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LEARNING CURVE | Customising clients’ venue and catering requirements

B&E Premium gets wings — thanks to a strong, committed team

B&E Premium facilities manager Ncedo Rubushe, left, co-owners Natasha Carmody and Melissa Palmer and function supervisor Chad Daniels
GOING THE EXTRA MILE: B&E Premium facilities manager Ncedo Rubushe, left, co-owners Natasha Carmody and Melissa Palmer and function supervisor Chad Daniels

Melissa Palmer started working at the B&E Conference Centre (back when it was the Home and Décor expo centre) in Gqeberha as a receptionist.

In 2014, Palmer saw the opportunity to take over the conference centre, pay the landlords a rental income and took on the risk of managing the conference centre herself.

By 2017, the business had grown substantially and she approached Natasha Carmody, a long-time friend with the same passion and drive in the hospitality industry.

Together, they have expanded the B&E Conference Centre to East London, as well as B&E Premium.

What is the name of your business?

B&E Premium (Pickering Park) and B&E Conference Centre (Kempston Road).

How old is the business? 

Eight years old.

What is your core service?

We offer fully equipped venues suitable for training and events, as well as catering and other services.

What makes your business unique?

Our business is unique because we customise and accommodate our clients’ venue and catering requirements. Our venues are centrally located, making it accessible to students and delegates attending training, a conference or an event.

If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?

They would need to start with a passion for the industry, and having a strong team. They would also need good organisational skills and being able to work under pressure.

What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before getting off the ground?

Like many small businesses, cash flow is definitely a challenge. Also marketing your business among other fantastic competitors

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs or new business owners?

Never be afraid to start. We attended a conference with Bev Hancock at which she shared the following: “Abracadabra — what I say I will create.” Write your goals and dreams down, write your plans, say them out aloud … believe in them

What are some of your biggest challenges in your day-to-day business operations and your industry?

Last-minute bookings or changes to a client’s requests. Team communication as well as managing time well to ensure things get done efficiently.

What is the best advice anyone gave you on success?

Collaboration with the right stakeholders is key, especially in PE. There are fantastic suppliers in our city, and it’s wonderful to support each other and work together.

How do you measure or define success in your business?

Positive feedback, referrals and staff who have weathered the storm with us, especially during Covid-19.

What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?

[Setting a] 50% deposit to confirm your booking is definitely one of them. Networking and being part of associations and forums — again, it’s wonderful to connect and collaborate with businesses in our city.

What kind of advertising do you do?

We are using KingFisher FM radio, we have a new beautiful website and we are on social media.

What is your company’s vision?

Our vision is to create a footprint in the Eastern Cape, creating accessible, affordable and well-equipped venues for training, learnerships, networking events or functions. We have a venue in East London, a satellite branch in Mthatha and have recently collaborated with a BnB in Butterworth.

What is your target market?

Our target market is everyone, particularly the training and development sector. However, with our new Pickering Park branch, the venue is versatile and the perfect space to host corporate events, product launches, large conferences and weddings

What are some of the highlights in running your business?

So many! Where do we begin?

Covid has certainly been a highlight — we’ve had to learn how to adjust our business. Growing our staff to become shareholders within the business is an incredible milestone.

How important is social media and an online presence for your business?

Very important, especially in today’s world, where business transactions are being done online. Having a good, functioning website and social media page, whether it is Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and TikTok, is imperative.

How many people do you employ?

In Gqeberha, we have four permanent staff and six interns and in East London we have one permanent staff member and two interns

Do you have any plans to expand the business, and how?

We are always looking for opportunities to expand and grow our business. We are working on a venue in the hope of taking it on permanently in the future. We have always believed in being open and transparent with our stakeholders, especially our landlord. It helps to minimise your risks, especially when you don’t want to rush into a business venture with a long-term lease.

How did you acquire funding for the business?

We started with a small capital in the beginning. However, there are amazing funding opportunities in our city — we have had the most incredible support from SEDA. They are merging with SEFA. I would highly recommend any entrepreneur to set an appointment with a consultant, share your business plan with them and let them assist you with ways to grow your business, especially with marketing, branding and with operational requirements.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?

Having the right stakeholders in your business is key, people who share the same vision and values is vital.

What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in Gqeberha?

Our city has many wonderful opportunities, incredible local talent, and suppliers. We believe in collaboration, and there seems to be like-mindedness on this in our city. Supporting each other is a strong value in our city.

The challenges would be our water crisis, our national electricity (Eskom) shortage and believing our city is worthy of hosting big events.

What would you say are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?

Perseverance. Passion. Integrity.

What are the key traits of a successful employer?

Integrity (do what you say). Transparency. Accountability.

What do you wish people knew about your industry?

How difficult it can be at times. We wish many knew how much of an extra mile people in our industry go to ensure their event/function is perfect in every way.



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