Winston Churchill once said success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
BY NDAMU SANDU
Zimbabwean entrepreneur Freddie Shava thought he had arrived when he bought into an advertising agency in Ghana. He was to lose that firm, dusted himself and started a new clothing business: African Heritage Clothing (AHC).
“Being pushed out of my own company, painful as it might have been, was a learning initiation into business politics, but it opened up an opportunity that I am enjoying. I am now at peace with myself because of the impact change that African Heritage is creating within our society,” he told NewsDay.
Shava had moved to Ghana in 2008 to set up and manage a newly-established advertising firm as CEO. After five years, he bought the advertising agency.
He engineered a buy-out of the advertising agency at 0% investment, sold a stake at 50% more than the value of the business, and paid off the asking price to the original owners within 90 days. But within 12 months he lost everything to his “new partners and walked away with nothing”.
He started an import business where he would supply uniforms to hotels on a small scale.
But as fate would have it, in 2014, Shava was forced to rethink his business model.
The weakening of the Ghanaian cedi against the US dollar meant that imported goods became expensive and hotels were not keen to pay higher prices.
He discovered that hotels were looking for quality uniforms but at a competitive price and there was no dedicated manufacturer of quality chef uniforms in Ghana.
“I realised if I could produce locally, a good quality product at a competitive price, my brand would be accepted. Hotels were importing because the local quality was not up to standard and there was no committed supplier. In July 2014, African Heritage Clothing was born to fill this gap,” he said.
AHC was born with a start-up capital of $50 000.
The plan, Shava said, was to set up a uniform manufacturing company with a global reach.
“We earmarked a product range of six lines which would be rolled out into SBUs (small business units) as we grew. This included hotel chef uniforms being the first product to be introduced because there was a ready market for it. Within 90 days of set-up, we managed to supply 15 hotels,” he said.
“We also started receiving repeat orders and new orders through referrals. We were growing too fast than anticipated and this caused production and capitalisation challenges. This meant we had to embark on the second phase — growth and expansion phase — earlier than planned.”
He said the second phase entails recruiting additional production and administrative staff, finding bigger production premises, setting up a showroom to showcase our products and embarking on an aggressive marketing plan. He said the company was looking for funding to grow the brand to the next level.
The company now has 10 employees and supplies 33 hotels in Ghana. It has an ambitious plans of moving to bigger premises which would enable the company to employ 100 in five years.
Shava plans to grow the company’s footprint in Africa which will come after AHC has expanded within Ghana.
“Expansion into Africa will initially start through exports and then set up regional manufacturing units in countries to be identified,” he said adding that Zimbabwe was “an area of interest to me because I know the market very well”.
Shava said as a start-up, it was difficult to mobilise funding from banks without collateral.
“Banks are the same everywhere and often sceptical with start-up businesses. As a foreigner, it is even more difficult to mobilise funding from anywhere. The government in Ghana has various funding platforms to support its indigenous SMEs which aid start-up businesses,” he said.
Shava is inspired by Tony Elumelu, the self-made Nigerian billionaire who has been supporting entrepreneurs across the continent.
“I am a beneficiary of the $10 000 after being one of the top 1 000 winners in the inaugural Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme. Tony has travelled this entrepreneurship route before and he knows how difficult it is to start a business without funding. He is my role model, mentor and I would love to follow in his footsteps to make Africa a better place,” Shava said.
Any lessons for Zimbabwe?
Shava said Ghana was an entrepreneurship-savvy country compared to Zimbabwe and youths in the 18 to 25 years age-group are heavily involved in start-ups.
He said the Ghanaian government has made available funding to youths interested in starting businesses. He said there are a number of NGOs that offer training to start-up entrepreneurs and conduct business plans competitions with winners offered various cash prizes to start their business.
Shava said every year the NGOs churn out over 1 500 qualified entrepreneurs.
“You can imagine the ripple effect this will have on the economy in a few years. In Zimbabwe we have a lot to learn from Ghana in terms of entrepreneurship. This is what inspired me to go into entrepreneurship,” Shava said.