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Entrepreneurship: Age is just a number

You are never too young or old to start a business. You should know why you are doing it and have a plan and strategy to help you achieve your goals. For Khulekani Mathe, founder of Exclusive Beds approaching his 50th birthday as well as the idea of going on pension and having nothing to do to keep him busy was not appealing.

With a background from government, the non-government and business sector, it was clear to Mathe that starting a business was a powerful vehicle that could contribute towards addressing challenges of poverty and unemployment in society, second only to acquiring or helping someone get a good education.  “I wanted to start a business where I would be making something rather than merely selling something made by someone else. I also wanted a business that would employ people with low levels of education and train them.”

Driven by this and pressures from family responsibilities, he stumbled on the idea of making beds by chance as he was exploring business opportunities in various sectors which led to the birth of his business. Mathe says upon entering the bed manufacturing industry, it didn’t take him long to discover that there is a dominance of the few big and established brands which tend to be relatively more expensive and a proliferation of poor quality products at the bottom end of the market. This could have deterred him but fortunately, Mathe’s intention was not to cater for the high-end market because he wanted his customers to feel that they own an exclusive product and not something cheap. He wanted to offer quality beds at affordable prices.

Exclusive Beds is a 100 % black-owned, young, dynamic and growing bed brand that designs reversible as well as no-turn beds with affordability, quality and comfort in mind. It supplies Gauteng and neighbouring provinces. “We make quality beds, comparable if not better than some of the big brands, and sell them at affordable prices. And source quality material from reputable suppliers to make sure that our beds live up to the brand promise.”

He is aware that making beds has very low barriers to entry, has become a very competitive industry, and customers are spoilt for choice. But his competitive advantage is that he pays particular attention to customer service to ensure that a person who comes through “his doors” and buy one of his products is sure to come back or refer their friends.

ABC’s of business growth

Just like other entrepreneurs, Mathe is reaping the benefits of social media. He says he tries to keep a presence on several digital marketplaces like many of his competitors but finds that word of mouth from satisfied customers is the most effective marketing tool.

He is motivated by the possibility of making a difference, contributing to employment creation and building something. His drive to compete favourably and possibly beat the ‘big guys’ leads him to always think of new product design ideas, but more importantly, take feedback from customers seriously.

And even though he is doing business in a saturated industry and going toe to toe with the ‘big guys.’ Mathe is aware and understands that starting and running a small business requires nerves of steel because each day is a struggle to keep the doors open by increasing sales and generating revenues. “In the context where the economy as a whole is not doing well, this is an ever-present risk. The fear of having to let my staff go drives me to find a solution no matter what.” Mathe understands the importance of having a team that shares his vision. “Without my staff, there is no business so I treat them fairly, something I strongly believe in.”

His business is still new with only four employees, and each day he and his team strive to keep their promise to customers and not cut corners. At Exclusive Beds, a promise to deliver on a certain day and time is important and this is why they will move mountains to keep that promise because they know and understand that is what builds a rapport with customers and leads to positive reviews. And if for some reason they are unable to keep their promise they communicate, and this is what can make or break a small business because customer service is important.


Secret to success 

There might not be a pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur. And Mathe admits that he is still learning, but from what he has read and heard about established entrepreneurs, it all seems to converge around the idea that one has to be prepared to work extremely hard, especially in the early stages and have the determination and not quit at the first hurdle. The reality is entrepreneurship is difficult, and if there was an established pattern or formula everyone would be a successful entrepreneur. However, some moments make the long hours, hard work and sacrifices worth it. For Mathe, it’s each time someone calls, sends a WhatsApp message or walks through the door and says they were referred to them by one of his customers. “I feel a great sense of satisfaction that we must have done something right and when I see a customer coming back to buy more or each time I pay my staff, I feel satisfied knowing that four families will not go to bed hungry.”

And even though success is relative for this entrepreneur, success is not one thing. It’s being able to pay his staff every month or each year he completes in business is a success.  “Every bit of growth I achieve compared to the previous period, every positive review I receive from customers and every improvement we make in our product quality is a success.”

Entrepreneurship might have its ups and downs and a few curveballs. Just like in Mathe’s case, entrepreneurship can give you the freedom to try different ideas and/or remove the need to ask for permission from somebody else because you are in charge. But the beauty of it all is that entrepreneurship will teach you that interacting with your customers can help generate invaluable information that can help the business do better. And as scary as it may be, it’s a beautiful journey worth taking.

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