Mngomezulu’s business journey began in 2010 after giving birth to her son, she found herself facing a problem many women and mothers face – stretch marks.
Her mother-in-law suggested she try marula oil to help alleviate the scarring. “I obtained a bottle of it and was amazed at how well it worked,” she said in an interview with DESTINY.
“I then spent R200 on five more 100ml bottles, but sold some of them to my friends to try. They also loved it and kept asking for more.”
She began selling the oil as a side hustle, while working in IT, but she quickly realised she was sitting on a lucrative business opportunity so she started reinvesting the money from sales into getting more raw stock.
However, she knew she had to fine-tune the product if she was going to make a full-time go of it.
“I started mixing potions at home for a lotion and skin cream. It was really frustrating trying to get the consistency right using an ordinary hand-held mixer, pots and a kitchen stove, but I didn’t give up. I made lots of different batches and got my friends to test them, using their feedback to perfect the product,” she said.
“I also started exploring formulations for a complete range of products, from a face wash and toner to day and night creams. This wasn’t just another cosmetic product. I wanted something that would really make a difference, produced by an African, using African ingredients, for Africans living under the African sun.”
When she was happy with the quality of her formulations, she approached the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) for help to get her products tested and certified.
“Seda took my brand further into Africa by exposing me to markets in Botswana and other countries. I sold out in them during marketing tours, but couldn’t establish more concrete relationships, as I needed a larger local presence before setting up exporting lines.”
Today, Mngomezulu has created a 12-product skincare range for men and women that includes body lotion, face cream and face wash and she’s currently working on launching a five-product babycare range.
I wanted something that would really make a difference, produced by an African, using African ingredients, for Africans living under the African sun.
She got her big break in 2013, when she took a leap of faith and resigned from her full-time job when she was approached by Massmart and Makro to become a supplier. She also landed a scholarship for the supplier development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science.
By August the next year, Portia M products could be found in six Makro stores and the following year, she was supplying 20 of Pick n Pay’s corporate stores.
In 2016, she secured a national contract from Pick n Pay to supply 420 outlets across the country. This boosted her sales significantly, alongside other retail supplier agreements she has in place with Shoprite, Checkers, Spar, Game and Clicks. She says she now has her eye set on Dis-Chem and growing her business in Swaziland, Namibia, Lesotho and Botswana, while exploring other new African markets.
“We’ve got our factory in Pretoria, where we make over 200 000 units per month. I’m still very hands-on, but there are 27 staff members who handle the day-to-day operations,” Mngomezulu said.
“My vision is to make the Portia M brand one of the biggest brands in Africa and the world. I want us be everywhere, sitting alongside other big brands, and known as a proudly South African product.”
The biggest lesson she’s learnt in her entrepreneurial journey is the need to be patient and trust in the process.
“A no isn’t a no, it only means you have to do better than before,” she advises.
“And if a buyer tells you a year, it might seem far away, but there are so many things you can correct during this time. I am grateful I started with only a few stores as this allowed me to manage and learn from the mistakes I made along my retail journey.”