#LearningCurve | From cleaner to hospitality trainer

Francine Zana runs her own on-the-job training and consulting business

A drive to succeed has brought Francine Zana from being a cleaner to running a training service for hospitality staff.
The owner of Exclusive Hospitality Concepts now wants to uplift other housekeepers so they can one day be guests at the same hotels they clean and maintain.
How was the business started?
I started working in the hospitality industry in 2004 as a normal cleaner at a small B&B in Bluewater Bay.
I never thought I could turn being a cleaner into a career.
When I first took that job I was planning to go back to school, but things didn’t go as planned.
As time passed, I joined Prestige cleaning company as a temp cleaner, so I had the opportunity to roam and work in almost all the hotels.
My big break came when I joined the Kelway Hotel a couple of years later. It was my first permanent job. After that, a new manager came along and saw potential in me. I was promoted to housekeeping supervisor and later to front office duty manager.
In 2009, the No 5 Boutique Art Hotel – then called Shamwari Townhouse – opened.
I said to myself that I wanted to graduate to a five-star establishment.
They didn’t have management positions, but had an assistant housekeeping manager position available.
I said there and then that I’d take it – despite a salary cut – because I always wanted to know the difference between four and five-star.
There’s more attention to detail in five-star hotels. After a while, they needed someone to train housekeeping staff and they chose me.
I went to Cape Town for seven days to train and that is where this whole idea of having my own company started.
When I saw how the training was received, my love for training and consulting was born. On the seventh day, I started reading up about consulting and drafting my own company profile.
When I came back I sat down with Mantis Collection managing director Adrian Gardiner and told him about my idea.
He said go for it, but that I shouldn’t resign and should work for him while I marketed the company. My business took off while I was still working there.
I resigned in 2012. I believed there was a need for what I do, and that to make the best of it, I needed to focus on it. It was not easy to manage without a salary, but I’m grateful I made that decision.
What is your core service?
I provide on-the-job training and consult in the hospitality industry.
What makes your business unique?
The reason I came up with this kind of training I do is that I was trained by different accredited trainers, but I always had a problem with it.
They just show up and train you, and you pick up that they’ve never been in the industry themselves.
They are doing training based on manuals, but they don’t have an idea of the practical side. My training is more practical. If I say, this is how you make the bed, I don’t just tell the staff to fold, I show them how it is done.
In this industry, you deal with people who are demotivated and work long hours. My training is more about planting a seed, and it’s easy because I first motivate them with my story. I’m passionate about them growing within the industry and climbing the ladder.
Tell us about the annual gala dinner you host for the city’s housekeeping staff.
I thought to myself that one day I’d be a guest staying in a hotel room. When I started moving up, I was able to book my own hotel room, but I thought I still have the Francines who are left behind, who don’t get to attend gala dinners.
Then I came up with the concept.
I started in 2016, with Dolphin’s Leap sponsoring the venue. I wanted a three-course meal with lamb shanks and creme brulee, and I made it happen.
The main aim was to celebrate the hospitality staff. We set up for these glamorous events but we never attend them.
Our people must be treated well.
This year, the third event will be held at the Sun Boardwalk Hotel, and I’m adding awards in a couple of categories because there are awards for establishments, but they win because of good service, and yet there is no thank you to the team afterwards.
How do you define success in your business?
I don’t measure it by money. For me, it is the impact I make in other people’s lives. Money is not everything. I sleep very well at night knowing I met someone and that person was motivated or inspired.
How did you acquire funding for your business?
I’ve never been funded. I started with my own salary, which was not easy.
I’d take half of it to create my company profile professionally, or to join the Businesswomen’s Association.
I am not shy to spend my money on this business because I know I have potential.
If you don’t have funding, you need to attract people to your company.
How many people do you employ?
I’m still the face in terms of marketing, but I have 19 employees. I have my own amenity range, Organic Amenity by Francine, so I have four people coming in and doing the packaging.
I also have services in which I supply trained waiters for events, and I have a team of 15. I’ve added that service, and every weekend my staff work at events.
How important has mentorship been to you in your journey as an entrepreneur?
It is very, very important for me to be a mentor.
I would really love to give back because I know the feeling of not having, of going to sleep without food or not having proper shoes – but your background does not determine your future.
Who is your role model?
My mother. I grew up in Motherwell as the second of five children and we experienced hardships.
My mother always instilled the idea in me that I wasn’t like other kids.
She said: “You need to understand that you are Francine and this is the current situation at home, and you need to accept it. Things won’t turn around overnight.
“You don’t know what other people are doing in order to have the material things that they have.”
Till today, I thank her for those words because whenever things don’t go right in business, I have that.
I don’t know what other people do for their businesses to be successful, but I grew up grateful for what we had.
What are some of your career highlights?
I’ve served former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, also the likes of John Travolta and a long list of ministers.
For me, having that opportunity to rub shoulders with such people gave me hope.
The biggest highlight was when I won the Lilizela Tourism Award last year at national level, in the minister’s category.
Another highlight is being able to achieve so much without funding.
What do you wish people knew about the hospitality industry?
I want to the highlight the importance of tipping. This is an industry where you aren’t earning a lot of money. Some staff don’t even have a basic salary. Be nice.
Tip them well. In that way, you are motivating them and assisting families.

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