Former Sharks rugby player Sonwabiso September knows the Eastern Cape like the back of his hand. His Butterworth-based company, Skhonde Cleaning Solutions, which was named after his clan name, has found its way into remote schools in rural villages all the way to guesthouses and restaurants in the suburbs of the province.
The business manufactures and packages a wide range of cleaning detergents for household cleaning, kits for washing cars, industrial cleaning and degreasing products.
After taking part in an incubator course to learn how to make chemicals in East London, and finding a natural affinity to it, September registered his company in 2014. “It was all mom’s idea. She found the course, we both did it together and she encouraged me to start my own business,” Sonwabiso says.
Working on an operational level and running logistics at his dad’s hardware store business gave him much of the practical skills of running a business – from drawing up a register, setting the right price, and working with margins to sales. “The best advice my father gave me is that when you set a price, you need to know why you set that price. You don’t just thumb suck, there’s a calculator in front of you.”
Those skills and knowledge was further enhanced by the SAB Foundation Tholoana Enterprise Programme – an exceptional business support programme that provides mentorship, skills development, access to markets and strategic financial support to entrepreneurs. Sonwabiso was selected as one of 60 entrepreneurs to participate in the two-year programme. Since he started on the Tholoana programme, he grew his business revenue with an impressive 44%. Another important lesson he learnt was the value of insurance. His business was burgled recently and the theft could have given him a big knock. Luckily, he was insured.
According to his Tholoana mentor, Patricia Dlamini, the programme has been very beneficial “The programme has offered Sonwabiso an opportunity to have external objective inputs regarding his growth as an entrepreneur and businessman. He now understands the importance of delegating tasks, sourcing the relevant support for admin and financial management. This kind of growth is freeing him to run the business strategically and to seek new markets. While being hands-on is good, you have to grow a team that will support your vision and also complement your skills or capabilities.”
His natural curiosity and do-it-yourself attitude are equally vital ingredients in the recipe of the business’ success. “I do the research and always looking for new-and-improved formulas, but what sets my products apart from other brands is that I test for natural pH levels. Not everyone wears gloves or other protective wear when washing dishes or floors so I am dedicated to making sure my products are not harmful to skin.”
Competition is tough in a sector where clients have been using trusted and established names for years, but September has a firm footing in a community and area he has grown up in.
He dedicates a few days of each month driving around the province, marketing directly to schools, hospitals and other organisations and was recently awarded the contract to supply cleaning agents on requisition to the Amathole District Municipality. With the police stations, community centres and the Department of Justice as his clientele, Sonwabiso says he worked hard to win these tenders but credits word of mouth as his strongest marketing tool.
“As an Eastern Cape boy, manufacturing products locally and running his own business, potential customers are generally receptive and interested to hear about Skhonde but people who have used the product will tell others and word spreads that way. My network gives the best references and referrals.”
Business is booming so much that Sonwabiso finds himself a little overwhelmed at times due to the demand for the product. As a small business that employs eight staff members, capacity can be a challenge.
“We aim to be the most reliable, efficient and established cleaning material manufacturing businesses in the Eastern Cape, and to branch into other provinces,” says September who also shares that the company is also working on branding, packaging and getting Skhonde into retail spaces even though bulk sales remains the core business focus.
For more information about Skhonde Cleaning Solutions, contact Sonwabiso September.
Find out about the SAB Foundation Tholoana Enterprise programme here.