Growing up Mbudzeni Musie says that many nursery schools in Venda were run like a babysitting service instead of institutions for nurturing early childhood development.

Mbudzeni MusieAs a mother of four who never attended preschool, Mbudzeni fully appreciates the value of this foundation phase and it was what inspired her to establish her company, Vhutambo Edu-Play, which specialises in the sales and rental of children’s special-event products. According to Unicef, early childhood is the most rapid period of development in a human’s life. “The years from conception to birth to eight years of age are critical to the complete and healthy cognitive, emotional and physical growth of children”.

Vhutambo, meaning “children’s play or a children’s celebration or party”, has four branches – one in Gauteng and three in Limpopo. The business also supplies educational toys and equipment such as chairs and tables, building blocks, wooden puzzles, Hoola Hoops, storybooks and more to schools and surrounding communities. One of the highlights, says Mbudzeni, was seeing Vhutambo listed as a preferred supplier on the Grade R stationery and toy list.

Mbudzeni left her full-time job as a successful IT engineer to start Vhutambo. “I started doing door-to-door inquiries at various crèches after I noticed that too many schools in Limpopo still didn’t have the basics such as tables and chairs for the children to sit on. “My job was no longer fulfilling me and I wanted to do something more rewarding,” she says. Many facilities simply weren’t interested or didn’t understand the importance of educational play but she persisted. She says even if the school was interested, accessibility and availability of the products she now supplies was a challenge.

In 2012, she and her husband, who she describes as an IT guru and programmer, set up the business. Though he is not fully involved in the day-to-day running of Vhutambo, he designed the in-house IT system that the business uses to manage stock and sales. “Instead of buying an expensive system, we built our own to customise.”

Last year (2017), Vhutambo caught the eye of SAB Foundation Tholoana Enterprise Programme and she credits it with helping her with one of her biggest challenges: human resources. “I didn’t have experience managing people and the programme helped me with personal development because as I’ve learnt, dealing with people starts with knowing yourself and being able to find the balance between your emotional side and how to relate to your business. I also learnt about human resources in terms of compliance and labour relations.”

The Tholoana programme offers intensive skills training workshops, face-to-face mentorship, and access to funds and markets. Entrepreneurs are upskilled in all aspects of running a successful business – from costing and pricing, marketing & PR, to financial management and human resources. Since starting on the Tholoana programme, Mbudzeni’s business turnover increased by an impressive 69%.

Having a staff complement of 13 has been trying not just in terms of management but also staff costs. “I am now looking at potentially downscaling and centralising the business. With four branches in various malls, running costs are high so I’m planning to find a bigger space, close one of the outlets and be able to pay my employees more.

Her Tholoana mentor, Ismail Kajee, talks about how enterprising Mbudzeni is. “She has navigated intelligently through a difficult period in the retail sector as witnessed through lower consumer spend. Her interventions and discipline in financial management, smart procurement and improved HR practices has resulted in steady profits and has positioned her to take advantage of any future growth prospects in the economy.  Mbudzeni’ s strategy of consolidation has been fundamental to her success. She has been a good student that has benefited immensely through the Fetola programme by attending all the workshops, taking guidance from the mentors and successfully implementing her learnings.”

Another shift that has taken place in the early childhood development space has been around the active participation and enforced regulations put in place by social services in Limpopo. Instead of simply allocating funds to schools, social services now visit and conduct inspections of childcare facilities, allocate a budget to them but prescribe how the budget should be spent down to the last cent.

“For instance, a crèche would receive funding but that money would be spent on a fridge or something else which would not benefit the children’s learning and development directly. Now social services will give them a list of what they need to spend the money on and then return to see if it was used correctly,” says Musie.

The next step is for Vhutambo to go online and the e-commerce site is already close to completion and set to go live before the end of 2018.

“I want Vhutambo to become a household name like PnP. I want my brand to not just be descriptive but become known as an international educational toy brand.”

“When young children in areas like Alexandra, where other companies don’t want to go, see one of our trucks, they become so excited because they know that we are bringing fun. And the parents exclaim, ‘oh you are doing Vhutambo!’.

“Providing a service that makes children happy – that is what motivates me.”

For more information about Vhutambo Edu-Play, contact Mbudzeni Musie or call her on 0827389769.

For more information about the Tholoana Enterprise programme visit the SAB Foundation website.