- Player: Shameem Kumandan
- Company: Washtub Industrial Laundry Service
- Employees: 87
- Est: 1995
- Visit: www.washtub.co.za
1You need a clearly defined market
When Shameem Kumandan launched Washtub Industrial Laundry Service in 1995, it was a small operation run from her backyard in Cape Town. She needed R1 000 monthly for her five-year-old son’s ADHD therapy and so she started a laundry service for Stellenbosch students.
Her backyard operation started growing, and as it grew she found bigger premises. Within two years she’d moved into the industrial market, not because of any strategic planning, but simply because business in that sector had come her way.
“We had no long-term vision,” she says. “Each time we grew it cost us cash until we found additional clients to balance the costs. It was organic.”
Washtub was growing, but by 2008 Shameem was learning a valuable lesson. Organic growth can only take you so far. The lack of a clearly defined market expansion plan and strategy was actually becoming the business’s biggest barrier to growth.
“We would drive to Sea Point, make a list of hotels, and market to all of them,” says Shameem. “We had no knowledge of business needs, and we therefore weren’t profiling our prospective clients and finding businesses that suited our specific offering. We just took anyone who came our way.”
Know who your customers are
This had two consequences. First, Shameem and her team were wasting a lot of time and effort on unqualified leads, when they could have been targeting the right customers.
Second, they were contracting with clients whose needs and expectations were a mismatch to Washtub’s offering. This, in turn, damaged the company’s reputation and brand. Altogether, the cost of new client acquisition was high.
“Our shift came when I contracted the services of an experienced marketing director. She taught us the value of pre-qualifying leads and customer profiling. Previously, we were scrambling for any client we could sign a contract with, fighting other laundry services.” Known as ‘red oceans’, this common sales tactic just leads to blood in the water.
Focus on your top ten biggest customers
Instead, Shameem and her team started focusing on the top ten customers they wanted. “We studied the needs of those clients, created a customer-centric solution for them, and then pitched our business to them. We were no longer just knocking on doors, but actively targeting the right clients whose needs matched our solutions.
“We knew we could offer them an exceptional service, and because we were focused, we could unpack and prove this solution to them.” Through this new sales methodology, Shameem and her team signed The Westin Cape Town. “The Westin was one of our pre-selected top ten clients. It’s the cream of the crop in the Cape.”
Shameem still services a number of clients, both large and small, but the company as a whole has a much deeper understanding of which clients are best supported by their service offerings.
2Invest in growth
Organic growth is often necessary to begin with. It’s difficult to source funding — either debt or equity funding — without a track record or assets to use as surety for a loan. For this reason, many businesses are bootstrapped in their early years.
However, there comes a time when you do need to start investing in your growth, while also protecting your cash flow. For many years, Shameem poured everything she had into repayments, instead of protecting her cash flow.
Knowing what she knows now, if she could go back, she’d protect her cash flow instead of repaying loans used to purchase state-of-the-art equipment she’s invested in over the years as quickly as possible. “In 2011 I travelled to Europe to see the processes and technology available in our industry.
Save for new technology that will set you apart
“I came back with a new understanding of what was possible, and we started saving for new technologies that would not only set us apart in the industry but also help us better serve our customers, particularly in the healthcare market.
“We invested in machinery that is 100% automated; at no point in the wash cycle is linen touched by human hands, thereby eliminating any possibility of recontamination. The machinery also uses recycled water, halving the required water usage of conventional machines.”
From a competitive perspective, the machinery would differentiate Washtub from its competitors, but the way in which Shameem financed her purchases limited her growth.
“We would finance new machines, and then focus on repaying the loans as quickly as possible, pouring all our cash into repayments. I didn’t understand I was actually limiting my growth,” she admits.
“Our growth was slow because we didn’t have enough cash — I was too focused on repaying our equipment finance.”
Shameem has since learnt that managing finance doesn’t just mean having little to no debt. “Once we stopped trying to repay our loans as quickly as possible, we were able to free up cash for other things, particularly investing in marketing spend. This has made a huge difference to the business and our
3Focus on your numbers
In every business, there are areas where money can be saved without damaging the integrity of the brand or quality of your service. In fact, in some cases those savings can enhance the overall capabilities of the business. Most importantly though, savings free up valuable cash flow that can be used to fund further growth.
“We started our eco-smart journey in 2008 when South Africa had its first energy crisis. We were looking for ways to reduce our electricity usage. As a business that ran 24 hours a day and was powered by electricity, we knew there was a serious threat to our business continuity, and that we needed to find ways to reduce our consumption.
Always reduce consumption where you can
“We started with what we could change quickly and have maximum impact, and once you’re on the journey, paying attention to your numbers, it’s incredible what you can find to reduce consumption.
“For example, we invested in a coal-fired boiler, changed the motors on our machines to variable speed motors, which use half the energy, created natural light in our warehouses, taught staff to switch off lights and conserve energy in even the smallest of ways, including boiling smaller kettles. It’s all added up to significant savings.”
The lesson is simple: Once you know your numbers and dig into the details, there are many areas where you can save in your business — which, in turn, frees up cash for growth.
4Automate your processes
When an entrepreneur starts out they are by necessity jacks of all trades. Shameem was no different. She was financier, office liaison, admin assistant, HR and sales all rolled into one. However, as the business grows, it’s essential to hire the right people and delegate these tasks so that you can start focusing on the business and strategy, instead of working in the business and performing operational tasks.
“When I applied for government funding, my network facilitator introduced me to a consultant who explained the concept of capacity building to me. It was a big shift in my mindset. Instead of thinking I had to do everything, I started thinking about how to develop policies and procedures.
“It was all in my head, and I’d been wanting to document everything, but I didn’t know where to start. She got me on the journey. Today there is a document and procedure for everything, from answering the phone and giving directions to our premises, to washing and sanitising our linen.”
Stay plug-in to your business until you reach your goals
It’s been an integral part of Shameem’s growth strategy. “You can’t separate yourself from the day-to-day operations of your business and focus on growth until all your processes are documented and ingrained,” she explains.
“Working on your business means recruiting people to execute those tasks, training them exceptionally well, while you go to work on planning, executing and achieving the business’s long-term growth strategy. It also means knowing your business; knowing your numbers and which areas can be improved upon and developed.
“Finally, in order to maintain control, policies and procedures need to be monitored carefully. Checklists are created that are ticked off daily. I insist on absolute discipline in this regard. An unyielding, relentless drive to maintain excellence in every action and choice we make has had a noticeable impact on the business, the integrity of our solutions and our growth path.
5Invest in your people and yourself
Shameem’s introduction to an external consultant opened her mind, and from then on she embarked on a self-learning journey.
“I went from a small business owner to having a much bigger vision. I started working on the business and not in it, and that required a dedication to personal growth, but also helping my people to grow.
“On a personal level, I think there’s enormous value in getting help from an external source. Often a fresh set of eyes helps place our objectives in a better perspective. I’ve learnt that the input from a suitably qualified professional is invaluable.
The benefits of multiple SWOT analysis’
“In addition, a SWOT analysis conducted at different stages of a business cycle will yield different insights. An external professional is completely objective about what products and services work or don’t work.
“As business owners, we can be emotional in our decision- making; external consultants help you to remove emotion from the equation and focus on the facts and figures.” In addition to consultants, Shameen continues to increase her business acumen through courses like EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women, an executive leadership programme for established women business owners.
Shameem hasn’t only focused on her own development though. “I’ve always been passionate about people and empowering and training them, but we’ve now taken this to the next level. Every Monday we hold training across a wide range of topics, from finances to health and safety.
Look after your employees
“As a business owner, the health, comfort and stress levels of your employees all impact their happiness, overall efficiency and productivity; over and above this, I believe we have a commitment to support our employees where we can.”
Because the business is focused on automation and innovation, a lot of processes that were previously performed manually now have a technical element, and this also takes training and educating staff, as well as managing their fears.
“We’re a manual labour intensive industry. As you automate, there are fears that people will lose jobs. Instead, the opposite is true. When we automated in 2013 we increased our staff complement by 43%. We still need people; people need to watch the machines and look out for snags. Pillowcases still need to be counted, but now they can be scanned instead of manually counted. There is less room for error, and our employees are being upskilled.”
Designing Her Destiny
Oh Yay! owner, Emmerentia van den Hoven does business her way.
In 2011, Emmerentia van den Hoven took a leap of faith when she decided to leave her graphic design job at an agency and pursue her real passion – and it has paid off tenfold. Here’s her story.
“When I started planning my own wedding eight years ago, I fell in love with wedding design and wanted to do that for the rest of my life. Designing for brands had become a set of rules rather than being creative, and I’d always wanted to work for myself. So, in September 2011, I turned my seven-month-old side gig into a fully-fledged business and launched Oh Yay!
I have to hustle every month to get new clients because every client will use my services maximum twice – first for the wedding invitations and then for the stationery on the day – so I don’t normally have returning clients.
Because my main business is seasonal and usually once-off per customer, I have branched out into branding for small businesses in the beauty and lifestyle industry. I also earn a passive income through the Oh Yay! online shop where I sell wedding décor items. Oh Yay Kids – my other online store – is my passion project. I launched it just before my second child was born, adding items to the store that I made for my two boys when I saw a need for it. I then expanded into prints for nurseries and kids’ party stationery.
I work for myself and have no employees, so the fact that QuickBooks lets me load all my services, products and prices in one place makes running my business so much easier. Being an entrepreneur is difficult because you don’t know if you’ll be successful or not. But if you believe in and love what you’re doing, it reflects in your work and the service you give.”
Less admin, more of what you love
When Oh Yay! was launched, along with her dream of being an entrepreneur, came the nightmare of other administrative tasks. But that changed in 2018 when Emmerentia started using QuickBooks.
“When I was using spreadsheets to balance my books, I was spending 80% of my time on admin, which left very little time to tend to customers’ orders. I now spend no more than 25% of my time on admin, which is important, especially when it comes to the speed at which I send quotes. You don’t get any work if you don’t send out quotes and it’s tough to juggle the admin with your actual job of running the business.
Numbers were never really my strong point, so having a professional quote done in record time not only projects professionalism, but the format also changes the way new clients see me. In my industry, the quicker you can send a quote out, the likelier you’ll get the clients’ business. It gives legitimacy to my business. The QuickBooks system operates so seamlessly that clients communicate with me differently, like I have my own accounting department, when in fact, I’m a one-woman-show.
I used to dread doing admin, but now it’s so easy and quick. I’m not just saying this – QuickBooks changed my life.”
Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch
These female entrepreneurs are breaking barriers, transforming industries and inspiring change on the continent.
From creatives, to tech gurus and medical scientists, here’s how these African women have revolutionised their communities through their innovative and sustainable businesses:
- Portia Mngomezulu
- Nandi Dlepu
- Nthabiseng Ramaboa
- Ntombenhle Khathwane
- Sunshine Shibambo
- Mogau Seshoene
- Nontando Molefe
- Thato Kgathlanye
- Nothando Moleketi
- Allegro Dinkwanyane
- Sandra Mwiihangele
- Shakeela Tolasade Williams
- Reabetswe Ngwane
- Mabel Suglo
- Lucy Agwunobi
- Patience Maame Mensah
- Rachel Sibande
- Nneile Nkholise
- Nelisiwe Masango
- Sheila Afari
- Samke Mhlongo
- Kelebogile Mabunda
- Aisha Pandor
- Karabo Mathang-Tshabuse
- Zanele Matome
- Shingai Nyagweta
- Funke Bucknor-Obruthe
- Vere Shaba
- Khanya Mzongwana
- Portia Masimula
- Monalisa Molefe
- Nozipho Dube
- Rapelang Rabana
- Botlhale Tshetlo
- Lebo Mphela
- Sarinah Matema-Morgans
- Tsholo Wesi
- Theo Mothoa-Frendo
- Palesa Sibeko
- Mokgadi Mabela
- Sibongile Sambo
- Tam de Vries
- Constance Mapule Bhebhe
- Phendu Kuta
- Linda Mabhena-Olagunju
- Nobesuthu Ndlovu
- Regina Luki Kgatle
- Hlengiwe Vilakati
- Lilian Muhammed
- Bonolo Mataboge
Starting a business is not for the faint of heart, but that didn’t stop these 50 women from doing it. Across the continent, women have pursued entrepreneurship, some for the very first time at 50 years old, while others have never even been formally employed.
Owner Of Nouwens Carpets Shares Success Lessons From Running A 50 Year Old Family Business
Embrace technology every chance you get.
A company that’s been active for more than five decades in an industry that’s hundreds of years old doesn’t sound like a recipe for innovation — and yet that’s exactly what Luci Nouwens, owner of Nouwens Carpets, is focused on.
The modern carpet has a history that goes back thousands of years. And despite the hipster trend of reclaimed and hard wood flooring, the carpet still remains a popular choice for consumers.
In South Africa, a name that’s synonymous with quality carpeting is Nouwens. When Cornelis Nouwens arrived in the country in the 1950s, bringing the skills of a trade which he had mastered alongside his father in Tilburg, the hub of the Netherlands’ wool textile industry, he passed on the skills and the love of the craft to his family and to workers in the Harrismith region in KwaZulu Natal.
More than 50 years after her father started it in 1962, the company remains family owned, and is headed by Luci Nouwens, who has been with the business for 48 years.
“We have maintained our reputation for premium quality all this time by paying meticulous attention to crafting standards and selecting only the finest raw materials,” says Luci. “Equally important is that we have innovated at every opportunity, embracing technology without ever compromising the traditional craftsman’s spirit.”
Innovation drives growth
Businesses that innovate are able to grow and hire more employees. As a result, they grab a bigger share of the market. That’s true regardless of the size of your business: If you innovate, you can scale up.
In 1968 Nouwens launched a pure karakul wool carpet that was extremely hard wearing and took the company into the commercial carpet market. Luci recalls the manufacturing of the carpet as “a major feat of unique textile engineering.” Another innovation in 2005 was the introduction of a totally new style of flat weave wool carpet, a very clean, minimalist and natural look requiring much less wool without compromising on wearability.
“These innovations are just two of many that have allowed the business to boost its market share over the years,” says Luci. “But beyond that, innovation has enabled Nouwens Carpets to form the backbone of economic activity and upliftment in the local community around Harrismith. This has allowed us to make substantial investment in providing education and skills development for the local population, to ensure that the craft is preserved for generations to come.”
Innovation enables sustainability
Innovation in technologies and how they are applied is key to enabling a manufacturer like Nouwens to create new business value, while also protecting the planet.
“We have used technology to enable sustainable manufacturing, for the benefit of the business, the community, and our customers.”
Nouwens selects equipment, materials and manufacturing methods based on their degree of sustainability and protection of the environment. The company is also a member of the Green Building Council of South Africa and submits its products for VOC testing to ensure that harmful emissions are significantly reduced.
“Ultimately, we are driven by a passion for textiles and the ability to constantly find better ways to produce beautiful products. After the downturn in the economy, we started to produce more cost-effective commercial nylon yarns, and in 2017, we became the new kid on the block for synthetic grass. The bottom line is that a true entrepreneur does what has to be done when the time comes.” — Monique Verduyn
The role of disruption in creating value
A disruptive business is a business that challenges and potentially changes the status quo. From a mindset point of view, a culture that questions ‘why’ can help foster organisational and market disruption. But disruption for the sake of disruption is self-defeating, it needs to be on the back of making things better and based on commercial principles, i.e. people or market players actually wanting to be disrupted.
The starting point is this: Does someone, or a market, value what you’re producing? If the answer is yes, you have a commercially viable disruption. Disruption that is valued by its target market has the best chance of resulting in success.
Get that right and you’ll have a customer base, you’ll gain traction and you’ll attract investors, provided you’re also making a meaningful and sustainable difference to your target market or community. — Ian Lessem, CEO, HAVAIC Investment and Advisory Firm
Team up with customers and competitors.
There’s more power in collaboration than competition. We’re stronger together than when we’re apart. When it comes to working with competitors, consider this: They may have something that you don’t, or vice versa, and 50% of something is always more than 100% of nothing. You’re then positioned to add value before you add an invoice, so your clients benefit from your relationships, and the market wins. From there, you become your client’s go-to-person, because you’re putting them first.
Customers are also a great source of knowledge: They might just have the answers you’re looking for, but are you asking them the right questions? They often know more about an entrepreneur’s business than they know themselves, because they’re on the receiving end of your offering. One way to collaborate with customers is to ask them more questions about yourselves, themselves and their clients. Harness their perspective and develop yourself to give them what they want, not what you think they want. — Wes Boshoff, founder, Imagine Thinking
Know what your audiences are interested in
As a brand, there are many ways to ensure your audience is paying attention to you, but you can’t expect them to find you unless you’re sharing content that captures their interest. If you send out press releases, don’t be too rigid or plain. Audiences want to be engaged, and not to have to deal with long, cumbersome information. An infographic, along with a video or pictures will make your release easier to ingest and more memorable. People don’t want boring figures, they want relatable stories.
One way to be relatable is by tapping into influencer marketing. This doesn’t mean you need celebrities with the highest followings to endorse you. Micro-influencers are proving to have just as much clout as those with larger followings. Evidence shows that micro-influencers have a more established and deeper connection with their audience, which translates to loyalty and a readiness to follow their advice. The trick is to find the micro-influencers who are speaking to the audience you want to reach.
Big data plays a key role in painting a picture of who is ‘out there’. With the right information, you can tailor your content to a specific audience. Big data can show you what topics and problems are trending in your industry, so that you can get the jump on them. Use big data to deliver your own insights on current topics, shaping and leading the conversation, converting your audience’s attention into action. — Madelain Roscher, founder and managing director, PR Worx and Status Reputation Management