Building a catering empire with inspiration from the East

When events manager and caterer Rakgadi Motloba was looking for a business model to grow her small business she looked East, India to be more specific. The Indians are well regarded for their holistic business model (95% of companies in India are family run) and their approach to value chains where no work is outsourced and the production process – from raw materials to a finished product – happens under one roof.

Motloba owns RPM Events & Decor Company, a small catering business with big ambitions of establishing chain hotels. She owns the business with her husband, Modise, a financial broker who prefers to remain behind the scenes.

Five years ago Motloba expanded her hospitality focus from only catering at functions to an all-service, one-stop events management company.

“We started small as a catering company, servicing private clients with décor and food,” said this mother of two. “But now we do everything. I have even bought land and we’re looking at getting a partner and build a hotel.”

Based in Olifantsfontein, RPM organises and caters for large events like awards, gala dinners, road shows,  corporate events, kiddies parties and weddings.

“We do everything in an event, from supplying tablespoons, sound equipment to furniture,” she said. “My love for people drew me into this business and I never looked back since.”

“If the Indians can do it, why can’t we?”

If they can do it…

What sets RPM from other catering companies is that they control their product right from the beginning. This means they manufacture their own decor linens and own the laundry facility that launders them. On the entertainment side, they own a recording studio and audio visual equipment and even the trucks that transport these. It’s a radically different approach from other caterers whose concerns are only about events.

“If the Indians can do it, why can’t we?” asks Motloba.

Hospitality businesswoman
Rakgadi Motloba.

Motloba says she wants to create an empire that renders every service in an event and create peace of mind for the hosts, even if it means she fans the wind into her client’s faces.

Seeing opportunities

Motloba’s model of keeping everything in-house has seen much growth in the business. Though she has not evaluated the business’ assets, she says a recent estimate puts RPM’s value at R3 million in liquid assets alone.

“I financed this business myself,” she said. “I have never got any grant or funding from anywhere.”

Some of the company’s biggest clients include government departments like the Department of Rural Development, private clients like the Sandton Convention Centre and Birchwood Hotel.

Relational capital

To further grow its competitive edge, Motloba is exploring new territories, a risk which has paid off significantly. Two years ago she signed a partnership deal with the Pretoria-based Ditsong National Museum of Cultural History to enhance the museums facilities to be used for various kinds of activities.

It was the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship and a capital injection for Motloba’s business. This partnership enabled Motloba to start a fully-fledged restaurant with bar facilities which allows the museum to host conferences and workshops.

“I don’t regard myself as a boss”

“With that agreement I was able to turn a dormant establishment into a R2 million a month revenue generating business. The place is now almost always fully booked for conferences and private events,” she said.

Through this partnership, the museum has been able to generate more revenue to create jobs and internships for unemployed youth.

Doing it like no other

When we meet Motloba at an event she organised in Sandton recently, she had the confidence of a person who’s done it a million times. She is hands-on not only in the day-to-day management of the business, even in the preparations prior to an event.

“I’m always wherever my company is being hired. My life is an event. I’m also an employee here. I prepare tables and do all sorts of other work,” she said.

Motloba, who has vast marketing expertise and client management skills, says she derives great joy from seeing events she organises coming nicely together. About 15 years ago she quit her job as a school teacher only after one year, and followed her heart to events management.

“It wasn’t easy at first as no one knew me or my company. But I ensured that I kept my clients happy by delivering the best service. After that, we got other clients from word of mouth,” she said.

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