William Dhlongolo is an entrepreneurial success story. He had a dream, trusted his instinct, put in the work and finally reached a stage where his company, IsiYalu Manufacturing and Retailing, started securing contracts with corporate giants such as Discovery, VOITH SA and Kaefer Thermal and Energy.
He is ambitious and so relentless that he was meticulous about his clientele even before he had a business. But get to know him and you will discover that William belongs to a small group of people who are cut from a completely different cloth. At his core, William is driven by compassion, justice and empathy.
Before he started IsiYalu (manufacturing and branding promotional garments), he worked at one of the companies that sponsored the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup. His role included signing off invoices. “Everyone was milking it during the World Cup, but it was ridiculous for a supplier to mark-up golf shirts by more than 350%,” he recalls.
However, this is not his sole inspiration for striking out on his own. More than anything else, he was a husband who wanted to be emotionally and physically present to look after his ailing wife.
“I resigned in 2012 but before I did I made sure that I understood enterprise development, what makes a business work or fail and other factors.” Knowing that government departments are infamous for late payments, he targeted corporate companies. “They’re very strict but they also pay on time.”
He clinched his first deal with Bidvest TMS Industrial Services in 2010. It was the kick-start he needed. “The agreement was that they would sponsor us with R300 000 every quarter so that we could buy fabric. This allowed us to have a credit line with fabric suppliers. It helped us to have flexibility and a quick turnaround time for our orders.”
He knocked on many corporate doors, including South African Breweries. He didn’t land a deal with them, but many other doors opened for him. The first one was being referred to one of the SAB Foundation’s entrepreneurship programmes in 2014. Back then they offered grants to boost businesses. William applied successfully and used the grant to buy branding machines. “This kickstarted our branding division, which is important to our business because corporates want branded merchandise.” As a result, IsiYalu started getting business from corporate giants.
Another door opened in 2016 when he was accepted on the SAB Foundation Tholoana Enterprise Programme. This 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 that programme his revenue increased by 55% and the jobs created increased by 24%! “Being in the programme boosted my confidence in doing business,” he says, adding that besides having a mentor on call, he also received a grant worth R250 000, which he used to buy an additional embroidery machine. “We went from producing 200 overalls a day to 900 – this is a giant leap.”
Ismail Kajee, his mentor on the Tholoana programme, gives him high praise. “William has shown tenacity in embracing key challenges in his business that most entrepreneurs would find daunting. Managing tight manufacturing deadlines and balancing staff responsibilities with efficient precision has been the hallmarks of his success. Notwithstanding a growing order book, huge client pressures and maximising working capital, William’s personal development has grown substantially during the 18-months in the programme, not just through his work experiences but also through his commitment on the Tholoana programme.”
William says the programme also has indirect contributions like networking events which expose entrepreneurs to crucial opportunities to access market. He makes the most of these events… William met one of his clients, Stefanutti Stocks, at such an event. The company is one of the third biggest construction companies in Sub-Saharan Africa and his annual contract is worth R3,3 million per year.
There have been many other milestones, including opening a retail shop in South Gate mall in Johannesburg. However, the milestone that stands out the most is that the business has grown from employing six people in 2012 to 48 staff at the moment. “Our company culture is biased towards employing more women than men. As a rule, we will never employ more than 35% male staff. Other than having the soft skills we need, women also take care of households, therefore you are going in the right direction if you take care of women.”
This is part of the reason behind the short-term goal to invest R600 000 in a high-speed digital printer. With it, IsiYalu will be able to print multiple colours for multiple brands with just one click of a button and create six to 10 new permanent job opportunities.
For more information about IsiYalu Manufacturing and Retailing, contact William Dhlongolo.
Find out more about the SAB Foundation Tholoana Enterprise programme here.