07 June 2009

Bessie Mogale: Research your market

Bessie Mogale, shop owner
Bessie Mogale didn’t let circumstances get her down. She started a tuck shop (or spaza) from her Gauteng home in 2005. Her business was spotted and she was given the opportunity to participate in the Coca-Cola 5by20 Programme by completing the Coca-Cola South Africa Women Empowerment training course. She’s now well on her way to achieving her business dream of one day growing her tuck shop into a franchised supermarket chain.

According to SpazaNews, there are an estimated 40 000 spaza shops in Gauteng alone – 100 000 across South Africa – contributing a turnover of R7-billion a year. Each spaza employs two to three people, each supporting a family of four.

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
I have always been an entrepreneur – it all started with a bag of oranges. I sold each orange at a profit and when my mom found out she told me to use the money to replace the bag. I then used the change to buy sweets to sell to all my school friends, much to her dismay. It was then that she told me that I took after my grandmother who had owned a butchery, a grocery store and other shops.

What were you doing before starting your business?
Before the tuck shop, I was unemployed and when my husband left for Botswana I had to raise three boys by myself. As an unemployed mother, this was going to be quite a challenge. Opening the tuck shop was the only way I could make sure that we had food on the table and that the boys received a good education.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
In my case it was all about having the passion and determination to create a sustainable business. I didn’t have a business plan, instead I used the knowledge and skills I picked up over the years. However, after attending Coca-Cola's "Women Empowerment" training course, I realised how important it is to have the correct skills and structures to run a successful business. Without these, your business has a higher risk of failing along the way.

What was your start up capital and where did you work from?
I started my little tuck shop in a one-roomed shack, with enough money to buy one crate of cold drink, a few bags of maize meal, sugar and tea. It was a trying time, but I was determined to do better and make my venture a success. I knew that I needed more skills and capital to grow the business, so when the opportunity to gain such knowledge presented itself through Coca-Cola South Africa’s "Women Empowerment" training course, I did not hesitate to attend. Not only did I gain financial and human resources, as well as business management skills from the training course, but I also received R3 000 start-up capital and a container to use as my tuck shop.

What’s your big dream for this venture?
At the moment, I run one tuck shop, which I would like to see grow into a supermarket to franchise across the country.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
It is all about research. You need to read and engage with people in order to understand the market.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
Again it’s all about research and more research. Through research you can find out what makes you different and then develop that differential advantage to better your business venture.    

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
Talking from personal experience, I would say conducting ongoing market research is the best way to find out what to change for your service offering. When I started my tuck shop, I asked my customers what new products they would like to see in the shop, which I then went ahead and purchased.

What was your most epic fail in the early days?
When I started my tuck shop I employed an additional worker. We worked well for some time until it came to my attention that he was stealing from the tuck shop. The only way I could solve the problem was to let him go.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
Firstly, being product-driven instead of focusing on the customer. Upcoming entrepreneurs need to keep in mind that in order to succeed they need to provide a need/want to their customers, and no matter how brilliant your offering is, if it does not satisfy a customer’s needs it will not be bought. Secondly, new entrepreneurs tend to spend more money than they will make, which may lead to early financial problems. 

How do you keep yourself motivated?
I was raised by independent businesswomen; my mom and grandma. Watching them work hard and strive for the growth of their businesses remains an inspiration and motivation for me in my quest to grow my business.

Did you have a mentor?
I did not have a mentor, but I did look up to my grandmother when growing up. She was a strong businesswoman, whose tenacity helped sustain her businesses and our family. I believe that every up and coming entrepreneur should have a mentor, who will advise and assist them as they grow their ventures. 

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground, in your experience?
With regards to a spaza-shop specifically, I would say between six to 10 months and if it doesn’t work, try tweaking your offering by getting new products that are of interest to your customers.

Is it ever alright to give up on a dream?
No, dreams are meant to be followed. Dreams are the things that challenge us to do better and grow as people, if we were to stop following our dreams, we would stop growing as individuals.

What’s your life motto?
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” In my case: “When life gives you oranges, start a business!”
Do you believe in internships for your business?
Yes, I do. The skills and knowledge gained from undergoing an internship can help up and coming entrepreneurs grow their ventures and reach the goals that they have set for themselves. Unfortunately I do not have a formal internship programme, however I do share the knowledge and skills I gained from Coca-Cola South Africa’s "Women Empowerment" training course with a few women in my community.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Always conduct market research ahead of starting your business.
* Beware of who you partner with.
* Always know where you want to be in the future and have a clear vision of your future plans.
* Never give up on your hopes and dreams.
* Equip yourself with the relevant skills needed to run your business.