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Saturday, 1 November 2014

Lere Mgayiya - The Entrepreneur Who Makes Good Money Shining Shoes

Meet South Africa's Lere Mgayiya, founder of Lere's Shoe Shine business. The 40 year old entrepreneur calls his company the biggest shoe-shine company in Africa. His business which has 45 employees across the 3 major airports in South Africa, is now eyeing partnerships in America and UK, as well as expansion across Africa. And with an annual revenue nearing 2.5 million rand ($227,000), this young entrepreneur has no plans of slowing down.

His entrepreneurial journey of risk taking, persistence and steadfastness eventually paid off. After losing his job with an airline company, Mgayiya tried his hands at different things including selling eggs. He also lost all the money he invested in a tree planting business. Now at a low point in his life, he said, "I needed a steady income, so I decided on a shoe-shining business at Cape Town airport. A hungry man can't think, and I was starving." He got in touch with his contacts from his airline days and applied for the business space in November 2002. The authorities took until September 2003 to give him the go ahead. "In that year I sold my car...I worked as a receptionist for 3 months. I begged and borrowed just to make ends meet."

When the business finally kicked off,  he had a rough first day in business with just basic chairs and no pedestals for his customers. He also had no experience and often slipped and got polish on his customers' socks which upset them. Now his business offers clients plush leather armchairs to relax in whilst getting their shoes shined.

When he started shining shoes he and his staff worked from 5am to 9pm every day of the week except Sunday. "I left the house before my family woke up, and only got home after my young daughter had gone to sleep," he recalls. "It was tough." But customers increased after a client suggested that the business name should highlight the personal, chatty aspect of the business. "Airport Shoeshine" became "Lere's Shoe Shine," and people liked it. And in just 4 months. the team had grown to 5 and business was booming.

After a year he got a chance to meet the person in charge of all South African airports who liked his idea, and expansion started soon after. At its height, the company had 60 employees in 5 airports across the country. Today, Mgayiya has scaled back to the 3 major ones: Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.

"I have my own house and send my daughter to private school," he beams. "And I could afford to get married -- a proper marriage." He no longer works from 5am to 9pm either. "I just do the one shift from 12," he says, laughing. "The family loved that one." "When starting a business in South Africa, you need self-belief," is his top advice for young entrepreneurs. "All the conditions will never all be favorable at the same time. If you don't start, you won't go anywhere -- you have to start."

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