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Before fate did a rapid one-eighty for Edward Moshole, life was only as good as the gangways and facilities of a food factory that he was expected to rub and scrub on a daily.
The young man worked as a cleaner at a factory run by food-chain, Enterprise, and as would be expected from any person handling such a job, the bulk of his responsibilities revolved around tidying up the facility.
Brooms and mopping sticks in tow, Moshole would move from area to area dusting up and wiping down throughout his shift – he was always on the clock. It’s not that he had some kind of mad love for the job, it was mostly about the money for him. And it seemed like the best he could do at the time, or was it?
You know how some of those snobbish, condescending members of a company’s core staff tend to talk down on cleaners for no justifiable reason sometimes? Yes, Moshole got a lot of that. Many times, he was asked to mind his business and stick his nose only where it belonged.
Well, by doing just that – literally sticking his nose only where it belonged – he found himself on the path of something great in the end.
It was just another day at work and as usual, Moshole was punctual. On this day, though, he may have been a little too punctual as one of his superiors, who was in charge of the detergent storage room, was yet to arrive. Moshole needed some of those cleaning substances to get on with his job.
With some permission, he gained access to this detergent storage area and the moment he stepped into the room, his nostrils got a whiff of something that turned out to be an inspiration. Yes, sticking his nose where it did belong had led him on to something after all.
When Moshole perceived the pleasant, cherry-scented air that filled the room, nasal pleasure wasn’t the only thing he felt. An idea also struck him – one that eventually birthed a company with yearly turnover upwards of R25 million.
Today, the former cleaner holds the reins at Chem-Fresh; one of South Africa’s biggest manufacturers of detergents, disinfectants, and other cleaning products.
“A broomstick is what started my business. It was the only thing that I owned… Getting a job as a cleaner at Enterprise changed my life; them giving me the boots and overalls and saying; ‘here clean’. I could feel in my heart I wanted to be something more,” he says.
The journey to the top was a long, arduous climb that began in the small township of Gapane – one of the less popular areas in South Africa’s Limpopo province.
His is quite an extraordinary story – having to fend for himself from the age of 16 and flunking eighth grade five years in a row – he probably never saw himself getting anywhere close to the million-mark someday.
Moshole left Limpopo and moved in with his brother who lived in Cape Town during his late teens. And the move may have served him a rude awakening.
He learned that he had to grow up fast as he wouldn’t be getting any handouts. He took up a cleaning job and it was in a tiny room that served as a storehouse for detergents, bleach, and soaps, that Moshole had his epiphany.
“Getting into that storeroom, I could see that the quality doesn’t measure the performance of the cleaners. I could improve things. I could see myself becoming a detergent manufacturing champion,” he told Forbes Africa.
It started in 1999 with a paltry sum – R68.00, around USD 6.00 at the time – and maybe a broomstick too. With the amount, he went directly to a manufacturer and purchased a five-litre bottle of bleach. For his first sales pitch, he didn’t dilly-dally or mince words.
“I went to an ordinary person and said; ‘look, I’ve got detergent, I’ve got cleaner and they go for R15 (USD 1.20) a litre’,” he recalls.
And just like that, Moshole’s part-time business had gotten off the ground. As he still kept his job at the factory, he would target members of staff who got off work too late to make it to the shops. These were the ones he first sold to.
He stepped things up a few months later, taking the products door-to-door and selling to, neighbours, households, and even approaching spaza shops with his products. It wasn’t exactly raining bills for him but it was refreshing to have an alternative income stream.
As time passed, Moshole grew wary of the middleman-salesman role and wanted something more. It soon dawned on him that the only next level available meant creating his own brand. And in the months that followed, all the money he had saved up reselling detergents went into just that.
Moshole paid his former employers, Enterprise, around USD 1.00 apiece for a pile of 25-litre spice drums. Then, he spent every other weekend learning to manufacture detergents in his backyard with a homemade manual mixer. He’d end up with badly blistered hands most times.
But soon he mastered how to churn out the good stuff – his own stuff. He’d make quality detergents in his backyard and sell them on the cheap so as to win over customers. It took some years before he got his big break.
His brand, Chem-Fresh, caught the attention of supermarket giant, Pick n Pay, and they became his biggest clients in 2006.
In the years that followed, a combination of personal intuition and secondary insights taught Moshole some real lessons about mass-market production. He has since transformed his business from an informal one in his backyard to a formal company that adheres to standards and employs staff.
It’s been anything but easy, though. He’s had to carry the business all by himself at times – playing both accountant and salesman – to keep the business afloat. Competition has been stiff too, but so far, Moshole has thrived.
Today, you’d find his factory sitting pretty in Wynberg; an industrial area stashed a few kilometres outside Sandton. He may have begun with a manual mixer in his backyard, but now he lords over a pristine facility that houses a USD 90 K mixer which churns bath soaps and hand wash, another mixer which prepares 500-litres of Chem-Fresh bleach in half an hour, and a ceiling-high stack of plastic bottles numbering in their thousands.
That’s how far the South African entrepreneur has come. His clientele has now spread across supermarket chains Spar, Pick n Pay, Massmart, and Dischem. In 2014 alone, the former cleaner is believed to have sold 70,000 bottles of detergent every month to some of the largest retail chains in South Africa – that’s up to R12 million (USD 1 million) a year in sales at the time.
Rumour has it that he remains as humble as ever and still keeps the broom from his days as a cleaner as a reminder of where his dreams began. These days, his company’s annual turnover is on the upside of R25 million. And to think it all began with R68 and a few bottles of bleach. Now, how’s that for a rags-to-riches story?
Featured Image Courtesy: Forbes Africa
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