One of the few great things about being inexperienced in business is not knowing what is expected of you.
When my partner and I started a distribution business in the hospitality industry in Johannesburg and had no premises, stock or bank account, I cold-called on our first potential client in Killarney Mall.
After introducing myself and explaining what we did, the owner requested a price for fish plates. I responded that I need to see which fish plates they used and the price I needed to match (the truth is I did not know what a fish plate was at the time so I needed to see it).
I then drove directly to the two of the largest Cash and Carry’s, found that same plate, at a cheaper price, bought 24, peeled off the price sticker and delivered, at a profit, all within 90 minutes.
Zero to hero
Our first customer referred other restaurants because of our high service levels. We became well-known as an efficient and reliable crockery distributor and eventually becoming one of the 10 largest distributor of that particular brand of crockery in Johannesburg.
If my partner and I had been more experienced, would we have dived in as we did? I don’t know.
The more experienced me probably would have canvassed the entire shopping centre and then gone on to find better prices, bought the crockery in bulk and delivered in a day or two just like the other distributor.
“Although I strongly believe in planning, without action there is no business”
That, however, would have not set us apart. It was the unexpected speed of our delivery and service that got us those referrals and, although maintaining those levels was difficult, it did lead to our business’ exponential growth.
When we opened our next branch in eMalahleni, in the same year, we utilised the same strategy. We drove door-to-door promising next day delivery at prices similar to the ones in Johannesburg. It was a success and we bought our own property within 2 years.
The point of these story is to illustrate that, sometimes, the most important thing is just to do it. Get going. Start.
Phone or go in person, and speak to a potential customer. Ask questions and, don’t be afraid to ask who they are currently dealing with or, what prices they are paying or ask for any other info you may need. Remember, if you don’t get that information you haven’t lost anything.
Although I strongly believe in planning, without action there is no business and every successful entrepreneur has always had the ability to go and speak to potential customers about their passion, their business.
About the author: Stephen Read is the founder and CEO of FIELD an incubator programme working in rural and under-resourced areas including Katlehong, Vosloorus and Thokoza. Stephen is also a life-long entrepreneur and now a teacher.