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 Small home-based business grows into bottle-making powerhouse


 What began as a tiny home-based business selling cool drink in novelty bottles to corner stores has turned into ATL Blow Moulders, a multi-million-rand a month plastic moulding business owned by a Johannesburg husband-and-wife team, and the growth of the business is showing no signs of slowing down.

Farida Rahman, who had been working in her family’s upholstery company for as long as she could remember, was desperate to start her own business, and in 1996, at the age of 33, she decided on selling cool drink in the teddy-bear shaped plastic bottles that many South Africans grew up with.

At first she bought the bottles from local plastics manufacturers and filled them up at home where she took care of their children, says her husband, Hafeez Rahman.

At the time, Hafeez was a financial manager at a large insurance company. Soon his evenings and weekends were occupied with deliveries to shops as he helped to get Farida’s business off the ground.

A few months into her business, Farida and Hafeez attended a plastics show that would change the trajectory of their lives. They came away convinced that they could buy their own blow-molding machine to make the bottles themselves.

They bought a small machine, but in order to remain a home-based business and also to bridge their lack of technical knowledge, Farida made a deal with a local plastics factory to operate the machine at the factory on their behalf. 

This worked well, slashing the cost at which they were able to source the bottles. But then a second event pushed them closer to their destiny. The factory relocated and Farieda decided to take over the running of the machine herself. 

She learned all she could about blow molding from the technicians at the factory, and through trial and error learned how to operate the machine, which she moved to a rented workshop.

Still intent on expanding into beverages, she started bottling flavoured milk drinks, but the bottle manufacturing side of her business simply refused to remain contained. Soon she was manufacturing novelty bottles for a competitor and they even landed a contract to fill a container full of bottles for a client from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Farieda spotted opportunities in the dairy industry, and she bought machines to produce 2 litre bottles for independent grocers who bought milk in bulk and bottled it themselves.

They were able to source some asset finance for the additional machines, but four years into the business, when the Rahman family consolidated their home and factory by moving to a plot in Rispark south of Johannesburg, the business was barely profitable as the constant growth of their volumes absorbed all available resources.

Another breakthrough finally sealed their fate as a focused plastics manufacturer. The national fruit juice company Sir Fruit, itself a family business, reached out to Farieda when their usual supplier refused to work over Christmas.

As the relationship between ATL Blow Moulders and Sir Fruit blossomed, and while the rest of the economy was struggling in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, the business grew in leaps and bounds. They bought machines for producing 5 litre bottles, and in order to expand their business with Sir Fruit, acquired the capability of producing bottles in clear PET plastic.

By 2009 the business had grown so large that it made sense for Hafeez to leave his corporate job and join Farida on a full time basis. Despite the clear potential of the business, it was still scary to leave the safety of the corporate world and initially he had to take a cut in income, says Hafeez, but he has never looked back.

Powering ahead, ATL Blow Moulders got finance from a development agency to build a 3000 square metre factory on a smallholding in Eikenhof where they have been living and working since 2012.

Like any fast growing business, ATL Blow Moulders was not immune to growth pains. Hafeez says they took a year to get a new PET machine up and running because the intermediary from whom they bought it was unable to set it up. Eventually engineers from the Chinese manufacturer had to be flown in to sort it out.

Another crisis prompted ATL Blow Moulders to approach Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) for a round of funding. After buying a new machine to produce 25 litre cans, the Rahmans found that local manufacturers of the caps for the cans refused to supply them because they saw them as competition. This forced them to order a new mould from China so that they could produce the cap themselves.

At the same time, ATL Blow Moulders used the opportunity of the round of BUSINESS/PARTNERS funding to buy two new machines to produce 50 litre cans, and to complete the purchase of the plot in Eikenhof.

Today, ATL Blow Moulders produces at least 5000 bottles a day with a factory staff just more than seventy workers, and, with no end in sight to their growth, Hafeez is confident that their business can become a significant player in the industry.




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