The Spicy Business of Mama’s Spices & Herbsadmin
This entrepreneur launched a successful spice company with a hunch and just R10 000. Mikie Monoketsi of Mama’s Spices & Herbs, shows how she’s tapping the lucrative township market using these smart tactics.
There’s a saying that goes ‘If you want to be a millionaire, find a R1 solution that will help a million people.’ Too often, would be entrepreneurs are intimidated by the prospect of starting a business because they over complicate their potential product or service offering.
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That’s not what Mikie Monoketsi did – she followed a hunch, used just R10 000 and now has a growing business in just three years.
What was the hunch that saw you launching a business?
I am a lover of health, fitness, lifestyle and especially food’s ability to contribute to those goals.
I was surprised to learn how many people in the townships are misinformed about spices and seasoning and their health benefits, and have come to believe them to be contributors to poor health.
I dug a little deeper into where this reasoning could have come from and I learnt that the spices being used are very cheap and of poor quality, with high levels of salt, MSG, preservatives, additives and bulking agents – which all negatively impact health and contribute to the high levels of hypertension and diabetes.
I know that the township market is huge and very lucrative if you have the right offering, so I decided that there was a business opportunity providing quality and affordable herbs and spices combined with market education about its benefits.
What was it like in your start-up phase and getting to market?
I come from a PR background and I find it very easy to talk with and build relationships with people. I started with informal research in Diepsloot, Randfontein, Cosmo City and Lion Park where I’d park up the car, talk with people and visit their kitchens – some of which really shocked me, but you’ve got to humble yourself to people from all walks of life.
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Through this research I learnt what they were cooking – skop, mogodu, maotwana, kota (cows head, intestines, chicken feet, bunny chow), potato chips, fish, braai, stews and curries, and fried chicken.
I then created my own range of quality, unique herb and spice blends at an affordable price that would complement the food already being cooked, but also provide health benefits. I’d also use their feedback to adjust recipes to their liking which helped grow a following quickly.
How is it possible to start a business with R10 000?
I approached an existing spice manufacturer with the relevant certification including Kosher, Halaal and ISO ratings, and they began blending my unique spice recipes.
I didn’t want to be like so many other would-be entrepreneurs who procrastinate because they don’t have the resources to start big, so I used existing business to help me launch mine.
Now we’re producing approximately 1,2 tonnes of spices specifically for Mama’s Spices & Herbs per month. I started small because that’s where you have to start. If I knew I’d be starting with 1,2 tonnes, I would have been too intimidated to begin!
What savvy business tactics are you using to increase sales but keep overheads small?
I came up with a ‘business in a box’ concept where individuals could buy spice starter packs and they’d keep whatever they made when reselling.
It works really well because people trust their friends, family and colleagues far more than a stranger. From there, they recognise it at their local shops and will spread the word themselves.
At the moment I have ten sales reps working in the townships on a commission basis which helps keep my overheads low. They get paid weekly for their sales, and I’ve got 12 consistent distributors who pay upfront for orders and sell amongst their networks.
What costly lesson did you learn in your start-up stage that you’d caution another entrepreneur on?
It would have to be that you must record every single cent, no matter how small. Ensure that every cent is accounted for, especially the non-tangibles like labour, packaging, cost of sales, and time.
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I found that because I didn’t cost everything, despite my sales improving I wasn’t making more money. I realised I wasn’t factoring in the samples I was giving out – and when you’re in food market samples are critical but you must factor in their costs.
I also realised that using the business as a personal piggy bank was hampering growth – a few thousand here and there adds up – and I was no more sophisticated than the spaza shops and road-side shisa nyamas I was supplying to.
I didn’t get expensive software or an accountant, I bought a Croxley notebook and wrote down every expense and invoiced all customers. Once I did that I started seeing a difference.