- Player: Michelle Royston
- Company: WAXIT
- Est: 2015
- Growth: Four salons in under two years
- Visit: www.waxit.co.za
Michelle Royston loves brands. She loves how brands can connect with people, and how they can shape an experience. If you understand your brand’s messaging, you can offer exceptional customer experiences, and, in multiple small ways, you can change someone’s life, just by making their day simpler and more enjoyable. With the right brand, you can also change the lives of your employees.
This is what great businesses are built on: An idea, a dream bigger than any one entrepreneur, and a desire to make the world a better place, one employee at a time, through robust internal development programmes.
Here’s how Michelle is pulling all of these threads together, the lessons you can learn from her vision, and how she’s taken WAXIT from one salon to four in under two years.
1Solve a problem
Michelle spent ten years in retail in the UK, and then five in eventing in South Africa. Hectic, deadline-driven schedules made it difficult to plan ahead when it came to personal appointments.
“I’d suddenly have a weekend open which meant I could finally get a wax or my nails done, except everyone was fully booked. After calling ten salons I’d end up in a little corner of a salon, squeezed behind a curtain because waxing wasn’t their focus, getting a painful, unprofessional and often unhygienic wax,” says Michelle.
“I couldn’t be the only person with this problem. Busy professionals need to be able to make appointments at the last minute, or visit their salon late in the afternoon or early evening, or early on a Saturday morning.”
Realising that gut feel and frustration are a good place to start, Michelle began researching local and global markets.
The results aligned with what she had expected, but now she had hard data: South Africa was one of a handful of countries that didn’t have dedicated wax salons. Throughout Europe, the UK and the US wax salons not only exist, but are popular. Armed with this knowledge, Michelle started formulating her business plan.
“When we opened our first store we launched with a 40% discount to get feet through the door; we knew we needed people to experience what we had to offer. Most came back and became loyal customers. They asked us where we had been. It really gave me confidence that we were right. We were filling a need.”
The lesson: Most great businesses are the result of a specific pressure point that was recognised by an entrepreneur who then set about solving it. Keep a notebook with you; jot down what drives you crazy, or where you believe you could improve an industry or problem.
2Find a price point that works for customers and delivers a profit
Once Michelle decided to open a chain of wax salons, her next challenge was to develop a business model that delivered value to the business and its clients.
“I started out by testing waxes. My husband was my guinea pig. I learnt how to wax so that I understood the art, and then I started testing different waxes. I settled on a wax brand that we import. The quality is amazing, and it’s pain free, which was important to me. Our entire customer experience model is designed to make you feel as comfortable as possible when you’re in the salon. We offer earphones and iPads if that makes you more relaxed, and we use the best wax available.”
But this raised a new challenge: The point of the business model was to offer affordable waxes. Pricing yourself out of the market or catering to a very niche clientele wouldn’t work.
“I experimented with exactly how much wax was needed for an under-arm, an arm, a leg, chest, back and so on. We fine-tuned it down to exact measurements and developed an online system that tracks exactly how much wax we use for different procedures. This means we can immediately see if we’re using too much. It also ensures we don’t have leakages.”
Armed with these figures, Michelle then worked out what she could afford to pay for rent, which helped her determine the size of the salon, and where she would be situated.
“WAXIT is a retail model — we will always be in shopping centres. However, we’re not targeting large retail malls like Sandton City either. The high rent would mean I couldn’t meet my margins, so finding the right centres that are well situated but not in large malls was essential.”
With all this in hand, Michelle calculated how many customers needed to walk through her doors each month to break even, and how many she needed to turn a decent profit.
“Waxing is interesting, because if you wax, it’s a monthly expense. It’s not a luxury that your treat yourself to, it actually forms part of your budget. If you can get people through the door and then keep them, you can develop a loyal clientele, which makes your revenue predictable. The trick is to earn each customer’s loyalty.”
The lesson: It’s almost impossible to launch and run a successful business if you don’t know your numbers. Understand your costs, where the hidden costs lie, and exactly how many customers you have to serve to make a profit.
3Develop a brand that says who you are
When Michelle was developing WAXIT she knew three things. First, she needed a name that described what the salon offered. Second, she wanted to cater to the male and female market, so the look and feel of the salons needed to appeal to both genders. And third, she wanted customer experience to lie at the heart of everything the business does.
Coming from a retail background, Michelle understands how important branding is. It’s a reflection of what the business stands for — it’s values and customer promise. Get your branding right, and employees will embrace your vision and carry it through to their interactions with clients, and customers will always know what to expect from you.
“Our clientele is 35% male, and this number is growing. We have a walk-in room, so customers can call 15 minutes before they want a wax and check if a slot is open. We also open early and close late. Our brand stands for chic, comfortable convenience, and everything we do highlights and supports this.”
The lesson: Developing your brand includes the look and feel of your logo, office or retail space, but this should serve as the foundation for a much larger vision and brand promise. Simply having a pretty logo does not deliver value to customers. At the centre of everything you do, ask yourself: What value does this offer our clients, and how will it drive loyalty?
4Be a specialist
“I’m a specialist — that’s always been my thing. I’m successful when I’m really focused. In retail I focused on sports, and then I’d drill in even further. I’d spend time becoming the absolute expert in a field,” says Michelle. “I wanted my business to reflect this. I don’t believe in doing too many things at once. Niche brands are powerful. They become synonymous with their industries.
“I don’t believe that any one brand can do everything equally well. They might offer a lot, but there will be one thing they are really good at, and others that they aren’t. The result is that people end up going to different places for different things.”
The lesson: You don’t need to be everything to everyone. Pick your niche, focus on it, and then find ways to expand your revenue streams within that niche. By diluting your focus you can lose your way, and confuse your brand message.”
5Perseverance is key
The biggest challenge Michelle has faced is retail space. As a new brand, she struggled to get meetings with retail centres, and when she did, bigger brands blocked her from leasing space.
“The only thing you can do is persevere,” she says. “I even had a lease agreement cancelled at the last minute, which was devastating, but you can’t let it hold you back. There will always be obstacles. By persevering I have four salons in Joburg and Pretoria, and this has changed the conversation. The brand has credibility and retail centres are interested in speaking to me. I’m also working well with competitors in the centres we’re in, which proves that it doesn’t need to be antagonistic.”
Michelle also received push-back from the local beauty industry, with warnings that her concept wouldn’t work. “There’s always negativity when you’re trying something new. You can’t let it affect you. If you’ve done your research and you’re confident in your idea, go for it.”
The lesson: Entrepreneurs don’t take no for an answer. When one door shuts, they find another. It isn’t always smooth sailing, but if you’re willing to keep pushing, you’ll achieve your goals with grit and determination.
6Bootstrap your business
Any business can be bootstrapped. Michelle launched WAXIT with savings and a small loan from her husband. She then used the first store to bankroll the second store, and stores one and two bankrolled the third.
She approached her brother and sister for a loan for the fourth store to shorten her timeline between salons opening. To date the business has received no external funding.
The lesson: If you know your numbers and what you need to break even and turn a profit, you can ensure a positive cash flow, which in turn can fund your start-up’s growth.
7Have a higher purpose
At the core of her business idea, Michelle has wanted to positively impact her employees. “When I joined the retail space in London I was a floor manager at Lillywhites, the most prestigious sport’s store in the world. I didn’t have a degree, and my experience was limited to being the youngest manager at Sportsman’s Warehouse, where I had worked for a year after school. Lillywhites was an amazing seven years for me, largely because I had incredible mentors who taught me about retail, brands, customer service and sent me on all sorts of courses. Over the course of ten years I had run every single one of the five floors, became operations manager for the entire store and went on to open and area manage many stores across the UK.
“I’ve always wanted to pay this forward and positively impact employees who haven’t had great opportunities. Sometimes all you need is a bit of support and a mentor.”
This ideal is at the core of WAXIT’s DNA. “My salon managers started out as wax technicians at our first store. Today they run their own teams, and focus on financial statements, how to motivate teams, drive sales, avoid product wastage and keep everyone happy and focused on superb customer service. We’ve taught them Excel, Word, statements and the basic foundations of business. Everyone needs to be able to dream and devise goals to move forward in life. These are the skills I want our employees to learn.”
Michelle’s support goes beyond business skills. She has helped her managers to learn to drive and negotiate vehicle finance. “We’ve put down deposits for some of our employees to rent flats near work. This saves on transport costs and brings them into the areas in which they’re working. Sometimes that’s all you need. We want to help our team live better, more successful lives.”
Michelle’s ultimate aim is to attract investors for the next leg of her journey to grow the WAXIT brand, and she’s actively looking for investors who understand the need for social development and who will support the passion she has for the development of young women in the beauty industry.
The lesson: At the core of any great business are a brand’s DNA, and its people. If your people are happy and engaged, exceptional customer service follows. It’s important to have a purpose. Starting a business is tough. It takes time and dedication that is difficult to maintain if you’re not working towards a higher goal.
Rands and cents can make or break your business
Michelle has been able to bootstrap four salons with minimal investment from family because she worked out her costs down to the finest detail.
Armed with this knowledge, she could set price points that were competitive, knowing exactly how many customers she needed to break even and then grow her business.
Specialists own their sectors
Brands that do too much never become the ‘go-to’ names in their sectors. Specialist brands become experts, which makes them the top choice of customers looking for the best products or services available.
Purpose is the key to success
If you have a purpose that drives you, you’re able to weather any storm. Starting a business is mentally, financially and emotionally challenging. A purpose will keep you on track, even when things are at their toughest.
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
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