Rhulani Hlungwani | Bold Pearl
I started out at hotel school doing food service management then later went on to obtain a BCom in Supply Chain and a BCom Honours in Strategic Management. However, it wasn’t my passion. In 2013, I was having a chat to someone who did events and she told me how event planners struggle to source furniture and how expensive it is. She wanted to buy her own chairs but they cost too much. There and then, I saw an opportunity. I bought 100 chairs and started renting them out. My first batch of chairs arrived on a Tuesday and by Saturday they were already booked.
I was still working full time but after a year the business was growing very fast and I wasn’t coping with both jobs so I had to quit my full-time job to focus on the business.
My biggest challenge has been – and continues to be – theft. People provide you with fraudulent documents, hire your chairs and disappear with them. I have experienced some large losses. I have put systems into place to prevent this but somehow people always seem to find loopholes. Another big challenge has been human resources. As entrepreneurs, we tend to expect our employees to have the same vision as us but this is not always the case. I realise now that I had unrealistic expectations of staff; I couldn’t understand that people may be good at some things but not at others. Now I focus on their strengths. Every day I wake up and realise that I’m running a bigger business than yesterday and that there are always new challenges.
One day, I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw a picture of someone I grew up with who was on a Raizcorp programme and who is now very successful. That’s when I applied to join.
The Raizcorp programme has had great value for me so far. I used to take my ATM card and swipe it for everything – whether for business or personal. Now I run my business like a business. I see Bold Pearl as a “business baby” that is growing on a daily basis. Before the programme, when my chairs were stolen, I’d sit in my office and not talk to anyone for days. Now, I tell myself to get over it and move on. My phone is ringing non-stop these days and I cannot afford to just tune out. I have learned to stand up again even if it’s hard.
When I started Bold Pearl in 2017, there were seven of us and now there are 16. Our turnover has tripled and our assets have grown. I no longer run the business like a spaza. We are COIDA registered, have business insurance, our own vehicles and pay UIF. I even get visits from the Department of Labour now! We are recognised as a real business. I’m also getting brand awareness – when people see our logo they know who we are. I’ve had people coming to me and asking how I’ve made it and I find that very affirming.
We’ve just opened a branch in eMalahleni and one of my corporate sponsors – Amec Foster Wheeler – has given me their canteen to run. We’re also hoping to open a branch in Cape Town within the next couple of months. In addition, we’re looking at opening up another branch in Mpumalanga. Next year, my goal is to register Bold Pearl as a franchise so I need all my branches up and running, and have all my processes and systems in place. We hope to be the first franchise business in this industry.
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is that the journey is very lonely and very hard but, if you wake up and focus on the direction you’re going in, you can do it. You need to see your vision.
The Raizcorp experience is something I could never have found anywhere else. I currently have 18 families, including my own, relying on me and Bold Pearl. These are families that are eating every day because Amec Foster Wheeler, Timken and Wood trusted my vision and gave me the opportunity to be on the programme. I will be forever grateful to Amec Foster Wheeler who have given us additional training and advice. They really care.
I think that South Africa is a better place because of Raizcorp and not everyone gets to see that. The fact that Raizcorp never gives up on us has made such a difference in our lives.