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 From wheelbarrow deliveries to SABS accredited workshop

 

 Not many successful factory owners can remember their first delivery vehicle as a wheelbarrow. OJ Matonsi recalls the time in the Tsakane Township in Brakpan when he welded steel window frames in his backyard and had them delivered to local home owners in a wheelbarrow. He had no car, and had to hire a bakkie to buy his raw materials from the Johannesburg steel merchants.

Today, OJ owns not only several vehicles, but a thriving SABS accredited window and door frame factory fitted with the latest automated metal presses and a workforce of 22 who work in two shifts to keep up with orders.

For OJ, and probably anyone who met him when he arrived in Johannesburg in the eighties, his success must seem something like miracle. He was barely literate, having grown up tending the cattle of his father, who died when OJ was still a boy.

Even when he found a job as a general worker at a window-manufacturing business, the idea of one day owning one himself was beyond anything he could dream of. Soon he was trained to operate one of the machines, and then different one, until he gained an intimate knowledge of the entire production process. OJ says he is grateful that in those day, very thankful that the modern working culture where workers refuse to

During his thirteen years at the company, we also qualified as a welder and was appointed to production supervisor.

He joined a night school for adults through which he reached grade 8.

When the company shut down suddenly, he found a job at a cement plant, but left in less than a year when the unhealthy working conditions caused a serious lung ailment among the workers.

It was the early nineties, and township dwellers everywhere were expanding their houses with the promise of gaining property rights and permanence. Rather than put himself on the job market again, OJ decided to apply his knowledge of making windows to service the thousands of people who were building extra rooms in their backyards. At that stage there were virtually no hardware shops close to Tsakane.

With only a small welding machine and an angle grinder, OJ set to work, and employed local youths to distribute pamphlets about his business and deliver the finished windows by wheelbarrow to his clients.

Business was brisk, and soon OJ found himself supplying a hardware shop with larger orders. His first car was an old bakkie, but the expansion of his business was severely limited by the lack of three-phase power in his backyard operation.

With sheer determination and by ploughing every penny he made back into his business, OJ made the extremely difficult leap from his backyard into formal business premises. He identified a small workshop in a nearby industrial area and found a business consultant to help him compile a business plan so that he could convince a financier to lend him the money to buy the workshop.

A state development agency agreed, and gave him six months grace to occupy the workshop before he had to start repaying the loan. The availability of three-phase electricity now allowed OJ to start looking for proper machines, but because he had no capital he bought them one-by-one, always second-hand, starting with a cutting machine and then a butt welder.

He was still a long way off from being able to make metal door frames as well, but he negotiated a good price from a competitor and sold them for a small mark-up through his business, which he christened Low-cost Windows and Doors.

OJ’s business kept growing, and he started acquiring brake presses, metal bending machines, to boost his output further. Because of the lack of space in his workshop, he started employing two shifts of workers.

The most serious factor limiting his growth was his lack of accreditation from the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), which he needed if he wanted to supply the huge government low-cost housing projects. It took him two tries, costing thousands in consultants’ fees, before the agency was happy with his production process and product.

SABS approval opened the flood gates. For the first time in his career, OJ had to start turning down orders because he simply did not have the capacity.

It is one thing to raise money for a building, says OJ, because the financier can always attach the property if the business fails. But machinery is movable and therefore more risky for the financier. He therefore struggled to convince the traditional bankers to give him asset finance to buy more machines.

Fortunately, a business advisor pointed him in the direction of Business Partners Limited, which looks at the character of the entrepreneur and the potential of the business rather than just narrowly at the machine being financed. With a BUSINESS/PARTNERS business loan, OJ was able to buy two brand new brake presses.

With still no end in sight for the growth of his business, OJ is desperately looking for new premises to buy. He has identified the ideal spot that at present belongs to the local municipality. They plan to sell it on auction, which puts it out of reach of OJ’s current financial strength, but given his track record, he has never let something like that stand in his way.

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