When Richester Foods had to buy new machines to manufacture a new kind of lollipop, CEO Mariam Cassim turned to MCEP for help.
“We had knocked on everyone’s doors before MCEP agreed to provide funding,” she says.
This funding helped expand production, with most of the money going to buy new, faster automated machines for the Centurion-based company. The increased production and innovations these machines offer has helped the company increase its turnover, in the process opening up new job opportunities.
Besides innovation, opening up channels for trade in the rest of Africa is another key priority for Cassim. She has been aggressively marketing her candy at trade fairs and conferences, including expansion into the rest of Africa.
She says forging new ties in other African countries has been difficult, but is well worth it in the long run.
“It’s not an easy market to break into. You have to solve every problem that crops up, you contact each embassy. You get three leads and end up with one customer, but it’s where the biggest opportunity for growth is.”
When Cassim and her husband decided it was time to expand their sweet range, they went straight to their biggest customers to do market research. The company’s lines are popular with street hawkers and spaza shop owners.
“We went to talk to them, samples in hand, asking how much they could charge. We used that price to develop a recipe for our new lollipops.”
It is this knowledge of their customer base that has made Richester such a success in its market. The company was started by Cassim and her husband, Hussein, in 2007, with the help of a loan from dtics’s Medium Enterprise Development Programme.
Cassim cut her teeth in the confectionery industry in her father’s company, Kwality Biscuits.
“I was always meant to go to work in the family business, but my dad sold it to Bokomo in 1994,” she says. “My hubby and I started importing sweets from Brazil until the import tariff was raised by 15%. We decided then to manufacture our own sweets.”
Of course it’s not as easy as that. Especially if you don’t possess any sweet recipes, or the know-how to turn glucose and sugar into candy. The learning curve involved Google, along with a constant back-and-forth between sweet makers and anyone who was prepared to give them advice for free.
Today Richester employs 302 people, of whom 250 are involved in production. Her administration staff is only as large as she needs it to be. “I don’t like fat cats. I like being involved in day-to-day operations.”
Richester’s recipe for success is simple; sugar, glucose – and an entrepreneurial drive.
With each sweet needing to be wrapped, Cassim has branched out into manufacturing the wrappings for her line of sugary treats.
This was also because her former supplier constantly missed delivery deadlines, jeopardising her own production and delivery schedules. Her “baby”, as she refers to the new wrapping factory, now supplies all the wrappers she needs, with excess capacity that she sells on. “It’s simple, really. I refuse to accept being dependent on someone else.”
Cassim is a true entrepreneur, always spotting a gap in the market. After all, she built a sweet empire without having space on retail shelves, and owns the fleet of trucks that delivers directly to her customers.
But she’s already identified a new opportunity: “It costs me R30 000 per cylinder to print my wrappers. With 10 lines with multiple flavours, that becomes expensive really quickly. I want to own my own press.”