Open letter to South Africa’s students‚ universities and government‚ represented by Minister in the .
Claire Buthelezi runs Dream Nails, a franchised beauty shop at Campus Square in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.
Question: There is a perception that the beauty industry is the domain of white people. What inspired you get in?
Answer: Passion was the driving force behind my decision.
I always liked the beauty industry and after realising that I could buy a franchise, Dream Nails came to mind.
Starting up was not easy, but passion kept me going. Otherwise I would have not survived. You need to be passionate about what you are doing to be able to cope with the stress that comes with being an entrepreneur and with the financial constraints.
Sometimes I had to push hard just to reach break-even point. It took some time to make profits.
This is a seasonal business; you struggle to make good profits in seasons such as winter. Without passion I would have not survived because one needs an extra drive to pull through.
Q: How did you raise start-up finance?
A: I bought the franchise through one of the government's finance vehicles. I got the loan from Absa through the support of Khula, which provided my surety. Without Khula I would have not have managed to get a loan.
Previously disadvantaged individuals can access business finance through government initiatives such as Khula and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).
Q: What challenges did you face when you started and how did you overcome them?
A: Understanding the industry was not easy and I had to learn its ins and outs. It was also difficult to get customers because the services we offer are not a basic need.
We sell a luxury and there is nothing as difficult as selling a luxury. So the reception, especially among black people, was poor. Black people are unfamiliar with all aspects of beauty. They think our business is about doings nails, facial treatments and massages. We do much more than that, such as laser treatments, permanent makeup, cellulite treatments and waxing.
The location of your shop also determines the number of customers you get. My shop is situated in a good spot, for Campus Square [in Auckland Park, near the University of Johannesburg] is in the centre of everything and is close to places that people visit. So I have access to black and white customers.
I also get student clients because most of them are clued up about the industry. They come for services like waxing.
Other challenges revolved around staff. I had to learn how to take care of my staff and keep them happy. I had to deal with perception management. As an employer you get exposed to situations where your staff perceives you to be something you are not. You have to learn to deal with that and try to change negative perceptions about you. When you are managing people you are managing perceptions.
Working hours was another thing I had to deal with. I had to tell myself that my customers' needs should come first. I had to dedicate all the time I had to make it through.
I also had to make my staff understand that they needed to work long hours to survive in this kind of business. You have to have stamina to keep going; you have to sacrifice things like time out.
Q: What is your management philosophy?
A: I believe in keeping good workers happy. Even the weaker ones need motivation. I incentivise my staff in different ways [with perks such as] money, vouchers and movie tickets. I make sure that I reward them for the good work they do.
I also make them understand that we all stand to gain in the end. I try to share my vision with them. I try to be transparent about everything in our business.
I don't have favourites and I try to ensure that I treat them equally. As an employer you have to be fair. Above all you have to be consistent. You must set standards and principles and see to it that everyone lives according to those standards at work.
The availability of the owner is very important in business. You have to be available for your staff. I make sure that I am always available at work. This boosts the morale of your staff. Unlike many young people who once they have a business think they can laze around and leave the staff to run the business, I am always available at work.
In addition, I think it is important that as an employer you care about your employees' wellbeing. Ask them what their interests are and try to motivate and empower them where you can. This should include sending them on short courses. It is important to always improve your knowledge. I do that too.
Q: For how long have you been in the industry and what are your plans?
A: I have been in the industry for a year. I have gone through the rough times. I would consider opening another business in five years, but I feel there is still more to learn. I want to do an MBA.