Hlabangane isn’t entirely new to entrepreneurship. She co-owns two franchises, a Steers and a Fishaways, with her husband, but while both ventures are thriving, they didn’t fulfill her creative passions.
“I’ve always hated being told what to do so becoming an entrepreneur seemed an ideal option,” she says. “My mum’s also an entrepreneur, so she was my inspiration. I had a small stint working in a corporate, but I knew it wasn’t for me. I don’t like working standard operating hours, nor do I do well with repetitive tasks.”
Owning the franchises, she says, honed her taste for entrepreneurship.
“Being a franchisee is very structured. There’s little room for creativity, but it gives you a great grounding for starting and understand a business, as well as managing money.”
Tea Tree & Co has four key offerings: selling and renting silk flowers and indoor plants (her core service), selling decor accent pieces to homes and businesses, a festive decorating service and, finally, selling and renting local artworks – something very close to Hlabangane’s heart. “I identify young, talented painters and sculptors and help them gain exposure by renting their work out to businesses. It helps them get their name out there and build their careers,” she says.
The idea for the silk flower element of the business was also an offshoot of her innate creativity. “A few years ago I learnt about the silk flower industry and was intrigued by it, but it wasn’t until I attended a trade show last year that I realised it was dominated by whites. I couldn’t find any black women in it. That made me realise it was the perfect business opportunity for me and I was confident I could do it,” she says.
She tapped into her savings to buy stock and do marketing.
While not a trained interior decorator, Hlabangane’s eye for styling has led to several lucrative contracts.
“It’s been very demanding getting the business off the ground. I’ve had lots of very early mornings and late nights, as I do everything myself. I’m also doing my Honours in business management, managing the franchises and I’ve got two little boys – so I don’t have much free time. I have to be very flexible in prioritising it, as I’m often on the road visiting potential clients and showing them my products. I’ve also been busy doing presentations to corporates, pitching for new business, so there’s a lot on my plate.”
However, her hustle is working: she’s already bagged a number of domestic contracts, some smaller corporate clients and a substantial three-year contract with a large corporate.
“I believe in the product: silk flowers are beautiful, long-lasting and require minimal care. I personally handle all the maintenance for my contracts, visiting clients to ensure the flowers always look good and watering the trees. This is a quantity-driven business, so I have to ensure I’m meeting my self-imposed targets in order to make an income. Currently my biggest focus is on the flowers. I’ve estimated that if I stay on track, my income for the next year will be R1,8 million – just for the flower business,” she says.
She also aims to open an outlet so that people can get up close and personal with her products. “I’ve been playing it safe and have been very cautious in terms of where I invest my capital, but I’m ready to take my business to the next level,” she explains.