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 Entrepreneur’s big dream within reach after incremental growth

 

 Lorraine Chitate always loved travelling and tourism, but for a long time her dream of owning her own hotel or resort one day seemed out of reach, until a chance meeting with a guest-house owner changed her life.

As a young Zimbabwean nurse it was her love of travel, which she shared with her doctor husband that brought the couple to South Africa in the mid ‘90s, “just for an adventure”. The idea was to stay for just a year or two before moving on, but they ended up building substantial careers for themselves in Pretoria and Polokwane.

When her husband started studying toward his medical specialisation, Lorraine decided to study towards a BCom degree, a choice that suited her better than medicine, she says. She was raised by a father who was always entrepreneurial and built businesses despite his lack of tertiary education. She followed her degree with a master’s in business leadership and soon left medicine to join the Tshwane University of Technology as a lecturer.

There she taught a course in entrepreneurship, among other things, which increased her feelings of frustration that she was not following her passion for travel and tourism. During a family trip to a resort, which they found to be fully booked, they ended up staying over at a nearby guest house. The owner, who lived on the premises, explained to Lorraine how she had built up the guest house from scratch. Rather than needing millions to buy or build the kind of resort that Lorraine had always dreamt of owning, she suddenly saw that it was possible to start small and incrementally build up a tourism establishment.

Inspired, she returned to her job at the university, where she had meanwhile progressed to Head of Department. When her husband urged her to go and see a residential house in the centre of Polokwane that would suit her vision of a guest house, her dream suddenly started becoming real.

“It was love at first sight,” says Lorraine about her first visit to the house that would soon become her own Zanami Lodge. She immediately saw the potential of the property as a guest house and decided to buy it.

Because she and her husband shared the vision, it was relatively easy for them to raise bank finance by pooling their savings and assets. In an amazing deal, a local furniture retailer offered her all the items she needed to furnish her guest house, saying she could pay it off whenever she had enough money.

Lorraine put her heart and soul into designing her guest house. She has a vivid spatial imagination, and finds herself constantly envisioning what could be done to improve any space she enters. This time, she could see her vision become reality and she loved it.

It was a few months before the big ANC Polokwane conference of 2007, and Lorraine rushed to open her guest house in time for event. Preparation lasted right up to start of the conference, and the Zanami Lodge opened to full occupancy.

The name “Zanami” comes from a combination of the names of Lorraine’s three daughters, Zandile, Nyashe and Michelle. For Lorraine, the name and the logo of three working women is fundamental to her project. “For me it is a dedication to women in general. Sometimes when you grow up in an African community, you realise that boys are given preference. ‘Zanami’ is my way of saying that women are just as powerful as men,” she says.

Despite the good start, inevitable teething problems kicked in during the first six months, and Lorraine found that it was impossible to develop her guest house to its full potential while she was occupied in her university job. As much as she liked teaching, she resigned to pursue her first love, tourism, on a full time basis.

Marketing was Lorraine’s priority in the beginning, as well as the major challenge of finding staff members with the right personality and attitude to suit her vision for the business.

It took six months for Zanami to become profitable, and soon the focus shifted to expanding the guest house from its first seven rooms. Lorraine acquired and converted a second house nearby, which added another six rooms, but by the time she decided to convert the tennis courts on the first property to add more rooms, the bank’s appetite for extending more finance to Zanami had ended.

Fortunately, Lorraine found out about Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), who was keen to finance the expansion. Since them, the loan from BUSINESS/PARTNERS was extended to finance the conversion of a third property into conferencing facilities for Zanami.

Today, Zanami is thriving with its thirty rooms, two conference facilities and eleven full-time workers, and Lorraine’s sights are firmly set on one day owning that game-farm resort and seaside hotel that she always dreamed of.

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