Located in Pietermaritzburg, iLawu Hospitality Group was founded in August 2009 by Siphiwe Ngcobo. What began as a humble five bedroomed B&B has expanded to become one of the most well-recognised hospitality and catering brands in KwaZulu-Natal, encompassing a guesthouse, an inn, a boutique hotel and studio apartments, a recently launched 4-star lodge in Newcastle and a food service division which is servicing corporate, government and leisure events across the region.
This, however, was not Ngcobo’s first entrepreneurial venture. From operating a tuckshop out of a container in a township, to embarking on a tech business that failed dismally and ultimately saw him blacklisted as a result, Ngcobo says that entering the hospitality industry was never something he’d planned.
“The iLawu journey began when I started investing in property within the Imbali township. I was fortunate in that I began investing in 2005, at a time when property prices were low, which allowed me to make favourable returns. When I wanted to expand my portfolio, I came across a property that I felt would do well as a B&B, which is what initially shifted my focus from rental property to holiday accommodation and hospitality.”
This decision was based largely around the position of the property, and the demand in the area. “Pietermaritzburg, which is the capital city and sport capital of KwaZulu-Natal, is synonymous with the Midmar Mile, the Comrades and the Dusi Canoe Marathons. I knew that these sporting events, along with other events that took place throughout the year, would create a demand for quality, yet affordable accommodation in the area.”
Ngcobo points out that back then, he had no formal training in the hospitality industry. “I had no experience or training when I decided to embark on this business, and everything I now know in the industry, I learnt on my feet through personal experience along the way. In the beginning, I was running the show on my own, which meant I was a housekeeper, a receptionist, a night manager, as well as being in charge of sales and marketing – it was not an easy time.”
It wasn’t long, however, before the business gained traction and Ngcobo found himself having to expand to keep up with the growing demand. Today, Ngcobo employs close to 100 people across a diverse portfolio of accommodation offerings that cater to many different markets, from corporate and government, to leisure groups looking for quality facilities with exceptional services, to locals looking to host elite events.”
Siphiwe Ngcobo is a finalist in the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS. For more information on his business, please visit the iLawu Hospitality Group website: www.ilawugroup.co.za.