Scholar breaks new ground in retail

Bukelwa Ngoqo, who has a doctorate in IT, runs a curio shop at East London Airport.
Bukelwa Ngoqo, who has a doctorate in IT, runs a curio shop at East London Airport.

Although Bukelwa Ngoqo is highly educated, she has discovered that the world of business can dish up humbling lessons.

Ngoqo, from the Eastern Cape, has a doctorate in information systems and conducts postdoctoral research and lectures regularly. However, her passion for retail tickles her fancy.

She is the proud owner of Sunkissed Fashion, based at East London Airport that she established two years ago.

Her "30-metre-squared shop" sells what she calls "African-influenced products" like SA literature, paintings - mainly from the province -fashion and music, among other things. She has two permanent employees.

She has previously worked as a student services assistant, a bank teller and at the SA Revenue Service.

Born in Butterworth 35 years ago, Ngoqo matriculated in East London and obtained her doctorate three years ago.

The single mother of one is also a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Johannesburg and at times delivers lectures.

"Before owning the airport shop, my relative and I had created a lady's leather handbag but struggled to find ways to sell the product," Ngoqo said.

"One day I was at East London Airport and started enquiring about a vacant shop. I was referred to an Airports Company of SA employee responsible for letting out shops and this led a decision to open my own store."

Ngoqo said retail gave her a baptism of fire as the customers were extremely different to those in the consulting business.

"My training is in information systems. So fashion was quite a stretch from what I was used to because all my previous work was around information systems," said Ngoqo.

"I've been working in the business space for years and thought I knew a bit about business, but retail turned out to be a totally different animal from what I knew. I had to acquire new knowledge in order to survive and thrive.

"In the first year things did not go as well as I'd hoped in retail. Normally in the consulting environment, you give a quotation, do a job and then get paid.

"In retail it's different because the customer has all this control and you must have the right product. When we started losing money in the first year, I realised that this was not a straight forward business. I had to learn to adapt to the cash-based environment," Ngoqo added.

She then approached the SAB Foundation's Tholoana Enterprise Programme last year to get assistance on how to build her capacity around retailing.

"Joining the programme proved to be a turning point because from year one, we were having meetings about possibly closing the business, but a year later we had multiplied our turnover," Ngoqo added.

 The two-year programme, offering professional business development support to viable and black-owned businesses, saw Ngoqo's turnover shooting up by almost 250%.

Ngoqo attended a number of workshops which taught her the importance of pricing and branding her store.