Annah Lelimo | Thabong Bakery
As the ENGEN Pitch & Polish programme celebrates its tenth anniversary, the project is looking back at some of the amazing success stories to come out of the competition. This is the story of 2011 winner, Annah Lelimo and her business Thabang Bakery.
Growing up in Thabong Township in Welkom in the Free State, I used to bake and sell scones and buns to my friends at school. After school, I studied for a national diploma in chemical engineering from the University of Johannesburg and, after leaving my work in the chemical industry, it was only natural for me to start my own bakery.
My aim was to offer my customers baked goods of high quality that were fresh, nutritious and affordable while running a business that remained profitable and sustainable. Our products are produced in the most natural way and, by working closely with community members, are guaranteed to offer an unparalleled experience.
I believe what sets us apart is that our freshly baked bread and confectionaries don’t contain chemicals to make bread feel soft long after its sell-by date. We bake just the way customers remember from days gone by. Our bread is affordable as there are fewer additions of enhancers and we have outlets conveniently situated within our communities.
We offer individual customers freshly baked bread, scones, buns and cakes and also supply to schools, crèches and hospitals who appreciate fresh, nutritious products as their focus is on the health of their clients. We prepare products in a specific way – be it by weight, size or packaging – for mine hostels, caterers and events companies and also offer sandwich packs as lunches for underground miners. We deliver a number of products to local supermarkets and spaza shops for reselling. We do the deliveries daily with only enough quantities to minimise waste and having to exchange old products as is the norm in the bread industry.
One of the biggest challenges when starting, apart from sourcing capital, was positioning the business and building a brand that is trusted since the bread industry is dominated by big businesses that have very prominent brands. High staff turnover was also a challenge; the labour force is not skilled and once they gain experience they move to big companies that offer more lucrative packages. However, putting in systems to ensure a healthy work environment as well as retention plans has helped to minimise this problem. An ongoing issue is the cost of production which is affected by the ever-increasing prices of wheat, petrol and power supply (and the wastage incurred by continuous power supply interruptions).
In 2010, a friend invited me to join her at the Bloemfontein workshop of ENGEN Pitch & Polish. The workshop offered clarity on the questions you have to answer in order to convince investors to back your business. This is done in the most simple, fun way by very knowledgeable facilitators. I learned how to properly position my brand and say exactly what I am all about, the how and my growth strategy in three minutes!
I used what I learned at ENGEN Pitch & Polish to become clear in what I offer my customers and to properly articulate what the benefits are when buying from me. I also learned to package my services to different clients. This allowed me to present a bankable business plan that helped me to get investment towards my own factory which operates as a second bakery.
The business has really grown. I have been able to buy a factory with warehouse, offices, training rooms for staff training and a fully equipped bakery which can be upgraded to produce 10 000 loaves of bread a day. There is also additional space that will be remodelled into an in-house baking school to train aspiring bakers.
Would I recommend ENGEN Pitch & Polish to other aspiring entrepreneurs? A big yes! It is a platform that shapes your understanding of what to work on to come up with a clear business pitch that sets you apart from others in your industry, and how to use this to set up an operation that is viable and bankable. You learn the importance of understanding all elements of business including finances for sustainability.
I would also tell aspiring entrepreneurs that understanding your business and the environment you are operating in is vital. You must know exactly what you are selling and package it the right way. You need to be resilient and keep trying until you perfect your offering to earn the trust and support of your customers.
Happy anniversary to ENGEN Pitch and Polish and thank you for shaping my business journey in the most positive way!
Visit www.pitchandpolish.com for more information or to register for the 2019 ENGEN Pitch & Polish workshops and competition.
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