is key. While many entrepreneurs make it just about the money, Adam understood something else — he has a pretty cool brand with a great cause behind it. So, while investors are asked for money all the time, he was able to offer something more than just a business idea — alignment. He generated enthusiasm for the ‘why,’ behind the business. Like most of us, it makes investors happy to know that they are helping to make a positive difference.

And while it’s easy to bandy about the word ‘partnership’, Adam has worked hard to make that a reality. He set out to find like-minded people who are passionate about the business and the cause, which is why they are able to serve as great resources for advice and insight.

Related: Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

“The best way to ensure that you and your investors have a valuable and lengthy partnership is to make sure that everyone is aligned on the vision.”

This includes Adam’s team. The internal culture of an organisation is vital to its strength and growth. “Without our team we don’t have a business for investors to support — our people are critical to our success. They’re the executors of the vision at the end of the day.”

The Lesson:  The value of strategic partnerships

Much of the growth of Fives Futbol has been fuelled by finding the right sponsorship partners in key industries. To overcome the challenge of a limited marketing budget, Adam has secured sponsorships with big brands like Adidas, Total Sports, Debonairs, and Klipdrift, allowing Fives Futbol to use their access to communities as a marketing platform to derive income as well as scale. And it works both ways.

“Because we have a national footprint and a team of people, we run activations for our partners, which also provides us with an ancillary revenue stream,” he says. “Knowing how to join forces with other businesses has been a key factor in making the business successful. Our strategic partners have enabled the business to leverage their brand to give us more exposure. When it works well, a strategic partnership can be just what you need to speed up the growth of your business.”

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Watch List: 15 SA eCommerce Entrepreneurs Who Have Built Successful Online Businesses

The advent and advancement of the online marketplace has led these entrepreneurs to successfully build and grow their ecommerce empires.

Diana Albertyn



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South Africa’s ecommerce market is worth R10 billion per year. By 2021, the number of online shoppers is expected to have reached 24.79 million.

“Our recent research on SA shows people are browsing three hours or more on their mobile phones and 25% shop online. They trust local brands,” says Geraldine Mitchley, Visa senior director for digital solutions in sub-Sahara Africa.

These entrepreneurs have cashed in on ecommerce and launched successful online stores that have either established their dominance in the market, or are taking the e-tailing world by storm.

Here’s how these 15 ecommerce capitalists are making money using the Internet:

  1. Aisha Pandor
  2. Andrew Higgins
  3. Kerryn Tremearne
  4. David Davies
  5. Andrew Smith, Paul Galatsis and Shane Dryden
  6. Trevor Gosling
  7. Nicholas Haralambous
  8. Justin Drennan
  9. Neo Lekgabo
  10. Ryan Bacher
  11. Tracy Kruger
  12. Luke Jedeikin
  13. Tarryn Abrahams
  14. Sascha Breuss
  15. Antonio Bruni
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