LEARNING CURVE | Burning desire to offer the best hospitality drives Makhanda lodge owner
A home away from home — that is what Lalawethu Lodge owner Ngawethu Punki Dlabantu strives to offer guests at her establishment in Makhanda.
Dlabantu saved up enough money to start her venture and has constantly added on to improve the lodge’s offering.
Please share some background on yourself and how the business was started
My name is Ngawethu Punki Dlabantu. I am a mother and business owner of a 100% black-owned entity. We offer self-catering as well as guest house accommodation.
This includes three different sites with a total of 13 rooms, with each designed to best cater to your comfort. We also host events and birthday parties.
What is your core service?
Running a guest house, event conferencing and catering
What makes your business unique?
We offer a home away from home experience. My business, as well as its services, caters to the whole family, hence we pride ourselves on the work that we produce and the experience we give to our clients.
Our guest houses can accommodate any setting for that particular client, as well as a children’s entertainment area and a huge yard for a ladies’ luncheon or a gentleman’s get-together.
If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?
They would need to be passionate about the hospitality industry and be determined to put in the hard work necessary to see a business succeed.
What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before getting off the ground?
I would say the first one is the finance as I had to save to kick-start it, and that took some time.
The second one was getting people to support my vision and buy into the brand and the services, together with the products offered.
Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs or new business owners?
I believe it is imperative for aspiring business owners to believe in themselves and the service or product they wish to take to the market.
They must constantly challenge themselves by taking risks that will yield positive results for the business.
And lastly, they need to surround themselves with people who are supportive and believe in the vision because running a business is not always smooth.
What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations and your particular industry?
The world is now dealing with this dreadful Covid-19 virus which has had a hugely negative effect on the hospitality industry.
We operate with people coming together to celebrate or just get together and bond. Now people are encouraged to social distance, which has meant fewer events, conferences or workshops.
To run a guest house or a catering business you need to be passionate about the industry and the different challenges that may come your way.
This includes clients cancelling at the last hour, hygiene issues as we deal with food, delayed payment and rude customers.
What is the best advice anyone gave you on success?
That I need to have a solid business plan but also always to prepare for financial challenges.
I must never be afraid to ask for help, hence once needs to have a business mentor and to build a team who believe in my business vision.
How do you measure or define success in your business?
I believe I measure the success of my business by my team who constantly push the brand as well as the service to greater heights, which then leads to us increasing our clientele list.
What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?
I love what I do and each and every day is a new opportunity to start again. I love providing stellar service to my clients and seeing their reviews after their stay is what drives me to constantly work on my business acumen.
I am always open to learning as I love teaching and sharing my knowledge and skills.
My business is not where I want it to be, so I am driven by my burning passion to succeed and make Lalawethu one of the best hospitality businesses in our industry.
What kind of advertising do you do?
I use different methods and strategies to market and advertise my business such as brochures, word of mouth, online and social media. I am now dabbling with print and electronic media platforms.
What is your company’s vision?
We aim to give our guests only the best service and to be one of the best brands within the hospitality industry by being a game-changer and introducing new ways of business that will ultimately boost the industry and our economy.
What is your target market?
We work with government departments, educational institutions, corporates in SA, the public and religious and political groups.
What have some of your highlights been in running your business?
It has definitely been the referrals received. I pride myself on my work and it feels good when other people see and appreciate your efforts, as well recommend you to other clients.
How important are social media and an online presence for your business?
Businesses are most likely to succeed when prospective clients can easily reach out as well as connect with them and learn about their services.
As clients look for products and businesses, one of their first interactions with a business may very well be on social media.
How many people do you employ?
Eight wonderful people.
Do you have any plans for expanding the business, and how would you go about this?
Oh yes, definitely. I have recently been interacting with a business consultant who is assisting me to review how my business has been operating over the last few years and introducing new ways of thinking so that we adapt to new business practices.
I also want to spread the brand to other locations in the Eastern Cape.
How did you acquire funding for the business?
I saved enough money to register and to kick-start my business. After I started receiving business I would then use a portion to add on something new to better the service but, to be honest, I saved up just enough to get my business operating.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?
That it is of paramount importance to be passionate about your business so that when your business is not doing so well you stay believing in yourself and your overall vision. Creating and maintaining good relations as well as fruitful business connections is key.
What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like Makhanda?
Makhanda is very small and there are a number of us in the hospitality business, so one needs to constantly work on the product and service while also strengthening client relations.
I also believe that even though the town is small, the pie is big enough for all of us, so to speak.
What would you say are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?
To be a visionary, passion married with a good business acumen, while also valuing and appreciating those who value and appreciate your dream and vision.
What do you wish people knew about your industry?
In our industry we are driven by the love and passion for what we do because it is not easy at all, but also very rewarding in the end when you have a satisfied customer or client.
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