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Entrepreneurs should know themselves if they want to succeed

Corporate background prepared couple for the fast food business.

Entrepreneurs need to know about more than just how to run a business. They need to truly know themselves.

Mahashan Naidoo and Sureshnee Nair, a husband-and-wife team who own eight fast food restaurants, say this realisation has been a key ingredient to their success. After buying their first Steers and Debonairs outlets in Somerset Mall in 2015, it took them just three-and-a-half years to build the second biggest Famous Brands franchisee business in the Western Cape.

Their advice to other would-be entrepreneurs is to be honest with themselves about what they are good at – as well as their shortcomings. “You have to know what your core competencies and your areas of improvement are,” says Naidoo.

“You have to stand in front of the mirror, without bias, and ask yourself: Who am I really? This is your first moment of truth.”

Naidoo credits this thinking to his over 15 years of experience working in a corporate environment and says it helped to mould him as an entrepreneur. “I grew up in a family that was in business, but I think there is a large chunk of knowledge I would have missed if I had chosen to immediately go into business myself. I think corporate experience definitely helps to make you a more well-rounded entrepreneur. It enables one to be geared to think better.”

Naidoo and Nair were both bound to corporate jobs but took the leap to become entrepreneurs as they wanted greater flexibility when they started their family. “It was Valentine’s Day in 2015 when we found out we were pregnant. It was a Saturday and that Monday my wife resigned from her job. We started looking for business opportunities, then bought our first two restaurants.”

They later bought another two restaurants at Cape Town International Airport, and Naidoo also resigned to join his wife in running the business full-time. He says this process did not happen overnight and entrepreneurs should realise that they need to create their own opportunities. “We tried to get into franchising for a while and we would just hit a brick wall. You can’t stop when someone gives you the standard answer that nothing is available at the moment. You have to say: ‘I am going to make it happen for myself’. And it still does not end there; once in, you need to identify your golden nuggets, those spaces of opportunity and understand where to play to create and unlock value in your business.”

He admits that 2015 was a difficult time to enter the fast food business. The economy was already struggling and at that time load shedding was a big challenge for businesses. Despite this, they managed to grow their sales at their two restaurants within the first year and continued with strong growth year on year.

“The stores needed a little TLC,” says Naidoo. “We just had to look at them and think: What is going wrong? What are the basics that we need to put in place? And it really was basics like cleanliness, the quality of products, good customer service and providing the right leadership to our staff.”

He says the current economic environment is affecting consumer spending on fast food. “We see people spending less per head, and spend more towards the end of the month as they are just waiting for payday.” This shows how tight consumer spending has become.

Naidoo says in this environment, restaurants need to identify price points that strike a balance between how much each customer spends and the number of customers they can attract through value offerings. The support that comes with being part of a large franchise is valuable in helping to determine these value offerings. “With Steers and Debonairs Pizza, the focus is on constant innovation. Each brand runs national promotions for every month that are developed to match consumer needs based on statistical evidence of their behaviour.”

He says this support, as well as that of others who believed in the business, contributed to its success. “We had business partners who believed in us – our bankers, our landlords and Famous Brands all believed in us.”

Naidoo says that although running their own business is hard work, it has given the couple the balance between work and family life they wanted to achieve. “While it is faced-paced, you are not bound by office hours of 8am to 5pm. But if the pizza oven is not working on a Sunday night, you have to make a plan. You have to keep your finger on the pulse. I am always on-line and available to my teams, and when I’m on site I’m always empowering and developing my staff and managers.” We are continuously striving for excellence – question is, how do you go from being good to being great?”

Commitment to the everyday operations of your business requires passion. “You can’t do it for the money,” he says. “Money is just the outcome of doing the right thing. I live by a code of integrity. To me, integrity is doing the right thing the right way, every time, even when no one is watching.”

Brought to you by Nedbank Franchising.

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