Convincing potential clients that your product is better than any other on the market is difficult, especially when your business is new. However, having the will to succeed and knocking on doors sets an entrepreneur apart.
Having already experienced failure as an entrepreneur, Unathi Mhlati has now learned that if you’re starting a business you need to be fully hands-on or your business might not survive.
Only eight months into his new venture, called Salmon Trout Guyz, Mhlati has managed to score clients such as the Saxon Hotel, The Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff and Industrial Shisa Nyama in Pretoria.
He quit his job as a photographer after a car accident in 2013, and says he was inspired to start the business after one of his friends, a chef from Lesotho, introduced him to salmon trout, which is farmed in Lesotho.
“After tasting the fish I asked him where he’d bought it and he told me it was from Lesotho. I was surprised because I knew there was no ocean in Lesotho.” Mhlati’s friend took him to one of the fish farms.
The salmon trout business in Lesotho is quite big, exporting to countries such as Japan. This was also another inspiration for Mhlathi, who saw an opportunity to bring this delicious fish to the local market.
When he returned to SA, he realised there was a business opportunity for him to sell the fish. “I wanted to start with high-end hotels, so I went to the Saxon Hotel and asked to speak to the chef. I explained my story to him, gave him a sample and asked him to call me back if he was interested,” he explains.
Two or three days later, the chef called and asked Mhlati to bring more fish to add to his menu. He had the same positive result at The Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff.
Salmon Trout Guyz now supplies the Westcliff with 100kgs of fish and Industrial Shisa Nyama in Pretoria with around 200kgs a month. His other clients, an office park in Sandton and individual clients also order on a monthly basis.
Being an entrepreneur is risky and frustrating, but it’s also fun and fulfilling, because when you start winning, and you get a client saying thank you for great service, that is so fulfilling and it feels awesome.
Since the business is in its first year, Mhlati says he is breaking even, but believes the business has potential to grow. He’s looking into getting a fishing permit and has plans for a pop-up restaurant.
“I hope I will get a fishing permit, so I can help create jobs,” he says, as he’s currently working alone to establish the business. I don’t only want to sell this product, I also want to educate people about it, as it’s very good for you and I believe that every household in the country should have it on their grocery list,” he says.
Mhlati is not new to start-ups. In 2012 he opened a restaurant in Ntlaza, a small town en-route to Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape. The restaurant, Maxis Kitchen, only survived for three months, due to several challenges, which included him not being fully involved in the business, and electricity shortages. “I lost about R100 000 in that business because I relied on other people to do the marketing, run the business and get me clients,” he says.
“Being an entrepreneur is risky and frustrating, but it’s also fun and fulfilling, because when you start winning, and you get a client saying thank you for great service, that is so fulfilling and it feels awesome.”