The days before franchising
“Before I became a Wimpy franchisee I was a qualified electronic and electrical engineering teacher in Limpopo,” says Ngobeni.
“My wife and I decided Joburg had better prospects for us, so with my school pay-out, savings and the profit we gained from selling our house, we moved, bought a new property and began looking for business opportunities,” says Ngobeni.
Making the move into franchising
Ngobeni’s love for business had seen him start up a taxi business, own a short-lived franchised restaurant, all the while continuing with his high school teaching.
“I don’t consider the franchise venture as a failure as I learnt a valuable lesson on the importance of buying into a very strong brand with proper processes,” he says.
Come 1996, he’d found the brand he’d been looking for and a unit that was up for sale — a Wimpy in Hillbrow, which was teetering on the edge of decline — going for R85 000.
“Three years later the deterioration in the area forced me to move, or close the business, losing my investment. With the help of the franchisor, I relocated to Park Station.”
Slipping on the success ladder
Ngobeni enjoyed great success with the relocation, and used his Park Station profits to purchase his next Wimpy in 2000 in Braamfontein. “Unfortunately this purchase didn’t work out either,” he laughs.
“My store was over-staffed with older people. I couldn’t downsize nor replace them with young and energetic staff due to the Labour Relations Act. In restaurants you need young, fast, affordable staff and you accept they’ll move on in two years. In addition to that, more franchises were entering the area, and my landlords chose not to renew my lease. So I sold. These were hard but valuable lessons.”
But when doors close, windows open, and in the same month the Braamfontein sale was concluded Ngobeni built his first Wimpy in Jabulani Mall, Soweto.
Making multiple units work
Ngobeni has a general manager for overseeing his stores, but he still visits each unit regularly to ensure procedures and standards are kept. And even with an accountant, he monitors his books personally, daily.
“To make multiple units work you need a number of things in place: A brand that is very systematised and will ‘run itself’ if you follow the procedures, good suppliers and great managers. My best managers have come from internal promotion and they’re very loyal. They help keep costs down through minimal food waste and sticking to procedure, and they’re motivated by promotion and cash incentives.
“I’ve also struck a great balance with my suppliers. Wimpy has some proprietary products, but I can source my own milk, eggs, vegetables and meat with the right specs. Don’t try to drive the price too low as your supplier won’t stick around. Negotiate but be reasonable and you’ll get the right quality, quantity and delivery frequency essential for a good store.”
“Everything about Wimpy is highly systematised. With the right overview and knowing what to do, it can almost run itself. I’m not getting any younger, so I’m training my eldest son to run my Wimpy stores. Right now he’s managing the two stores in Limpopo and through that experience he’ll then take over the rest of the stores and grow them to the next level.”
Managing family time
Ngobeni has a number of businesses operating, is a husband, and parent to eight children.
“I’m very busy six days of the week but put aside my evenings and Sundays exclusively for family time. When it comes to balancing home life, it’s about the quality of time spent rather than quantity. I ensure that when I’m with my family I focus on them completely.”
From existing to building franchises
“I was the first franchisee to build a Wimpy in a black township,” he says. “I knew Maponya Mall would be completed and a great place for a Wimpy, I geared Jabulani Mall so that a year later I could afford to open in Maponya Mall.”
Come 2010, Ngobeni visited a Wimpy at Makhado Crossing in Limpopo, liked what he saw and made an offer to purchase which was accepted. Ngobeni knew there was room for another Wimpy in Maponya, so in 2011, leveraging his other branches, he built one in Songozwi Street. He’s since opened two more Wimpy stores in Pietersburg.
“I’ve found that it’s cheaper to build a new unit than to buy an existing one because there’s no good-will. It does come with its risks though because there’s no track record. But if you pick the right location and have a good performing store, you can sell it for double your purchase cost in a very short time. When building, you can often claim your VAT back which can be used for working capital.”
Advice to aspiring franchisees
“Save as much money as you can before buying a franchise and be prepared to work very hard, long hours and weekends. Don’t think that because it’s a franchise it will run itself. You must be hands on. You must also work hand-in-hand with your franchisor, listening to their recommendations and reports, and be open with your needs and suggestions.”