My story | Not finding an internship motivated me to start my own waterless carwash

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Nqobile Rathebe refused to be discouraged by failing to find a job – she started her own business instead.
Nqobile Rathebe refused to be discouraged by failing to find a job – she started her own business instead.

From a young age, she never imagined working for someone else. She knew that one day she would have her own business and be her own boss.

After graduating from college, Nqobile Rathebe couldn’t find an internship. She took this as a sign that she needed to do something for herself, instead of waiting and hoping she’d find a job.

Now, Nqobile is the owner of a waterless carwash called Nqotrends (Pty) – a mobile car wash that uses chemicals instead of water to wash cars.

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“I studied financial management at Westcol Technical and Vocational Education and Training College,” Nqobile tells Drum.

“After I graduated, I struggled to find an internship. But because I didn’t want to sit around and do nothing I thought, why not start my own thing while I’m waiting for a job? And that’s how I started my own business.”

The 23-year-old entrepreneur from Protea Glen in Soweto has always been business-minded – she used to wash rubbish bins for her neighbours to earn some extra cash as a student.

Starting a business requires a fresh idea that will make it stand out from the crowd, Nqobile says.

“I wanted something different and I also wanted to change the whole mindset that cars are only washed by men.”

Nqotrends (Pty) use chemicals that are eco friendly to wash clients cars.

Given South Africa’s water situation, she wanted to make it as ecofriendly as possible.

“But when we say waterless, we don’t mean no water at all,” she admits. “We just mean using as little water as possible.”

Regular carwash service stations use around 120-150 litres of water for a single wash. Nqotrends (Pty) uses just one litre – and that is for rinsing their cloths.

“We use chemicals to wash cars, instead of water.”

Without revealing the brand of the chemicals she uses, the young business owner says her products are safe.

“They are ecofriendly chemicals. Awamoshi lutho (they don’t damage anything). We have chemicals for the body of the car, one for the tyres and also the widows.”

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Nqobile’s business was registered in 2018 but she was only able to start operations at beginning of 2019. 

“When I started, I didn’t have the equipment to run a waterless carwash and I used buckets of water.”

After seeing a social media post on a Durban-based waterless carwash, Nqobile reached out for advice.

“I explained to him what I had in mind and he then told me more about what kind of chemicals I could use, where to get them, and how much they cost.”

This advice and some funding from the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) gave her business the kickstart it needed to really take off.

Like so many businesses, the pandemic has taken its toll on Nqotrends (Pty). Nqobile says she’s lost a few clients thanks to lockdown and sadly had to retrench two people. The business currently has three employees.

“We would normally work with companies and schools. So, each day we knew we had clients that we had to go to. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, I had to come up with another plan and implement something new. That’s when we started going to apartment complexes and people’s houses, since a lot of people and some of our clients were working from home.”

Nqotrends (Pty)
An employee from Nqotrends (Pty) washing a clients car.

Her fees are reasonable.

“I charge based on the size and type of a car,” she explains. “We have a normal size, which is R60, and a SUV, which is R90. Then there are additional costs if you want us to clean the interior of the car.”

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Nqobile says business is not for the fainthearted.

“It will be hard, but you must be persistent.”

Her advice is to be realistic.

“You have to start with what you have. I had to buy my first equipment before I got funding from NYDA. People don’t fund what they can’t see.

“You can’t say, I want to sell airtime but not initiate anything and just expect someone to believe in you and fund you. So, start with what you have – even if it small, show people something.”

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