Samkelo Qokolwane | Sikhokhele Engineering
I was born and raised in Johannesburg and, after completing matric, I went down to Port Elizabeth to visit my grandmother and ended up staying. My business started by accident one day when my former business partner and I were walking around Motherwell. We were both studying mechanical engineering at UPE, and were trying to work out how we were going to get the money to write our final exams (we didn’t even have bus fare).
We spotted a house being built and somehow convinced the owner that we could make aluminium doors for it. He paid us R5 000 up front. We used a portion to get to varsity and the rest on buying materials. We hadn’t planned on going into the window and door business but after our first experience and managing to make good on our impossible promise to deliver in two weeks, we did some research and started subcontracting to local suppliers.
We started buying machinery and making promises that seemed impossible but that somehow we managed to pull off. After about six months, we were the preferred suppliers in Motherwell and surrounds and had a turnover of R1.6 million in one year.
We started out in my partner’s garage which soon became too small so we moved to an old supermarket building outside Motherwell. After moving, our sales dropped drastically and I realised that my partner was stealing from the business. He then left the business – without telling me! – and started a competing business. It was a tough time and I’d sometimes be without work for three months.
I approached the owner of a Build It store in Motherwell and he ordered eight doors from us and paid a deposit of 50%. As we walked into the store with the first four doors of the order, three were bought immediately which led to a bigger order. Unfortunately, soon after, the store was sold to someone else who wasn’t very interested in our product. But when he reopened the newly renovated store, four of our doors sold on the same day so he asked us to supply 16 doors for the two Build It stores that he owned. The challenge was that he didn’t pay us a deposit. We’d been without work for the previous three months, and had to go to loan sharks and anyone we knew to borrow money.
I heard about the Volkswagen Business Support Centre powered by Raizcorp at a PE business summit and started on their sponsored programme in 2016. The programme has really changed how I view things. I’ve come across a number of potential business opportunities at the centre, and have learned how to present my business. I am constantly inspired and motivated – not just by the Raizcorp guides but also by my fellow entrepreneurs. You know you’re not alone; there’s always someone to talk to at the centre.
My business has really grown and we’ve managed to secure business with more hardware stores. We’ve employed two more staff members, moved into town, and bought cutting-edge machines. Most importantly, the guides have pushed me to look at my finances properly, and introduced me to a system that keeps us on track and helps with budgeting. Before I joined the programme, I used to thumb suck everything and get unexpected bills at the end of the month. Now I know what to expect and how many doors I need to produce in a month.
We’re looking forward to a number of new contracts. Because we’re the first black-owned company doing aluminium construction in the Eastern Cape and the first to become a member of the Association of Architectural Aluminium Manufacturers of South Africa (AAAMSA), there are lots of opportunities from big companies who need to secure their B-BBEE points. Our products have also passed the AAAMSA Mechanical Performance Test (SAN613) which tests positive and negative deflection, structural proof-loading, water resistance and air leakage.
My advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs is never give up. Through all the challenges my business has been through, we never gave up. I also tell people that you don’t need capital to start your own business; you need guts! We started out with no capital and now we have assets worth over R850 000.
I would like to thank Volkswagen for giving me the opportunity to join the Raizcorp programme, as well as for the business they’ve given me. I hope they keep sponsoring other entrepreneurs. I’d also like to thank Raizcorp. When you feel down or you want to quit, they are there for you. Please keep up the good work and do for other entrepreneurs what you’ve done for me.