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I had to sell my fridge and TV to start-up – Lere Mgayiya, airport shoe-shine magnate

Article provided by Discovery Business Insurance

If you don’t know Lere Mgayiya, you know his snazzy shoeshine stations at South African airports. The businessman said he had more than a few hurdles before getting his chairs into prime position.

Lere Mgayiya’s wife thought they had been robbed, when he sold the last of their appliances to raise funds for his latest venture.

He started out in business, as a young boy. “I came from a family of entrepreneurs. My grandfather was a school principal but he started driving taxis and developed a taxi business. I spent a lot of time with him, interacting with customers, counting money etc,” he says.

But first, Lere went on to fulfil a dream. “As a child, I also wanted to be a pilot. My parents took me to the airport often, I have lots of pictures at home with the three of us at the airport. When I went to school I did Math, Science and English. I did my matric twice to make sure the marks were right.”

“Then I applied to the SA Air Force and airlines. SAA came in and they were recruiting, but for ground crew. I worked hard, got promoted, and was in middle management before and I actually started flying. It was great,” he says.

Business is in the blood

“But believe it or not, I got bored. Once I experienced what pilots do, it reminded me what my grandfather did, and what my father did. My father drove busses and I thought, I’m doing exactly what they were doing,” says Lere.

He decided to start a business with his uncle, but was fired. “My uncle thought I was taking over and he fired me! I had a house in Cape Town, so I had to sell my car to save my house. This entrepreneur thing was not going so well.”

He tried a few other ventures, including “selling eggs to parliament and to the restaurants around that area in Cape Town”. He won a game show for entrepreneurs, and used the winnings to invest in forestry with a relative.  However, those too, didn’t pan out.

When life gives you lemons…

Lere was sitting in a coffee shop when he saw an article about a shoe shiner who was making several thousand rand a month. He cottoned on to the idea and thought the airports were the perfect venture. He says he had to jump through many hoops before it materialised.

It was then that Mgayiya pawned his fridge to buy the business equipment – but on his first day, he and his only employee had bad news. “The supplier I had paid to provide the pedestals didn’t deliver. I had to shine shoes on my lap!” he says.

In the early days, he worked around the clock. “I left the house before my family woke up, and only got home after my young daughter had gone to sleep,” he says. In a few months, business expanded and he won a tender to move from Cape Town airport to the rest of the country.

The rest is history, he says.  It was tough, but he never lost confidence. “When starting a business in South Africa, you need self-belief. All the conditions will never all be favourable at the same time. If you don’t start, you won’t go anywhere – you have to start.” Even if it means selling your furniture, he laughs.

The 15-episode The Healthy Business Show is brought to you by Discovery Business Insurance. For more insights from this inspiring entrepreneur, listen to the podcast below.

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