Sell the right product to the right customer at the right time.”
Sandile Sithole says this mantra has been the key to growing his business, Wembezi Glassfitters, since he saw a change in demand for his product in 2016.
“Before that, we were welding and making steel windows, gates and burglar guards,” says the KwaZulu-Natal entrepreneur. “But as we were doing jobs for our customers, we started realising that more and more people were moving away from steel and wanted aluminium. So we changed our product offering from steel to aluminium.”
The move made smart business sense, but it also involved a steep learning curve. Working with aluminium is significantly different to steel – aluminium has a much lower melting point than steel, but the chemistry involved is far more complicated. To master this new material, Sithole attended special aluminium fabrication training from Wispeco Aluminium in Alberton, which included aluminium window and door manufacturing, shopfronts, sliding doors and security barriers.
“With aluminium windows, the frames are supplied complete with the glass, so we now found ourselves dealing with glass and had to look into the glass business model,” explains Sithole. “We were based in Wembezi by that time, so that’s how we came up with the name Wembezi Glass Fitters.”
An avid chess-player, Sithole believes it’s essential to have a business strategy that allows you to grow and adapt according to what’s happening around you.
“By changing to aluminium, we were growing our knowledge and skills base while putting into practical use what we know,” he says. “Our aim now is to create the same culture in our business, and allow our employees the opportunity to grow.”
This growth hasn’t been without its challenges, however. “We struggled with management skills, accounting and production process control in the beginning,” says Sithole. “That was the hard part.”
Part of the solution came through business development group Fetola, who offered support and training in these critical areas. But the biggest help, according to Sithole, has been networking with other entrepreneurs who could offer advice and share experiences from what they’d learnt. “In short, it’s nice to learn from others that have dealt with these same experiences, good or bad, and know that we are not alone,” he says.
Currently operating as a three-person team, Sithole’s ultimate goal is to open new glassfittitng branches in key areas of KwaZulu-Natal; Bergville, Ladysmith and Mooi River.
“Felicity, my wife, is the face of our business,” says Sithole. “She also heads the accounts, makes sure orders are delivered on time, suppliers are paid on time, and that the books are always balanced. Phakamani is our other team member. We trained him to be able to manufacture aluminium windows; we also trained him to fit automotive glass. He has been doing his work with passion from the time he started.”
Sithole says this is the other goal of the business: to empower and employ fellow South Africans. “We aim to continue finding people who have no experience and teach them. From that point on, they start believing that anything you put your mind into, you can achieve.”
This belief in empowering others extends to customers, too.
“We always try to educate our customers about our products. We actually tell them what a good job looks like and what a bad job looks like before we start,” he says. “Then they are able to check for themselves on completion if we did a good job or a bad job. In that way, we build trust.”