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Mongi Mngomezulu and Steven Sibetha, co-owners of NIP Pallets in Plessislaer, Pietermaritzburg, are looking forward to a year of vigorous growth after surviving the toughest time in their company’s twenty-year history.

The self-built pallet-manufacturing business was almost wiped out when the pandemic shattered world trade in 2020. NIP makes pallets for South African exporters, and when international shipments dried up because of Covid, the business ground to a halt.

Two years on, however, Mongi and Steven are geared up for a new growth phase not only with pallets, but with their new furniture workshop which they started with finance from Business Partners Limited.

Mongi and Steven spotted the opportunity to expand into furniture making when a local workshop closed down. To buy the equipment, they had to find finance fast. The banks were too slow, says Mongi, but Business Partners came through in time.

Furniture is still a small part of their revenue, but Mongi sees huge growth potential in the under-serviced market for affordable pine tables and wardrobes. Furniture has a higher profit margin and greater growth potential than pallets, which Mongi and Steven started producing in 2002.

Mongi, who trained as an accountant, was then working as a young finance officer for the aluminium manufacturer Hulamin, when he noticed that the company was struggling with its supply of pallets. He also met Steven, a carpenter who was keen to build pallets for Hulamin but who knew little about the administrative side of business. Recognising how well their skill sets complemented one another, they teamed up and presented themselves as an alternative supplier to Hulamin.

The company agreed to give them a try, and today Hulamin is still their biggest client.

Mongi and Steven started off with six workers in a tiny workshop the size of a garage, and incrementally grew their operation over the years. Today it fills a 1300-square-metre factory, with the furniture-making workshop occupying an adjacent 300-square-metre building. In total NIP Pallets employs 42 workers.

Growing a business organically requires a lot of compromise and hard work, says Mongi. Juggling the finances and finding new clients are especially tricky. But seeing your own business grow strong enough to survive a meltdown like Covid makes it all worthwhile.

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