Furniture is Mhleli Hallom’s passion — and business
New Brighton resident Mhleli Hallom, who is owner and founder of Ikamvelihle Mhleli Group: IMG Designs, says his passion is to see an improved Red Location with a sustainable economic hub.
He has mentored other young aspiring entrepreneurs and implemented various community upliftment programmes.
He believes the success of township economies lies in good mentorship, so he has collaborated with other creatives and the Bay municipality to implement skills development programmes at various schools in New Brighton.
Please share some background on yourself and how the business was started.
Borne out of a hobby of mine, Ikamvelihle Mhleli Group: IMG Designs was established in 2014.
IMG specialises in custom-made furniture and property maintenance.
The IMG manufacturing process involves working with wood and screen printing to produce unique furniture and household accessories with a natural wood look and a distinct Afrocentric style.
We use different types of wood and started screen printing after completing a course with Nelson Mandela University.
Since I started IMG Designs, I have gone through vigorous business training, mentoring and various programmes that have upskilled me as an entrepreneur and a creative.
I recently graduated from the Enterprise Development Programme sponsored by the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, ECDC, and NMU.
All these programmes have matured me as an entrepreneur. I have learnt to run my business properly and refine my sales strategies towards existing clients, new business and how to build up repeat business.
What is your core service?
Where was the idea born?
In 2009 when I started working at a cabinet company at weekends and during school holidays
What makes your business unique?
IMG Designs is unique because we are able to customise every aspect of furniture design from the items we design and manufacture, odd recyclables that we make into furniture, upholstery and refurbishments.
Our fabric design and screen-printing skills enable to us customise to our client’s taste. We offer these services: custom made furniture (bespoke), refurbishing old antique furniture, upholstery, screen printing and property maintenance.
If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?
By developing themselves with all these skills and business skills to manage their business properly. Keep learning all the time. Also, to look within themselves to identify a unique look which will hold its own space in the market.
What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before getting off the ground?
To borrow machinery so that I can work. Sometimes not getting the machinery. Working outside in the yard so this meant when it was raining I couldn’t work.
Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs or new business owners?
Keep learning, be curious, networking, find a relevant mentor to your business challenges.
What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations and your particular industry?
Not having the machinery we need to manufacture our designs. Not having a proper working capital to buy raw materials we need in bulk. Not having our own delivery van. Clients not paying on time.
What is the best advice anyone gave you on success?
Keep learning about your industry, take note of your clients’ needs, do the things you need to do every day so that you can achieve your business goals. Research all the time.
How do you measure or define success in your business?
By dominating in our industry, by employing capable employees to take the company to the next level, and investing in their growth to see them take ownership of certain aspects of the business. Having all business systems in place. Growth strategies and exporting our items.
What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?
Educating myself as a creative MD all the time, keep engaging with my mentors, knowing my target market, improving the way we do business, research, quality service and deliver on our premises 100% record.
What kind of advertising do you do?
Social media, exhibition, and TV interviews sometimes.
What is your company’s vision?
Our vision is to become the go-to company for homely bespoke furniture and professional space furniture, events furniture, upholstery, refurbishment of old wooden furniture and property maintenance.
What is your target market?
Households, events companies, private companies, hotels, restaurants, games reserves and interior designers.
What have some of your highlights been in running your business?
Winning the Fruits of Democracy business category, selected to be part of the 18 companies in the Eastern Cape to be part of the export enterprise development, having a workshop space we can work in, DStv channel interview and documentary.
How important are social media and an online presence for your business?
It is very important because it enables us to reach many people almost for free. There isn’t always a marketing and advertising budget when you start your business so social media is a huge help.
How many people do you employ?
Five part-time employees.
Do you have any plans for expanding the business, and how would you go about this?
Making sure that we have managers for each service we offer and having display spaces.
How did you acquire funding for the business?
First we make sure we have the updated requirements and are fully compliant. Also, we had to know exactly what we need as a business, and we show them what we have been able to do by ourselves and give testimonials of satisfied businesses who are our clients.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?
Learning and implementation makes a big difference. It hurts to lose out on opportunities so I apply all the training I receive and make sure I am ready to take advantage of all sales prospects and funding opportunities. Know exactly what you want to achieve as a company and be strong emotionally, mentally and have passion.
What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like PE?
Support. Both as a challenge and advantage. After five years of working on my trade, networking, and attending training has availed mentors and associates that are a vital support system as a first-generation business owner in my community and family. Before having these key relationships, I had little support and guidance.
How important has mentorship been to you in your entrepreneurial journey?
Vital because it helped me to make better decisions.
What do you think are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?
Clear vision, passion, smart hard working and taking all of your opportunities.
How do you motivate staff?
By leading by example and believing in them and continuous mentoring.
What do you wish people knew about your industry?
Working with one’s hands is relaxing, almost therapeutic! I have been able to teach skills to other people who can also make a living from carpentry, art and design. Woodwork design and carpentry could contribute a great number of jobs if it really gets the support it needs. It’s art.