Hard work and a passion for excellent customer service leads entrepreneur to success

For most entrepreneurs, the journey of entrepreneurship starts at the very bottom of the proverbial ladder. Yet, a keen eye for gaps in the market, coupled with willingness to learn and master every skill, climbing the ladder one step at a time comes naturally and with ease. This most certainly rang true for Christopher Kapanga, owner of Randburg based We Clean It All and a 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition entrant, who embarked on his entrepreneurial journey at the tender age of 26.

Like many entrepreneurs, Kapanga grew tired of working for someone else’s vision. As he grew up with an entrepreneurial family, Kapanga always had a desire to become known for doing something great.

He describes himself as ‘street smart’ rather than ‘book smart’. “I was never a great student and found university difficult. I felt like a failure for not completing my studies, until one day I realised that life is what you make of it. Through my work experience I discovered that there was more I could offer once I understood what I excelled at, and I soon discovered that it was delivering on excellent customer service,” says Kapanga.

Having started his working career as a floor sales assistant at a large clothing retailer, Kapanga quickly learnt the importance of excellent customer service, and was swiftly promoted to supervisor. Soon after he was head hunted by Builders Warehouse, and in his position as a junior manager, he soon learnt that customer service was non-negotiable. In this role, he also enhanced his communication skills through his liaisons with suppliers, and realised he could in fact run his own business.

With the seed planted, Kapanga opted to enter the service industry and joined a carpet cleaning company as an area manager. It was during his five years with the company that his inspiration for growing a business increased, and which ultimately sparked his entrepreneurial journey.

“My then manager was very strict and had an eye on everything. He always knew who worked hard, who slacked, how much stock was on hand, how much petrol was in each van for example. His drive and determination to make his business succeed was what I admired most about him, and so I aimed to be just like him one day,” says Kapanga.

After starting to clean carpets over the weekends for extra money, Kapanga identified a gap in the market for high quality and reliable carpet cleaning services in households and with homeowners who continued to ask for additional cleaning services. He subsequently started his own carpet cleaning company, We Clean It All.

Kapanga says that he knew that delivering unrivalled customer service would set his business apart from competitors. “We don’t only provide a cleaning service to our clients, but also create a beneficial relationship by providing clients with long term advice and solutions for maintenance of their material goods.”

He pegs the first few months of 2008 (after launching his business) as the most challenging – struggling to attract and retain even two clients during the winter months, and having their pricing structure dictated to them by their biggest source of clients – the real estate agencies, many of whom took advantage of his business’ youth in the market.

Today, Kapanga can look back and smile at the growth his business has achieved over the past eight years. His services have broadened to include window cleaning, floor cleaning, post renovation cleaning and flood damage among other services. His staff complement has also increased significantly, with additional office and operational staff members. There are also new exciting projects on the cards which Kapanga hopes will bring the business to the forefront of delivering on-the-go services that will be easily accessible to future customers.

When asked what advice he would give budding entrepreneurs, Kapanga provides three top tips:

  1. Write all your business ideas down;
  2. Do it now: Don’t wait for the perfect time as it will never come. The know how to run the business only starts when you are in it;
  3. Hard work will make your business a success.

He also stresses that education is important. “While I may have struggled with formal education, I make sure to constantly surround myself with business-minded individuals by attending workshops, online education courses, networking events and business management seminars.

“I firmly believe that lessons are not only learned in the classroom. To succeed, you need to always be in the know, and this is why I strive to read as many books on entrepreneurial subjects and stay in touch with business owners and motivational speakers,” Kapanga concludes.

Trading up


Entrepreneur finds business success in promoting others

Gerald Ndlovu saw an opportunity to create employment for 250 artisans, and he took it, writes Jane Steinacker-Keys.

Gerald Ndlovu by his own admission did not thrive in the corporate environment. His education, which includes a BComm in financial accounting as well as a post graduate in business management, made him the perfect candidate for a series of corporate posts including the Head of Operations for Liberty Properties and a Member Services Manager at the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA).

Despite his success in the corporate world he found the rigid structures frustrating, which fuelled his yearning to venture out on his own. “In the corporate world there are rules for everything,” he says, “I found it stifling.”

“I am an entrepreneur, uncontrollable by nature,” says Ndlovu.

Whilst at his last post, he started attempting to fill the gap between corporate companies and black business. “I wanted to give black entrepreneurs a chance to penetrate the market.”

“This was a huge learning experience,” he says. Ndlovu discovered that corporates lamented the fact that there were no reputable black businesses and reputable black businesses felt that weren’t given a chance.

However, despite this need for there to be a connection between the two, Ndlovu found that many corporate companies had no “deliberate strategy to find new suppliers and no procurement policy focused on sourcing from black owned enterprises.”

A few months later, as he walking into Builders Warehouse he noticed that there were many artisans standing outside the store offering their services. What Ndlovu could not comprehend was why the store was not promoting them.

To him it was obvious that there was a synergy between the retailer, the artisan and the customer that was not being realised.

This was the gap in the market that Ndlovu had been waiting for. Starting with Builders Warehouse, he started Rent-an-Artisan.

Ndlovu realised that to be able to create a system where artisans could be sourced, he would need to be meticulous about the artisans he chose to represent.

His system starts with a basic vetting system, where the artisan’s details are checked. “I do a full background check, which includes checking for criminal records and the legal status of the guys,” he says.

After this, courtesy of funding from Builders Warehouse, the artisan is required to complete an evaluation on his skill set by an FET builders training college in Soweto.

“This can take up to three days,” he says. “For example, if a guy says he can do plumbing, we check all his skills and find out which he is most apt at,” explains Ndlovu. Who adds that plumbing has many sub-sectors and the skills required for a geyser installer would be very different to someone who could install a toilet.

Once this evaluation is complete the artisan receives a certificate of competence, a work overall and access to tools he may require. These are all courtesy of Builders Warehouse.

The artisans are also taught how to quote and are given guidance through regular workshops on matters such as customer service, safety and project management. Ndlovu runs a tight ship where artisans are rated to instil a work ethic that keeps customers coming back.

With two offices outside the Builders Warehouse in Fourways and Gleneagles, customers wishing to fix or renovate something in their homes can approach Rent-An-Artisan and find a vetted, reputable and credible artisan to complete the task required.

What Ndlovu believes is the key to the success of his business is that customers are receiving “value for money”. “Contractors have lots of overheads which pushes the prices up, our guys don’t have these which makes our pricing competitive,” he says.

The customer pays 50% upfront and 50% on completion of the project. The artisan receives 60% and Rent-An-Artisan retains 40%.

The benefit for Builders Warehouse, other than the fact that “they look good by helping small entrepreneurs,” says Ndlovu, “the link between the quote and the purchase of the materials required drives business directly into Builders Warehouse.”

“We’ve been open for about 6 months and have about 60 projects coming through the business every month,” says Ndlovu. The most sought out service is plumbing and tiling.

“One of our guys has just completed a paving job in a golf estate worth R350 000 and another guy is busy with a R70 000 painting job. A couple of months ago these were the guys sitting outside the store with a homemade sign,” he says with pride.

His goal is to have a Rent-an-Artisan office at every one of the 350 Builders Warehouse stores in the country, but realises that even if he wishes to add 50 sites in the next six to 12 months, that this may be an arduous task. Ndlovu is currently researching a franchising model to further empower black business men.

In addition to his success at Builders Warehouse, Ndlovu has installed artisan finder kiosks at eight CashBuild stores. Here, customers go to a self-service kiosk, type in what they require, choose the artisan best suited for the job by reading his profile and then can opt for the artisan to contact them.

The artisans on this system have to pay a registration fee of R550.

Ndlovu just pulled the figures and over the past year 2 500 calls have been logged of which 2 100 have been converted into work for the artisan. On January 31 this year the total value of the jobs created by this kiosk amounted to R750 000.

For Ndlovu’s 250 skilled artisans, 45 % of whom are builders, 20% plumbers and the balance an array of skills, there is a sustainable system that has been created to give them an opportunity to work.

“People aren’t just going to support you because you’re a black service,” says Ndlovu, “They will support you if you provide quality service that is value for money.”