Almost exactly four years ago, I was called into my MD’s office where a lot of bullshit charges were laid against me. Bullshit or not, I knew I was farting against thunder and settled for a three months Golden Handshake.
So there I was, 55 years old and unemployed. One day I was bringing R40 000 a month home, and the next not a single sent.
The wife and me put our heads together to find something we could do from home with very little startup capital required. And eventually the idea of making toffees was born. We had some exposure to chocolate caramels, having put them on two markets for an acquaintance and we saw how well they could do. So we approached her to manufacture them under license, but she turned us down flat. So we had no option but to try and develop our own.
It was absolute hell. We knew nothing about manufacturing, we had no recipe, we had no clue about suitable packaging nor who would buy them and where we could sell them. We made so many mistakes. The toffees sweated butter and cream, spoiling the wrappers. They went hard or fudgy. They were either too tough or too soft. In the mean time there were bills to be paid and we exhausted all our little bit of savings very quickly. To make matters worse, the moment I had no more money, my best friend turned her back on me.
Eventually we had a product that more or less worked and we took it to every single market or little festival we could find. Some worked, most flopped. We paid so much school fees. As it was only me and the spouse, we did not have the time or resources to go and look for retail customers. Many many sleepless nights followed.
Do you know what it feels like to sit at a market under a piece of three by three canvas praying for someone to buy your product? To see people walk past without so much as a second look? Only to go to the stall next door that sells bird feeders made of rusted and dented old enamelware and paying a fortune for it? They will feed those that God provides for, but pay no heed to those of their own desperately in need of some support. The feeling of absolute helplessness and despondency that you go through is indescribable. To get up every market morning full of hope that today may be the day when you are going to do well, only to pack up that afternoon with a heavy heart and empty purse.
Should it ever happen that I am financially in a position to do so, I’ll create a market for all these entrepeneurs and advertise it as such. And instead of asking them exorbitant stall fees, they can pay a small percentage of their sales to be ploughed back into marketing. For God knows, I know what it feels like to sit there with no money, no-one interested and lots and lots of responsibilities. And may I, by the Grace of God, never become such a snob as the owners of successful markets in South Africa.