Winning Women: Done and sawdusted

2013-05-26 14:00

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Office furniture manufacturer Bobbi Magagula of HazBob has, in the six years she’s run her own business, started from scratch to supplying stands for 6 out of the 11 distributors of photocopiers in SA, writes Sue Grant-Marshall

Bobbi Magagula has had sawdust in her veins since her carpenter father made his little girl an exquisite school slate set in wood.

She was the envy of her class and decided then and there she wanted to do something creative with her life when she grew up.

Today she makes wooden office furniture in her West Rand factory, although in not quite the manner the young Magagula saw it being done.

When she decided six years ago to go it alone in a business, she turned to her father to make three samples of credenzas for her to show prospective clients. He did so on their kitchen table.

That was in 2005. Today, her HazBob Printer Credenzas factory designs and manufactures thousands of brand- and model-specific cabinets, credenzas and pedestals for photocopiers and printers each year.

Magagula shows me proudly around her factory, which is humming with activity, fine sawdust flying. Within minutes, I am coughing, unlike the workers who are carefully masked against the fine particles.

In her on-site showroom are units specifically designed to hold colour cartridges, some of them ingeniously crafted so that, in public facilities, the cartridges are safe from acquisitive hands.

Magagula’s large desk is made from teak and, along one wall, stands a magnificent Burmese teak cupboard. She runs a hand lovingly over it.

She chuckles as she recalls telling her father, Raymond McBride, in the early days of her business that they didn’t have time to operate like the craftsman he was. “We are machinists.”

She grew up with him and her garment worker mother in Bosmont, Joburg, attending the Chris J Botha school there before going to work in a bank. This was because the family didn’t have the money for a university fine arts degree.

“In those days, that’s what most coloured girls did,” she says.

But like so many entrepreneurs, she absorbed everything around her, to put it to good use in later life. “I realised then I was logical as well as creative.”

As the years passed, she became a good banker and grew her own portfolio of clients, about 80% of whom were running small to medium-sized businesses.

“I was able to see how they ran them, so I learnt how they approached challenges. It wasn’t just theory.”

She decided to stay at home when she had six children to take care of, two of whom were her deceased sister’s. But it wasn’t long before she felt bored and decided to start a business.

“I first thought of catering, but in 1999, I established Katlego Solutions, supplying and renting out photocopiers and also providing technical support.”

Magagula began with R350 and invited Office Equipment Products to take up a share in exchange for a Canon distributorship, national technical support and favourable credit terms. By February 2006, annual turnover exceeded R60?million, with three branches and 74 employees. She won contracts from both the government and corporate sectors.

But “there were no more challenges there.” She sold her shares in the company and asked her father to help her make credenza prototypes. He did that, and more, helping her to set up a production line.

Using her considerable contacts in the photocopier-rental market, she began to take orders for the factory she’d established with the proceeds of her Katlego shares and established HazBob Printer Credenza Manufacturers in 2006.

She has since taken on 27 unemployed and unskilled people, and trained them to her exacting standards. She is passionate about creating employment.

“For every 40 credenzas manufactured locally, one job is created. We are black women, owned and managed, with all of our employees being either black or disabled.

“44% of our staff are black women, and because of our consistent training and development, 35% are skilled, 30% are semiskilled and 35% are unskilled.” This, she adds, compares favourably with an industry standard of an 82% unskilled labour force.

Her staff includes three of her four daughters, one of whom is studying for a BCom and manages the company’s financials.

A second is a qualified clothing manufacturer designing credenzas, and the third works on website construction.

Her schoolgirl daughter helps out in her holidays, “and when we’re into heavy seasonal demand, my retired husband comes in to help too”, she says.

The Gordon Institute of Business Science course helped her hugely to understand aspects of operational management, such as identifying bottlenecks, different production techniques and changing the layout of her factory production line.

Magagula has been approached by a company that has the distribution rights for office furniture for Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It hopes she will warehouse, set up and deliver their office chairs. If that works out, she could be distributing them throughout South Africa and, in time, the rest of Africa.

Indeed, moving into Africa is the dream of a woman who is one of only five manufacturers of printer credenzas in South Africa. She is also one of only 11 women in the 2?000-strong Furniture, Bedding and Upholstering Manufacturers Association.

»?If you are a female entrepreneur looking for a springboard to future success, sign up for the fully sponsored Goldman Sachs-Gibs 10?000 Women Certificate Programme for Women Entrepreneurs.

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