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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Out-The-Box Thinkers Shareen Parker and Silvana Dantu Share Their Partnership Secrets

Finding new ways to grow an established services-based business requires out-of-the-box thinking and solid partners.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Shareen Parker and Silvana Dantu
  • Company: African Equations and ZARI Sparkling Grape Juice
  • Launched: 1998

Silvana Dantu and Shareen Parker met in 1996 when they were part of the task team appointed to set up the Robben Island Museum. Parker’s background was education and tourism development; Dantu’s was marketing and media. Together, the women saw an opportunity if they partnered up, and African Equations was born.

Their first long-term project was to manage the Western Cape Tourism Enterprise Partnership for almost ten years. It was designed to provide assistance to SMEs in the tourism economy.

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

Your partnership has proved to be very successful. How have you pursued growth opportunities since launching 18 years ago?

We launched the business based on our respective strengths, experiences and skill sets. Shareen had been involved in policy development and research. I focused on innovative communication strategies and identifying strategic partnerships. Together that synthesis makes us a formidable team.

In a short time we managed to build a respectable company brand, but yearned for new challenges. We felt it was time to go beyond merely providing consulting services to clients. Instead we were looking for an opportunity to take ownership of a product.

That economic opportunity presented itself in the agro-processing sector, and was a culmination of our past experiences, current research and knowledge, and a business hunch.

We’ve found that growth comes when you step out of your comfort zone and explore gaps and opportunities around you.

Where has your growth path taken you?

Our research in the tourism industry alerted us to the absence of appropriate supply-side products. The profile of South African tourists has changed over the last few years. Today, many of our tourists come from non-traditional regions, including the Middle East and Africa, and a large percentage of these do not consume alcohol.

We realised that the tourism industry was not geared to provide an alternative beverage to these visitors that was on par with our award-winning wines. Traditionally, these audiences have been offered water or fizzy drinks instead.

South Africa is the seventh biggest producer of wine in the world, and yet our vineyards have made little to no investment in the marketing and branding of non-alcoholic beverages. Grape juices exist, but as we’ve mentioned, they’re not equivalent to our world-class wines.

We saw an opportunity for a premier product for the high-end market that was non-alcoholic, of good quality, ethical, and beautifully branded.

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Many established businesses would jump in, believing they had enough business experience to make any new venture work. How did you approach this new business idea?

Very slowly. We needed to do our market research. We tested 106 grape juices by driving to every wine estate from the Northern Cape to the Cape Winelands to gauge an understanding of what was on offer, the quality of various product ranges, presentation and taste.

Based on this research, we produced our first bottle of ZARI, a high-quality juice made from the Cape Seedless Muscat cultivar, in December 2010.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

This was the first time you had partnered outside the business. Were there any lessons you took from the experience?

We faced many challenges trying to secure a reliable producer/supplier who would mentor and support a new entrant into agro-processing. In order to secure volumes, we had to find a producer who could supply on a big scale.

Retailers demand agreements with reliable producers, but the larger producers are wary of taking risks, and want upfront payments, forecasts and distributors in place.

They also provide little mentorship or guidance. It’s a catch-22 situation. We needed the retailers to find a good producer, and a large established producer to secure agreements with the retailers.

How did you address the problem of scale?

To get around this problem we secured more than one producer to meet the demand from retailers. We also appointed a distribution company that could assist us with forecasts and planning with three major retailers. Large distributors were reluctant to list SMEs and their new products.

We realised that the right producer would have its own network, relationships and supply chains set up with retailers, which would be extremely valuable to us.

Armed with this knowledge, we identified a partner with these resources. We needed to present a mutually beneficial partnership to them though.

Were you able to find the right partner?

We have a producer partnership with Van Loveren, the biggest family-owned wine business in the country. We are in the process of securing the majority shareholding in their processing plant in Bonnievale.

Van Loveren produces high volumes across multiple brands, and has the facilities and networks with big distribution companies to sustain our demand for the local and export markets.

Distribution companies find comfort in our partnership with an established brand such as Van Loveren and we are able to optimise these benefits. Finding the right partner is often the key to growth. You need to be very clear about what you need from the partnership though, and what you bring to the table that they can benefit from.

Related: View Every Interaction Through your Brand Lens – It’s Significant Believes Kate Moodley

Remember this

An excellent reputation goes far and wide. If you want to grow, and you need partners along your journey, your reputation will be one of the biggest bargaining chips you have.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

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Company Posts

Designing Her Destiny

Oh Yay! owner, Emmerentia van den Hoven does business her way.

QuickBooks SA

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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

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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.”

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

These female entrepreneurs are breaking barriers, transforming industries and inspiring change on the continent.

Diana Albertyn

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Owner Of Nouwens Carpets Shares Success Lessons From Running A 50 Year Old Family Business

Embrace technology every chance you get.

Nadine Todd

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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.”

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

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

Collaboration

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

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch

PR

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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