Mogani Padayachee, an experienced architect, and her husband Nalen, a project in the building environment in South Africa and the rest of Africa, own no fewer than six franchises and have built up and sold many others over the years.
Mogani says that, given their professions, their original plan was always to invest in property. “But it never happened that way. For some reason we always got drawn into the food industry,” she says.
It started with their love of good food, specifically that of a small Chinese take-away store in Durban where they lived. The couple used to frequent the Tong Lok Chinese restaurant which was then still a single-branch independent take-away shop.
When they later relocated to Richards Bay, they missed Tong Lok's food so much that they convinced the owner to allow them to open up a “branch” in Richards Bay. The owner had not thought about franchising before then, but together they drew up what became the first franchise deal for Tong Lok, which included staff training, trading under the Tong Lok brand, and the buying of food supplies through the franchisor.
It was a huge success, with queues forming regularly outside of their new Tong Lok branch in Richards Bay, says Mogani. Not only had the success hooked them into the fast-food industry, but it was also the spark that convinced the Tong Lok founder to start franchising, and today Tong Lok branches are found all over South Africa.
When the couple relocated to Johannesburg in 1996 for Nalen's work, they sold the restaurant for a good price. Mogani continued practicing as an architect while raising their twin boys. She found the transition to Johannesburg life difficult, but it wasn't the first time that she felt like a fish out of water.
During her childhood in Newcastle she discovered a flair for art and design, but her parents wanted her to achieve a professional qualification, so architecture was the resultant compromise. But Mogani was in for a shock when she started her studies at the M.L.Sultan Technikon in Durban. In the entire engineering, quantity surveying and architecture faculty she was virtually the only woman. It was though, she said, but looking back on it, it was to a certain extent empowering to be a gender pioneer.
“It turned me into an entrepreneur. It taught me to think: 'I don't have to listen to you. I can do it on my own,' ” says Mogani.
This spirit, plus the later success of their Tong Lok branch in Richards Bay, and the fact that Nalen could spot good locations in the new property developments he was involved in, made it inevitable that they would venture back into fast-food franchising.
After five years in Johannesburg, they opened a Steers branch in the new Pineslopes shopping centre in Fourways.
Mogani found that she loved the challenge of setting up a business from scratch, and she soon started “accumulating” franchises. The idea was that they would set up a branch until it started running on its own – usually after three years – and then they would sell it.
It didn't always work out that way. The Steers proved such a steady success that it helped finance much of their expansion, and they still own it today. But they built up and sold at least two sit-down restaurants, two Dreamnail beauty salons, and an independent specialist nutrition store which Mogani set up for her sons who were into sport and nutrition before they went off to study – not interested in business at all.
In 2004 Mogani had so much on her plate that she stepped out of architecture altogether to focus on her food businesses.
Throughout the years, the toughest challenges for Mogani in all her businesses had to do with staffing issues, especially whenever she has had to buy over an existing franchise and retrain the staff. It is much easier, she says, to start a franchise from scratch because she is then able to shape the work culture from the get go.
The most important thing about staff management that she learned was not to take staff issues - especially dishonesty - personally, says Mogani.
The Padayachees first approached Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) in 2012 to finance a Debonairs franchise next to their Steers in Pineslopes. Although the couple had enough collateral and own contribution to easily qualify for bank finance, the banks were simply too slow in responding to their application, and the Padayachees went with BUSINESS/PARTNERS based on their excellent service levels.
Today, the six franchises owned by Mogani and Nalen are arranged in two “combos”: a Steers, Fishaways and Debonairs set side-by-side at the Pineslopes shopping centre, and the same combination at the Dainfern Square centre. This second trio of take-away outlets was again financed by BUSINESS/PARTNERS, and this time the application went even more smoothly because of the Padayachees' history with the institution, and their stellar track record of success in franchising.