Johannesburg - When lockdown regulations to curb the spread of Covid-19 disrupted the normal way of life in early 2020, 28-year-old Zwakele Thwala spotted a business opportunity amid the disaster.
Thwala, born and raised in Mpumalanga, moved to Johannesburg in 2012 for greener pastures after matriculating in 2011. She found a job as a waitress. She was later promoted to a managerial position in 2015.
In 2017, Thwala enrolled at the University of Johannesburg, and obtained business management and accounting certificates through the restaurant’s development programme. These qualifications would later come in handy for her to get her business off the ground. She applied the skills acquired at the university to her business operations.
During the hard lockdown, which spanned most of 2020, the young entrepreneur established her business, McCarry Runners. At the time, people were scared to go out in public to run errands for fear of contracting the deadly virus.
It was then that Thwala realised there was a dire need for companies similar to hers. McCarry Runners offers grocery shopping, medication collection, courier, food delivery and shuttle services.
“I thought that, we live in the times of Covid-19 and an errand running service would be essential, given how things have changed due to the virus outbreak. I was on maternity leave then and getting essentials was a hassle. I decided to establish McCarry Runners a few months later,” she said.
With the hospitality industry being among those crippled by the hard lockdown, she had to find other means to stay afloat. She risked it all at the pandemic's peak to achieve her objective.
“As an entrepreneur, you have to take risks. I knew there was a chance of getting Covid-19, but I had to do what I had to do. I found ways to minimise contact with my clients. We did everything online. We used WhatsApp to communicate what the customer required. I would go to shops to buy those groceries and collect medications from pharmacies for my clients. Then drop them off at their doors, with zero contact,” said Thwala.
She took business pointers from other delivery service providers on how to mitigate the challenges that may come with the business. The various challenges she faced included building a solid clientele. She said it was difficult to get people to trust her and she did not secure clients immediately.
“People were scared to try my services, as it was a new business and I was unknown. I had to show them that I am reliable and trustworthy. It took some serious rebranding before getting clients. The negative e-hailing stories about drivers stealing food, assaulting customers and the kidnappings did not make things any easier for me. But I remained positive. I continued to push until I got a few clients months later,” she said.
Thwala had her first customer by chance when she was with her partner, a part-time delivery driver. The potential customer had requested a delivery be sent to her brother in Pretoria.
Thwala nudged her partner to give the lady the McCarry Runners flyer. Fortunately, for Thwala, the prospective customer accidentally put her laptop in the package she was sending to her brother. Upon realising that her laptop was in the package, she immediately contacted Thwala to enlist her service in bringing back the laptop on the same day.
“I could hear the uneasiness in her voice. She kept calling and asking how far I was with the laptop. I charged her R90 for the delivery from Centurion to Killarney. When we got there, she was happy with my service and said I undercharged her. She gave me R400 extra. She is now one of my trusted clients,” said Thwala.
At present, Thwala’s startup courier business has six regular clients, and about ten less regular weekly clients. She has provided services to a Namibian client, Elso Holdings, a cleaning products company based in Windhoek, while she now shuttles five school pupils, for a fee. With her small business growing steadily, her partner assists her with some of the errands.
Thwala said the fuel increase had forced her to go back to the drawing board to restructure her prices, considering that most of her clients are between Johannesburg and Pretoria.
She now charges her customers based on distance. She calculates the fuel consumption of her car per 100km and how much it would cost to fill up. She then adds a surcharge, which comprises service fees and the total labour for her courier service.
“Prices differ with distance. I make use of quotations for other services. However, with grocery shopping, I charge 10% of the total cost and add a delivery fee,” she said.
To ensure that she is up to date with the latest business trends, Thwala takes advantage of business expos. The expos also connect her with other business-minded people, who motivate her to keep going even when business is sluggish and prospective clients are scarce.