Lere Mgayiya founded Lere’s Shoe Shine Experience (http://www.shoeshine.co.za/) in 2003 to provide shoeshine services to passengers and staff at airports around South Africa. There was a glaring gap in the market for the traditional and enduringly popular service, but to spot it showed great entrepreneurial panache, panache and get-go that is unusual in a young man from the townships. In his first year of business he polished more than 13,000 shoes.
Since then his business has grown to incorporate shoe shine stations at Cape Town, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban international airports, and four Protea Hotels. “We shine more than 175 000 pairs of shoes each year and employ 45 people full-time,” says Mgayiya. Spectacular growth has been possible in large part due to his boundless drive but he has been supported along the way with ongoing guidance from SAB Miller’s social investment funds.
Despite having no tertiary education, shoe shining was not Mgayiya’s first attempt at self-employment; he identified the shoe polishing opportunity after a string of unsuccessful and costly business ventures.
In 2004 Mgayiya was recognised in the SAB Kickstart Competition, a scheme devoted to uncovering and assisting youth entrepreneurship. He received funding, business support and mentorship to help him enhance his business.
KickStart was launched in May 1995 by SAB to promote business skills among 18 to 35-year-olds from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. Providing this support serves SAB by strengthening the local market for its own products, creating employment and aiding the development of the local economy.
It provides training, mentoring and grants of up to R30,000 (US$3,300) and R250,000 (US$ 27,500) from a total pool of R3.2 million (US$350,000) to assist small businesses. Since its formation, over 22,700 entrepreneurs have benefited from the programme and KickStart participants have set up more than 3,200 businesses.
Now in its 15th year, it’s the largest and most successful entrepreneurship development project in South Africa. A recent evaluation showed that over 80% of the entrepreneurs supported by the programme were still trading after three years. In contrast, 40% of other small businesses fail in their first year rising to 60% by the end of their second year. Many of these enterprises have grown into multi-million rand organisations, employing significant numbers of people. Almost a third supply goods and services to SAB.
KickStart has become a model for other SABMiller companies and has been replicated in many countries around the world. Every tear SABMiller commits millions of dollars to supporting entrepreneurship projects in many of its markets, last year spending a total of US$4.7m. Through various projects we aim to create support networks that micro and small enterprises need to survive and thrive. This ranges from start-up grants and access to microfinance, to mentoring and training.
The nourishing of ongoing, respectful business relationships with is an important part of the SAB policy. Lere’s Shoe Shine Experience is the perfect example of this philosophy. Further grant capital from the SAB Foundation (R250 000, US$27,500) has since assisted with increasing the business’ capacity, purchase of a van to transport equipment, and computers. Despite the challenge of monitoring all his stations around the country, Mgayiya is looking to expand into large corporate offices and also train disabled people to become shoe-shiners.
“It is 10 years of Lere’s Shoe Shine next year,” says Mgayiya. “The sky is the limit!”