Soweto’s “Burger Queen”

Mama G has become Soweto’s “burger queen”. All it took was the right business partners.


Soweto’s “Burger Queen”

Gcina Manyaka is taking Soweto by storm by being the first entrepreneur to bring the world famous McDonald’s fast food chain to the township. She is a living example of how to run a successful fast food franchise business – in a place like Soweto, once shunned by many businesses as a no-go area.

Manyaka is the proud owner of all five of the McDonald’s outlets in Soweto, with two located in Maponya and Jabulani Malls. Another two, which opened in September 2012, are in Protea Mall and the Baragwanath precinct.  In November 2012, Ms Manyaka opened her fifth outlet in Diepkloof Square.

There are only nine McDonald’s restaurants in townships across South Africa, including the five owned by Manyaka. She is also one of only eight black women in the country who own McDonald’s franchises, out of a total of 94 franchisees.

“I’m aiming to have at least eight stores in Soweto before I can sit back,” Manyaka says.

Her success was driven by determination to succeed, and by forming the correct partnerships.

A dream is born

Her dream of being part of the McDonald’s franchise started in 2000 when she was still studying for her MBA in Australia, where she says she fell instantly in love with the brand.

“I was in one of the McDonald’s restaurants in Australia, and as I was buying food I could see that the crew in the kitchen was having lots of fun while doing their jobs. They looked relaxed and seemed to be enjoying what they were doing. I knew there and then that this was the type of business I would like to run one day,” says Manyaka.

On her return to South Africa she worked for various corporates before eventually pursuing her dream. In 2005 she says she decided to “take the bull by the horns” by quitting her job to venture into the franchising business. She approached McDonald’s head office.

Doggedness pays off

“I spoke to the managing director, who told me to go back home and think seriously about what I was planning to do. I came back after a month and he still sent me away and told me to come back again after six months. After almost a year, he eventually relented when he realised that I was very eager and determined to realise my dream,” she says.

“He put me through the brand’s rigorous on-the-job evaluation programme, which essentially was the beginning of my nine-month training. It was very hectic, as it involved cleaning toilets and floors, frying fries and making burgers, and attending to customers. I was so determined to make it that I would do anything.”

This was followed by a leadership and people’s skills test, which she passed with flying colours.

A dream becomes reality

It was in 2006 that she opened her first restaurant at Jabulani Mall, which she says was financed partly with the help of her former husband. Hungry to succeed, she wasn’t just happy with owning one outlet. The lack of finance however would prove to be her biggest stumbling block in her quest.

After opening her first restaurant, she battled to secure finance to expand her business. It was at this point that her relationship with Standard Bank started. Although she had little to underpin her ambitions in the way of tangible assets, Manyaka said that the bank believed in her.

With the help of Standard Bank, she was able to open a second restaurant in Maponya Mall eight months after opening the first outlet, with the latest three coming almost six years later.

She says today each of her restaurants processes around 800 transactions per day on average, and she now employs more than 200 people.

Partners pave the way to success

“I am grateful for the support I have received from McDonald’s management and those that have financed me, especially Standard Bank. What makes me happy is that it has not only changed my life, but those of the hundreds of people I employ and the families they support,” she says.

Although the food retail franchising business is lucrative and has a minimal failure rate, it is a difficult environment for newcomers to break into, says Veronica Impey, Standard Bank specialist for Technology Finance in the franchising team.

“A critical success factor for those who want to crack it in South Africa’s food retail franchising industry is to have huge amounts of business management experience, patience, capital and a willingness to learn. Mama G is a living example of all these things, which is why it has been easy for Standard Bank to partner with her,” she says.

Entering this R100-billion-plus industry is made more difficult by the fact that it is among the most expensive franchise sectors. As a result, franchisors and banks usually insist on newcomers having prior experience, or else expect them to be prepared to go through a very steep learning curve.

Manyaka affirms that this was certainly a business reality and a challenge that she faced in starting her first franchise.

Impey says both franchisors and banks play a big part in ensuring that the failure rate in food retail franchising is very low, by properly screening potential candidates and stepping in quickly with support whenever franchisees experience problems.

She stresses however that those franchisees that have made it in this sector have done so by doing their homework properly, understanding the local environment and having the willingness to learn – all qualities portrayed by Manyaka.

“Besides standing by my side, the franchising finance team at Standard Bank truly understands my business. I know that all I have to do is call and help and advice will be on the way,” concludes Manyaka.

Franchise Zone
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Franchise Zone is published by Entrepreneur Media SA. It offers advice and franchising opportunities in South Africa.

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