Ryan Naicker of RN liquids with staff members Zinhle VIlakazi, left, and Mvelo Zondi. Naicker seized a gap in the market for locally manufactured health and beauty products and is now exporting his range to seven countries. Supplied
DURBAN - Durban entrepreneur Ryan Naicker has grown his small manufacturing firm into an international supplier of personal care products that are hitting retail shelves nationally and around the continent.

Naicker said he “fell in love with sales” and manufacturing after landing a part-time job at Classic Eyes in The Pavilion at the age of 15 while in high school.

“When I was older they gave me the opportunity to start manufacturing lenses and trained me in soft skills, in how to deal with customers and product training. I was geared to become a salesman in the store and I fell in love with sales,” he said.

Naicker decided to start a small business on the side with his savings, while juggling studying a Bachelor of Commerce and his part-time job.

“I started an operation selling toilet paper, supplying small boutique hotels and BnBs. My thinking was I needed to get involved in product lines that people use every day,” Naicker said.

“I started investigating adding to my basket of goods and started looking at the hospital sector and hazardous waste bags and a family friend introduced me to someone who manufactures refuse bags,” Naicker said.

The manufacturer was a successful businesssman, Mike Maziya, co-founder of Verigreen, formerly Izaka Plastics, who at the age of 21 took Naicker under his wing to teach him the ropes of manufacturing. But Maziya imposed just one caveat - at the age of 27 Naicker would have to leave and start his own business.

Naicker dropped his toilet paper sales business and threw his energy into Maziya’s business, working hard and learning as much as he could about the operation.

“I learned a lot about product development from him and he got me on the right track to own my business.

“One day I got a knock on my office door and Mike said ‘it’s time to start thinking what you are going to do’. I hung up my boots and jumped on a plane to the world’s largest product fair in China.

“I looked at general merchandise because I knew what retailers were looking for - brooms and mops and innovations in packaging,” Naicker said.

“I just kept finding products that we know and that is made in China and supplied to all our retailers.”

After a chance meeting with businessmen involved in the health and beauty sector, Naicker saw the potential for a new manufacturing business and started working on developing a range of ethnic hair care products with the help of a friend who works as a contract manufacturer.

Naicker established a range of affordable hair care products with a high-end look and feel and trademarked the brand, First Class Products.

He marketed the products to wholesalers for distribution to retailers targeting lower LSM consumers.

Eight months later he opened a factory in Westmead and hired eight local women. He trained them to manually manufacture the products, which were being distributed across KwaZulu-Natal.

As business grew Naicker invested in machinery to take the plant to the next level and sales expanded nationally in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and the Western Cape. Consumer demand grew and wholesalers started exporting his products to supply retail stores in Senegal, Botswana, Mauritius, Zambia, Windhoek, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Naicker is now working at expanding his product range and plans to start targeting the higher end of the market.

“We have developed ranges in petroleum jelly for adults and kids and a range of body care creams and tissue oil creams. It’s going to enable us to sit down with big stores like Massmart and we are gearing our products to online sales,” Naicker said.