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Charlotte Rhys: Janet Rhys & Shaun Mcdermott

Building a business on people’s taste for indulgence

Monique Verduyn

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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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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton

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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.

CEOwise

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Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect

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It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.

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“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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