Born and raised in rural Limpopo selling fresh produce grown on her grandmother’s farm, thirty-four year-old wife and mother of two, Tsakelani Mahlaule never thought she would own a cake business in the baking industry, let alone be an entrepreneur.
“I developed a strong interest in computers when my father gave us a broken one and I started to take it apart to try and fix it. After receiving a bursary to study information technology at Germiston College and moving to Johannesburg to start her first job, a co-worker introduced her to baking.
After baking her first birthday cake for a friend in 2014, she fell in love with it and soon began making cakes for friends and family. Soon her passion turned into a business called The Cake Central.
“Whenever I had a few cake orders to fill for people in Limpopo I would have to travel three hours to the closest store in Louis Trichardt and back home, just to find baking ingredients. The solution was to open a store closer to her home village of Elim.
Established in 2016, The Cake Central is a cake and confectionary retail shop that sells baking ingredients such as fondant and icing sugar, equipment and utensils. There is an outlet in Thohoyandou Shopping Mall and another in Baragwanath Square Mall that also bakes fresh goods on-site for bulk orders. The second store came about after she joined a group chat for bakers and identified a need for a supplier in Soweto. Her core market includes hobby bakers, professional confectioners and small businesses such as caterers.
With little to no experience running a business, being selected to be part of The SAB Foundation Tholoana Enterprise Programme in 2017 from more than 2 000 applications countrywide, turned out to be one of the biggest blessings for Tsakelani’s fledgling business. The programme specifically supports enthusiastic, passionate entrepreneurs who are committed to building successful businesses for themselves and the people they serve. Since starting on that programme the jobs she created by employing people increased with a healthy 33%!
“My business would not have survived without this programme. They took us through everything from marketing training to how to prepare a balance sheet and other practical skills,” says Tsakelani.
Her Tholoana mentor, Simon Ramonyai, agrees that the programme helped her tremendously. “Tsakelani’s business acumen and the overall business management skills have improved significantly since she started on the Tholoana programme. She now makes informed business decisions based on clear plans and strategies to grow and elevate the business operations, whereas before she was just operating randomly. She also got her financial management system up to standard. She is highly focused and works extra hard to become sustainable and profitable. Tsakelani has demonstrated sheer passion for her business and willingness to learn, hence there are visible and tangible improvements in her business.”
The Cake Central has not been without its challenges but with the knowledge gained from the programme and trial and error, Tsakelani is learning how make sure there is enough stock in the stores so as not to disappoint customers as well as managing the costly exercise of having supplies delivered from Gauteng to Limpopo.
“Icing sugar is very heavy, for instance, so ordering in bulk and couriering it is not sustainable.” Tsakelani now makes use of other means of cheaper delivery, but it means she has to plan carefully.
Another challenge she is learning to balance is the rent of the Baragwanath store, which is triple that of Thohoyandou. Making sure she makes good profit in Johannesburg is key so she doesn’t have to “borrow” money from the shop in Limpopo to cover rent. While she has increased prices at the Baragwanath outlet and introduced a bakery, competition is very stiff in Johannesburg where customers have more options and can easily go elsewhere for their supplies.
While she works out the tricks of the trade, she is already looking for bigger premises in Thohoyandou so the outlet can also have an in-store bakery and even host baking and cake-decorating classes.
For more information about The Cake Central, contact Tsekelani Mahlaule
Find out more about the SAB Foundation Tholoana Enterprise programme here