By Libby Peacock
Small businesses are at the heart of South Africa’s economy, but Covid-19 has hit them hard. A determined small business owner shares what it takes to be successful in a tough economic climate.
When the hard Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020 shut down small-business owner Letlhogonolo Motseeng’s Soweto chicken restaurant after just six months of operation, he gave all his stock to keep it from going bad, gave up. his apartment and sold much of his furniture. Homeless, he slept in his car for several weeks to run his business and continue paying his staff.
When it got to the point where he also had to sell his car, it was “a pain”, he says – “but I had to save the business”.
Motseeng knows something about resilience and entrepreneurship. He started selling candy at school at the age of 11 to help support his family; after matric he was selling chicken feet and gizzards outside shebeens.
When he came up with his Moja Chicken restaurant concept – centered around restaurants set up in mobile shipping containers with roofs, targeting the township market – years later, he based it on what he knew. .
“When I was young, the only meat we ate was chicken. My late grandmother owned chickens and it was my responsibility to feed them… In addition, chicken is the most consumed meat product in South Africa. I saw a gap there, ”he says.
According to a Covid-19 impact report released in late 2020 by Finfind and key national partners, an inability to operate was one of the factors that forced the closure of nearly 43% of the 1,489 South African SMEs surveyed during of the first five months of the pandemic. . But giving up was never an option for Motseeng. He had, after all, left his comfortable nine-to-five job to use the capital for his new venture.
“I had to find a solution… I had to be more creative to respond to the market and meet its needs,” he recalls.
So, once restaurants were allowed to open for take out, he introduced a food delivery and collection model into the business and stepped up his marketing efforts.
He initially struggled to manage a single delivery bike, but persevered, buying two more bikes and eventually renting two more.
His persistence paid off. Several lockdown levels and three pandemic waves later, its original Soweto outlet and eight franchises are thriving. It also recently signed an agreement with a major bank to install ATMs in all franchises, and an agreement with a major retail group to provide its sauces and spices to their customers, and there is more to come. “We saw more traffic coming in and increased sales,” he says.
One of the things that motivates him is to empower young people, he emphasizes. “Every time I open a new store, I get excited about creating jobs. “
Motseeng’s concept, vision and innovative spirit have also earned his company a place among the 12 SMEs supported by Hollard’s Big Ads for Small Business initiative which aims to help small, medium and micro businesses. to prosper, for their own benefit and that of their communities and the broader economy.