Vanessa Langford | DKZEE Cleaning
In 2008, after a failed second marriage, I was left without a job and three sons who were still in school. I moved back to Port Elizabeth and decided to start my own business called DKZEE Cleaning. I knew I had to do something that I was better at than anyone else and that was cleaning! I am a cleaning freak. Because I had no experience in industrial cleaning, I started out with housecleaning.
I approached my church and friends for work. I used my pension money and made my own flyers to stick under windscreen wipers at any events I could find. I joined the Businesswomen’s Association (BWA) where I met a number of powerful businesswomen and learned the skill of networking. The business started growing and in 2009 I won the BWA’s Business Achiever Award – something that has been opening doors for me to this day! I also joined the Port Elizabeth Business Chamber and did everything I could to meet other businesspeople.
Things were tough in the beginning. At one point, my car was repossessed and I was stranded without transport so I walked through the streets with my brooms, mops, buckets, etc. Doors didn’t just open for me automatically. I had to knock on many doors and dealt with a lot of rejection but I didn’t allow it to deter me. For the first two years I didn’t pay myself a salary. I somehow managed with my small overdraft and my credit card – sometimes stealing from Peter to pay Paul. It was also a steep learning curve. I didn’t even know what gutter cleaning was until someone asked me to do it! When I started moving into more corporate cleaning jobs, I still had to service my small home clients and that proved quite challenging, too.
My first big break was when Standard Bank sent me a tender to complete. I submitted it and they came to my home and asked me a lot of questions. When they gave me 14 of their branches and 180 ATMs to clean, I actually cried. What was really rewarding was that I was taking over the tender from an established national company. That initial contract from 2012 still exists today.
I was contacted by the Volkswagen Business Support Centre in 2014 and asked to apply for the Volkswagen–Raizcorp programme. Initially, I wasn’t very keen because I’d been rejected before but eventually I went through the selection process and passed. Being on the programme changed both my business and my mind-set. I was blown away by the number of business guides who were assigned to me. I developed really good relationships with them. They helped me to come up with amazing ideas for sales and marketing and their feedback was wonderful. I loved the fact that I could speak to someone about my challenges. My guides allowed me to call them at any time – if I needed advice, if I wanted to celebrate. They also taught me how to give the best elevator pitch. I stayed for the full three years of the programme.
My business has grown from 20 staff members to 45 permanent staff and six casuals since I was on the
Volkswagen–Raizcorp programme. At the beginning of 2017, I stopped with the domestic side as Raizcorp really encouraged me to focus my offering. Initially I was in denial because I was so passionate about the domestic side. I had to sit down and separate the two business models, domestic and commercial cleaning, and discovered that the domestic side was actually running at a loss. With Raizcorp’s encouragement, DKZEE Cleaning also started developing its own products. We are now moving into pest control and are just waiting to receive our licence. I’ve also been doing some training and I’d like to formally work this into my business offering.
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is never give up! It is in the challenges that you grow. If I hadn’t been through the challenges I have, I wouldn’t be where I am now. If you need to, find other ways to make money and keep your doors open. Take the time to go to mentorship sessions and participate fully – it helps a lot.
I would like to thank Volkswagen for giving me the opportunity to participate in their business development programme. And to Raizcorp, wow! I have continued to keep up my relationship with their team even after completing the programme. Thank you.