by Brigette Mashile, founder of Roka Roko (South Africa)
Last year I decided to make my sister a long lasting birthday gift, something I believed she could keep for a long time. So I decided to get her a 100% leather bag set. I got this idea after seeing some leather items at a market one Saturday afternoon (done by a supplier from Bloemfontein with a long track record and equipment to produce and engrave). Their quality was amazing and I took their contact details. I had an idea to make her a weekend bag, a hand bag and a wallet. Then I would find a way to personalize it so she always knows it’s from her big sister.
In the end and after numerous emails and Whatsapp messages, I ended up with a weekend bag and a wallet. The handbag exercise proved impossible with this certain supplier; I didn’t like what they had and they were not able to create what I had in mind. I learned that each style needs its own mould, which I would have to pay for. So, we skipped that. I think the final cost of the weekender and the wallet was approximately R5 000.
Then, after seeing this wallet, I decided that in fact I could do these for Roka Roko and sell them to my customers. I had played with the idea of handbags for a while, but I wanted leather. I have worked with the process of retail handbag sourcing and merchandising and I knew what I preferred. Also, I wouldn’t want to compete with a retailer in their playing field. I then decided to try the wallet first. The supplier, based in Bloemfontein agreed. I asked for information; they did not have a minimum quantity but a minimum order price; I would have to pay at least R 5000 as an order. They could not do 1 by 1; this was an issue as I needed to personalize each piece. So I made the decision - let me try with 10 units; I negotiated and we agreed on a price.
One day, my contact at the supplier calls me for a meeting. I remember we met at an ice cream place. He then proceeds to tell me his boss has decided not to proceed with our order. He said they are very busy and our order is too small to take on; we are simply not reaching their minimum order quantity. Being my own stubborn self, I decided not to give up. By this time, I had put this wallet on all my social media pages and online store. I had created demand, so I had to supply. I needed to find another supplier.
After a long search, I ended up with a lead from a Facebook page. I contacted the lady, we met and she’s a young, vibrant and ambitious woman who has just entered the world of entrepreneurship like the rest of us. I went to meet her at her workspace in Johannesburg CBD; we agree on a sample. The sample was not as per my dreams, so I decided to give her the wallet from the Bloemfontein supplier as as reference point. After a few weeks the sample is ready and perfect. But now… there are new problems:
It costs more because of the technique used to achieve this look
The price per unit would now come to R800 vs the R600 I advertised it at
I have payments from 3 clients at a discounted R500, short by R300 on each item
To bring down the price we come up with an idea to purchase the entire leather piece, then produce. The piece will be Roka Roko property. This price comes out to approximately R400 each wallet at cost.
The new supplier has to outsource engraving, another cost on time and money
The total costs for the leather, production, engraving and courier teach me a new lesson about expansion - especially expansion into a new product area. It reminds me of the days when I was a buyer; and I dealt this and that process as part of my day-to-day routine. Then, we had a planner, buyer, assistants and managers for the department. Here, I am attempting to do this alone. For a wallet! The orders are still yet to be completed, I am about 3 -4 months late on delivery. The reason is due to many, many personal and business challenges that have occurred, putting even more pressure on the already pressurized new process. I am still short on the payment to the supplier.
This experience humbled me and reminded me again of the fact that many of us are new to the business world. We have such a long way to go; an engraving machine would make such a difference to this young lady’s business. Big players in business really don’t have patience for us newbies or maybe they just can’t afford to spend time on 10 units at a time; compared to maybe 100 units from a bigger retailer. At this point in time this great idea I had initially has now become a nightmare; I really just want it to end by either completing the orders or refunding my clients.
The challenges of running a business are many, and many of us are not okay with failures; we hear rejection regularly and become immune to it. But failure, especially failing clients, however unintentionally, is tough. But that little stubborn spark in me may be fickle now about the leather production business, but know for sure that the connection I have made with the new supplier is a good on one and will be beneficial in the future. She is also a Lioness!
Brigette Mashile is the founder and creative force behind Roka Roko, a custom fashion design business based in Johannesburg, South Africa. The company passionately delivers quality tailored and trendy fashion to make their customers happy, and specializes in styling women by creating unusual combinations with fabric, culture and style. Brigette has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Witwatersrand and a Fashion Diploma from Studio5 School of Fashion. She’s a former fashion buyer for a major retailer in South Africa, and an international direct selling company. She’s been passionate about fashion since the age of 10 and gained invaluable experience in the fashion world running informal fashion creation businesses until the day her own Roka Roko brand was born. Find out more by visiting the Roka Roko website www.rokaroko.co.za
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