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 Thinking expansively is entrepreneurs answer to the off season


 Nocwaka Mazaleni thought she had solved the problem of the seasonality of the tourism trade by aiming her Kwantu guest house in Milnerton, Cape Town, at the corporate market. While she still experienced the boom of the tourism trade in the summer months and the lull of the winter, South African corporates provided a steady stream of bookings for travelling managers and corporate workshops.

But for the last two months Mazaleni has been experiencing a different kind of “seasonality” - the ups and downs of the corporate sector in sync with the economic cycle. The most recent recessionary slump has had a direct and immediate impact on her business.

Bookings from the corporate sector, especially from the struggling parastatals, have virtually dried up as these businesses put projects on ice or brought outsourced services inhouse.

Because the slump overlapped with the trough of the tourism off-season, Mazaleni has just been through two of her worst business months.

But Mazaleni has been putting the same tenacity and forward thinking to work that served her so well throughout her 30-year long entrepreneurial career.

She started as a seamstress in a single room in Gugulethu, and worked herself up to owning upmarket boutiques specialising in African fusion-style fashion in Cape Town's tourism hotspots. From there she set her sights on building her own high-end boutique hotel in the same African fusion style, and she launched her Kwantu Guest House with a hand full of rooms in a single house in the quiet residential area of Milnerton Ridge.

It is scarcely a thirty-minute drive from the Gugulethu room where she started off as an entrepreneur, but a lifetime of growth and tenacity.

In a slow, incremental process, Mazaleni added a few rooms at a time, and today she has 30 rooms spread over seven properties, all within walking distance from one another.

Rather than just cutting back in response to the business crunch she is currently experiencing, Mazaleni’s main response is to think expansively. She has decided to aim aggressively at international tourists visiting Cape Town, a sector that she has not focused on until now, apart from some medical tourists from the Congo, Zambia and Kenya who come for procedures at the nearby Mediclinic.

Mazaleni wants to increase her foreign guests by drawing some of the ever increasing number of overseas holidaymakers visiting Cape Town to her guest house.

Despite her many years in business, she has signed up for a mentor through the Tourism Enterprise Project who is helping her with a marketing plan aimed at international tourists.

“As an entrepreneur, you can never reach the point where you are comfortable with what you know. There are always areas of speciality for which you need experts to help you improve your business,” says Mazaleni.

Despite the difficult times, Mazaleni is proud of the fact that she has not had to let any of her twelve permanent staff members go. Her only regret is not being able to use her part-time staff members as regularly as before.

When this happens, she finds that a lot of the training invested in part-time staff members tend to be lost to her business, because they often find alternative employment when she can’t offer them regular shifts.

But if things go her way, she will soon be adding to her permanent staff. Mazaleni is planning to buy yet another property right next to her Kwantu One guest house which will add not only three more rooms to Kwantu’s 30 existing ones, but will also give her ownership of the parking space that she currently rents on the property.

As usual, Mazaleni will apply for finance to one of the organisations that has supported her business for years - Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS). Her most recent loan from BUSINESS/PARTNERS was for the purchase of another property and for developing the look and feel of Kwantu further.

Unlike the banks, BUSINESS/PARTNERS not only looks at the balance sheet of the business for collateral, but also at the abilities and character of the entrepreneur. Furthermore, the company is willing to consider providing 100% of the finance for the purchase of a property, allowing the business to use its much needed cash in its operations rather than tying it up in a property-finance deposit.

Mazaleni will certainly need every bit of cash she can spare as she grows her business one step at a time towards her dream of consolidating her guest house into a fully fledged boutique hotel one day. Along the way, she knows she will encounter many off seasons and downturns, but by constantly learning and thinking expansively, she knows she will get there.




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