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Annelene van Wyk

Guest house owner defies Covid-19 with patience and adaptability

Adaptability, initiative and patience are key ingredients for entrepreneurial success, especially if you have to build a business with as few resources as Annelene van Wyk had to work with.

She left school in grade 9 (Standard 7) to fend for herself after losing both her parents, and started working as a shelf packer in a wholesaler. Fending for herself from such an age in arid Namaqualand instilled in her a fierce, almost obsessive work-ethic, and when her career was thwarted by her lack of formal education, she threw herself into building her own business.

Today, Annelene is the owner of Undulata Country Lodge, a luxurious guest house in the Northern Cape town of Springbok which she built room by room out of a rented boarding house over the last twelve years. It helps, says Annelene, to have a financier who shares her attributes of flexibility and patience.

Business Partners Limited first financed Annalene’s venture ten years ago after a long struggle of hers to raise money to lift her out of a frustrating trap that she found herself in. She had been renting the Undulata property for some time with the option to buy it. It was a boarding house, but Annelene, using every bit of income from the property to upgrade the rooms, had been turning it incrementally into an upmarket guest house.

The problem was that she needed to raise finance to buy the property and add more rooms, but the revenue from the existing six rooms was too low for any financial institution to finance the purchase.

Annelene adapted her plan by renting rooms elsewhere in town to increase the revenue of the business. It worked. Seeing that she was able to fill additional rooms, Business Partners Ltd bought into her vision and financed the purchase of the property to the tune of R1.2 million. Business Partners Ltd took a minority share in the property.

Owning the property allowed Annelene and her husband to add a further five rooms incrementally to the guest house. It took a while, as they used any spare revenue from the business to build them bit by bit, “but when we finished them, each was a masterpiece,” says Annelene.

Undulata thrived as a guest house, and in 2015 Annelene approached Business Partners Ltd for a second round of finance to take her business up a notch. She wanted to build a dining room, a conference centre, a new kitchen and extra rooms. This time, she had no trouble getting the finance, but the contractor hired to do the building went under before he finished the job.

Annelene and her husband jumped in themselves, overseeing the finishing with the use of local artisans. She says Business Partners Ltd supported them patiently all the way, managing the payments to the artisans as they finished the buildings.

With the new facilities, Undulata’s seventeen rooms were still not enough, and soon were at it once again, adding a store room, laundry and more rooms to 2700 square meter property with their own revenues.

Covid-19 stopped not only this expansion, but all business activities at the guest house for a whole three months. “It was hell,” says Annalene who had to struggle to get the UIF to make its Temporary Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) payments to all of her six staff members. Again, Business Partners Ltd supported her through the crisis with a R300 000 low-interest rate loan.

From about the middle of last year guests started trickling back, and Annelene shared the little bit of work that there was among the staff. Then the trickle turned into a flood as, among other things, a large Eskom contingent came to town, filling up the guest house.

“My bookkeeper could not believe the figures when she saw it,” says Annalene. “She had to check the bank account to see that it was for real.”

Things are still a bit uncertain with the possibility of more Covid waves, and Undulata has not yet begun hosting functions again, but the return of guests so far has made her optimistic that the latest expansion plans will soon be complete.

And after that, there is paving that needs to be done, a swimming pool that will be built, and, in a culmination of her dream, a beauty spa. They might seem far off now, but Annalene has learned that all she needs is a flexible plan and some patience.

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