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Zollanvari SA: Siphiwo Shabangu

Carpet seller from Soweto builds one of the top names in fine Persian rugs

Monique Verduyn

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Siphiwo Shabangu of Zollanvari

It was at an international trade fair for the carpet and floor coverings industry in Germany that Siphiwo Shabangu found his fortune. The year was 1996 and he had been invited to attend a management training course in Europe, courtesy of the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which had recognised his entrepreneurial spirit.

While there, he decided to visit Domotex. The fair was huge, and the wall-to-wall carpet salesperson from Dobsonville was tired. He took a seat outside a stall that was selling oriental rugs made by nomads from the south of Iran. The Zollanvari family was intrigued – they had not seen many black people in their lives, and so they struck up a conversation with him.

When they discovered that he came from“Mandela’s country”, they were eager to talk about business.“I knew nothing about Persian carpets, but they gave me a mandate to go home and research the South African market,” says Shabangu.

What he did know about though, was the art of selling. As a child, Shabangu had bought his own clothes and put himself through school by trading in sweets and peanuts on street corners and selling newspapers over the weekend. On completing high school, he did a series of business courses through the University of South Africa, applying these learnings to his own small carpet store.

Shabangu ran the numbers and subsequently invited the Zollanvari family to exhibit at Decorex a year later. “That was a great success, and with the stock that remained, I opened a Zollanvari shop in Rosebank. The Zollanvaris gave me stock for a year and R1 million in start-up funding.”

Ten years on, he imports carpets to the value of R24 million a year and plans to expand his high-end flooring stores into Africa, starting with Botswana and Namibia. Ask Shabangu why the family decided to trust him with money and stock and he cannot answer.

“Luckily, our customer base grew quickly and we were able to cover all our expenses. We had good times and bad, but we began to make a solid profit two years later when we opened in Cape Town. Two years after that, we set up shop in Durban.”

He is quick to point out that planned growth is essential for any business that does not want to stagnate. It’s one of the reasons why he moved Zollanvari to its 500 m2 showroom in Bryanston two years ago.Zollanvari’s growth has been organic, with Shabangu ploughing profits back into it, particularly in the early years.

“If you run a business you believe in,” he says, “it’s enough to break even at the outset, while you are establishing a name in the market. What is equally important is to have a budget and stick to it.”What differentiates Zollanvari from other Persian rug retailers in the country? “It’s the uniqueness and beauty of our products,” says Shabangu.

“The 100% wool tribal rugs are handmade and the designs differ from the traditional style as they are highly contemporary, a factor which has made them world renowned. When you buy a Zollanvari, you make an investment in the ancient Persian tradition of carpet weaving, but you also buy a product that is fashionable and modern at the same time.”

He attributes much of the growth of the business to word of mouth and great customer service. “We go out of our way to ensure that we find exactly what the customer is looking for, which is why we work with some of the country’s top interior designers.”

Shabangu believes in advertising and Zollanvari has displayed its wares in many of South Africa’s décor magazines. More recently, he has engaged a public relations consultant to help the company become more strategic about its marketing and publicity.

Like most successful entrepreneurs, Shabangu says success comes from hard work and just a little bit of good fortune. “There are no shortcuts to success, but I believe that a good business education is very helpful because it enables you to understand the basics.”

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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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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