JOHANNESBURG - Nobody really dreams of washing cars for a living, but when the right doors open, the gears automatically fit into place, writes Liz Clarke
Family man Philip Nogqala from Phoenix, north of Durban, has had his ups and downs in life, but he says the one thing that has always kept him going is his positive attitude towards life and his ability to keep smiling.
“I love life ” he says with an infectious grin. “Sometimes it slaps me hard, but the fun is getting back up and making things work.”
A set of bright red buckets, handfuls of shamy and cotton clothes, dustpans, brushes and sponges tells you that what works for him and his trained team of valets is cleaning cars.
“The cars we work on have to look like new when we are finished,” he says. “That includes washing and waxing the car body, polishing the tyres and tyre rims, cleaning the inside of the car, seats, engine mountings and windows.”
Minimizing the amount of water used to wash the body of the car, is a top priority in these water scarce times, he says.
“We also only use bio friendly products, no harsh chemicals or detergents. Even in car washing you can still look after the planet!”
Nogqala whose family comes from Butterworth in the Eastern Cape, started his car wash business in the Cape about 10 years ago It followed retrenchment from his job as a security provider to the family of the late ANC veteran and cabinet minister, Dullah Omar.
“Part of my job was to look after the family’s cars. For me there was enormous pride in keeping the cars in perfect condition. They always shone like new.”
For the record Dullah Omar was a South African anti-Apartheid activist, lawyer, and a minister in the South African cabinet from 1994 till his death in 2004.
The months that followed retrenchment were very difficult, he says.
“There was a time when I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make enough money to look after my family. It meant starting all over again. When you are in your late 30s that’s not so easy.”
He says not a day goes by when he doesn’t appreciate and respect his “wonderful” wife, Thembisa.
“She was my rock and my champion through those uncertain times and still is. I remember walking back home to Philippi from the cape town airport after looking for a job. I didn’t even have enough money for a taxi. when I got home my legs and feet were so sore that I couldn’t move for a week. she said no, we have to find a better way.”
At the time Thembisa was working in the human resources sector of Unilever South Africa, focusing on global mobility issues.
“My husband was a very hard worker. It was sad to see him suffering like this. I really wanted to help him.”
In the early days of unemployment Philip tried odd jobs in construction and worked on various building sites in the Western Cape, but there was no permanency.
“As a proud family man I wanted to do something that was meaningful, something that I would be good at.”
Then came the opportunity to start a car wash business using all the experience he had of perfecting the idea of “the cleanest car” on the road.
“I was given the job of cleaning cars in a large beauty salon car park owned by a friend in Cape Town. It’s a funny thing when you are determined and passionate about making things work things start to happen. In a few years I had managed to built up a car cleaning business, built on referrals. In the beginning I just used to do the outside of the car, but then people started to trust me to do the interior of their cars. That’s the thing about trust. You have to create it and then earn it.”
When Thembisa was offered a senior job in financial management in the Umhlanga area, the couple decided to relocate to KZN, where Philip continued with his environmentally friendly car wash initiative.
“I was so proud of my husband sticking to his dreams of independence,” says Thembisa. He had started to do really well in the car cleaning business and I was happy to help him get off the ground. It had always been my idea to support him in business so I decided that with my corporate and admin experience and his hard work we would make a good team.”
“It was quite a responsibility” admits Philip. “What if it all went wrong? It was a chance we were taking, but sometimes you have to take big chances if you want to succeed. I really had to prove myself.”
The couple decided that if the businesses was going to work they needed to be equal partners.
“I think that is only fair,” says Philip. “My wife helped me with all the research, using the internet to find the best way to start a small business and make it sustainable. We learnt how to operate a bank card hand held machine, so people could make card payments as well as EFT payments. When we registered our mobile car wash company, Spotless Mobile Car Care, we just prayed that all our efforts would be worthwhile.”
If there is one tip that the couple can give to new entrepreneurs, it is to learn about the services available in the social work space .
“Zapper has been a big help as it makes paying for car cleaning so much easier” explains Thembisa. “You can pay by swiping a code using your smart phone .”
They also manage a busy Facebook page where they receive hits on a daily basis.
These days, says Philip, taking us on a tour of his car cleaning domain in Umhlanga, the drivers hand him the keys and leave the rest to his team.
“That says so much to me. I suppose it is pride knowing that their vehicles will be safe and in brilliant condition when they return.”
Since their business merger, the Spotless mobile car washing company, has become a familiar sight at several office complexes in the Umhlanga area, with more complexes on the cards.
“The best thing is that I am able to train others” says Philip. “But I say to youngsters who come aboard our business. If you take one thing that is not yours, even if it is a cent coin or a loose cigarette that is the end of you. You will never work for us again. It works. It really does!”