Entrepreneur brings father’s dream to life
The world is full of examples of children inheriting a business from their parents, and often failing with it. But Shaun Ncala is one of very few entrepreneurs who has not only inherited his father’s business, but also his father’s dream, and has succeeded with it beyond his dad’s imaginings.
Shaun’s father Donald is of the generation of self-taught, pioneering township entrepreneurs who started with a spaza shop and grew by adding a tavern and liquor store. But his dream of owning a filling station remained just out of reach. He managed to buy a site, and have it zoned for fuel sales in the Jouberton township near Klerksdorp where he was based. But raising the substantial finance for establishing a filling station was a bridge too far.
Shaun grew up in Johannesburg after his parents separated, but remained close to his dad, who never got tired of encouraging him to take over the family business one day – and to build that filling station.
Maybe it was this input from his father that made Shaun show early signs of business acumen. From a young age he would take two bags to school – the one stuffed with chips and sweets to sell to his classmates. And at college he started a small money-lending business for his friends who ran out of money from time to time. “I was the frugal one. My friends would buy Nandos, and I would just buy a loaf of bread and milk at Pick n Pay,” says Shaun.
He also worked part-time at a frozen yogurt franchise, starting out as a cleaner and working his way up to store supervisor. By the time he graduated, the owner offered him a job and a career path, but Shaun wanted to see what it would be like to run his father’s business.
The agreement with his father was to take over the liquor store, pay off the R300 000’s worth of stock to his father, allowing him to go into semi-retirement, and from then on use the profits to grow the business. It was challenging, says Shaun, “but I totally crushed it”. By focusing on the big-spending customers without neglecting those buying small quantities, Shaun tripled the turnover within a few months.
Although Shaun was able to streamline the business slightly by implementing some IT systems he was trained in, he found that he learned more about the importance of building relationships with people – his clients, staff and suppliers.
At the same time he worked on plans for setting up the filling station. As the months passed, it became clear just what an enormous undertaking it would be, requiring lots of finance, preparation and networking. He had managed to push the turnover of the liquor store as high as it could go in that location and realised that on its own it would not be enough of a steppingstone to fulfil his father’s dream.
Shaun prepared the liquor store for remote management and left once again for Johannesburg to develop his career, make money and the build a network that would help to bring the filling station within reach.
He joined the telecoms group Net1, where he worked for several years in the IT operations division. But he also did not neglect his entrepreneurial talents. Apart from keeping the liquor store going remotely, he formed an IT company that recently won the management contract for a solar farm. And his informal money-lending business started thriving as it spread, word-of-mouth, from his immediate circle of friends and family.
It would not have been surprising if Shaun became so distracted by all his ventures that the filling station fell off his to-do list, but he never let go of his father’s dream. He researched the different fuel brands exhaustively looking for the best franchise deal, and settled on Astron Energy, the new brand of the Caltex group.
Finance remained a challenge as the banks were wary of backing a start-up filling station. But then an industry consultant linked him up with Business Partners Limited, who was willing to look at Shaun’s careful feasibility studies and consider his entrepreneurial prowess. “Those guys made the dream come true,” says Shaun, who resigned from his job as soon as the Business Partners Ltd finance was confirmed.
Apart from the financing of the construction and setting up of the filling station, Shaun also made use of Business Partners Ltd’s Technical Assistance Programme to set up a financial and operational management system for the business. The Technical Assistance Programme is available to Business Partners Ltd clients to finance a wide range of business-support measures, from IT systems to marketing, and is repayable at zero interest.
In August 2020, Shaun filled up the first car himself at his brand-new filling station. Since the launch, he has been pumping well over 200 000 litres per month for most months, and Shaun is focusing on building relationship with local taxi and Uber drivers to push sales up even more.
Shaun logs onto the business’s system at 4.30 every morning from Johannesburg where he stays to keep a close eye on the figures. The distance and the fact that he is involved in various ventures means he must place a lot of emphasis on careful delegation. But having remote management systems in place also means he can think of opening more filling stations one day.
It’s early days, and who knows where Shaun’s entrepreneurial energy will take him. But he has already had the best possible return on any investment that he will make – the pride beaming from his father as he helps out around the filling station. “I can see it in his eyes,” says Shaun.