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Reincom Furniture Manufactures: Albert Chapfunga

Ex-offender starts up a manufacturing business and becomes an asset to society

Juliet Pitman

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Albert Chapfunga of Reincom Furniture Manufacturers

Albert Chapfunga is many things – businessowner, entrepreneur, philanthropist, founder of Reincom Furniture Manufacturesand ex-offender. It is this last one that proves a sticking point for manypeople but after spending five minutes with this entrepreneur you quicklyrealise that self-pity and entitlement are not words that exist in hisvocabulary.

After learning carpentry skills and readingJohn Kehoe’s motivational works in prison, Chapfunga was inspired to createsomething positive when he was released. The establishment of Reincom FurnitureManufacturers with business partner, Enoch Nkosi in 2003 had a dual purpose. “Iwanted to start my own business but I also wanted to help reduce crime byhelping other ex-offenders to find jobs so that they didn’t return to crimewhen they were released. Society tends to stigmatise them, communities shunthem and potential employers treat them with scepticism,” he explains.Chapfunga was well aware that setting uphis own business was going to be difficult – he faced all the usual start-upchallenges but with the added obstacle of trying to overcome perceptions of himas an ex-prisoner. Unsurprisingly, the biggest challenge was getting financed.“Nobody would assist me with funding – they found it hard to believe thatsomeone could change. But I was desperate to prove that I could be an asset tosociety even though I was an ex-offender, so I persevered.”

In many ways Chapfunga is a born leader,one of those people who inspire others to follow him. His passion, belief andenergy for Reincom have helped attract much-needed funding. Ironically, in the end it was the fact thathe was trying to rehabilitate people who were like him that opened doors. In aclimate where business and social development interests are closer togetherthan they have ever been in the past, Reincom’s social conscience (coupled withits strong business case) gave it an edge. Reinol-Janek Chemicals, GautengEnterprise Propeller and the Eskom Development Foundation all provided funding,both in cash and in kind, enabling the company to purchase a vehicle,equipment, raw materials and pay rent and salaries. In particular, Eskomprovided much-needed mentorship and business management advice that haveenabled Chapfunga to run a successful enterprise on all levels.For his part, he has made sure that theproducts he supplies are of the highest quality and that they meet the needs ofa broad market. It’s important to point out that Reincom is run as a business,not a charity, in spite of its social development aims to reduce crime byreintegrating ex-prisoners into society. The business employs eight people,none of whom are looking for hand-outs and all of whom pull their weight byworking hard to meet the business demands. According to Chapfunga: “They areshowing the most extraordinary ability and determination.”

Chapfunga too has made the most of thissecond chance, aggressively marketing the company and its products andleveraging off the relationships he has with big industry players like Eskom.“Initially we really battled to secure supply contracts to the big furnitureretailers because cash flow problems prevented us from buying machines andincreasing our output,” he explains. But a newly-secured contract andinvestment from an agency that supplies supergroups such as Bradlows and Lewishas promised to bring in the type of money that will make Reincom’s cash flowlook a lot healthier.Chapfunga has big plans for the company’sfuture. “We want to buy the property we are currently in to establish ahalf-way house and training centre but we need to source investment to allow usto do so,” he says, adding, “My next big move is to get government involved sothat the Reincom concept can be rolled out in other areas. Hopefully this willincrease our footprint.” Above all, he’s most proud of havingachieved the vision he had in prison of opening a profitable company that givespeople a second chance. When asked what inspires him, he says he believes innetworking and sharing his dreams and ideas with others. His advice foraspirant entrepreneurs is: “Be clear about what you want to achieve and beprepared to work hard with patience, courage and commitment.” It’s a commentthat sums up what Chapfunga, and Reincom, is all about. Contact: +27 11 822 8774;  www.reincom.co.za

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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