De Ja View, which opened its doors four years ago, caters almost exclusively to the local business tourism market, providing accommodation to salesmen, travelling corporate trainers and inspectors, as well as lawyers and advocates involved in court cases in the nearby High Court. The current recession should have had a significant negative impact on the young guest house’s occupancy, yet it is having its best year so far.
Then again, perhaps its impressive growth says more about the owner behind the guest house, Johan Visser, a seriously serial 56-year-old entrepreneur.
Over the course of his business career, Johan has started, run and sold a security firm, a farm, a children’s play centre, another security company, a ceramics factory, a clothing factory, a cell phone shop and restaurant. Nor is the guest house his latest venture. Although he keeps a very close eye on the running of De Ja View from his office which is based on the premises, he has already moved on to start a construction company as well.
For such an amazing entrepreneurial track record, Johan has the most unlikely background. He grew up in Vanderbijlpark where his father worked for the then state-owned steel giant Iscor for 46 years. Johan joined the army straight out of school and stayed there for no fewer than 17 years.
How did the army manage to contain such a restless entrepreneurial drive for all those years? Johan explains that he seems to have an unconscious compulsion to change tack every three years, and the army provided that exact scaffolding for his career. Every three years, he was promoted to another rank until he decided to quit in 1997 to start his own security company.
Without ever planning it consciously, his business career followed the same three-year cycle. He sold the security company after three years, and used the proceeds to start a farm, which he in turn sold after another three years.
Johan is clearly a fast learner, gaining the knowledge required for every new venture on the job, and from other people, he says. He was able to grow his capital with each business he sold, even though they did not all work out. He shut the ceramics factory down and sold the building when the business proved unsustainable, and was looking for his next venture when he spotted the large residential house in Nelspruit which eventually became De Ja View.
At first, his plan was to turn it into student accommodation, but he could not get the required permission from the municipality, so he changed the concept to a guest house. When his cash ran out to refurbish the building he approached the banks for finance, but they would not bite.
Business Partners Limited, on the other hand, finances projects based on the track-record of the entrepreneur and the viability of the concept, not just on the availability of collateral. Within weeks of approaching them, Johan had the finance he needed to complete the project.
Two years after he bought property, De Ja View opened with its first few rooms, and incrementally added new ones until it reached its full complement of twelve.
Johan says the most challenging aspect of starting the guest house was the marketing. People are creatures of habit, so it is difficult to persuade a business traveller to switch to a new guest house. All he needs is for a guest to stay at De Ja View once. Then it is relatively easy to keep them coming back to its top-class service.
Throughout the years, Johan has grown adept at setting up a business so that it runs smoothly on its own. He says he would not be able to do this were it not for the excellent workers that he has managed to recruit and who have followed him one venture to the other. One of his employees at the guest house has worked for him for the past thirteen years.
More than the money he had made, these relationships are the most prized part of the capital that he has managed to accumulate throughout the years. Their support is what makes his next venture possible, he says.