TUMISANG NDLOVU: We continue this month’s wedding season-inspired SME feature with wedding planner Tshego Moloabi of Meletlo Celebrations. Tshego, take us though the journey of starting this business.
TSHEGO MOLOABI: I started about six years ago – really as a fun project that I had done for a couple of my friends. Then, when I left my eight-to-five [job] I went into business as there is a big need for people to plan this part of their lives, because we [as women] do plan everything else and we think that we can just wing it when it comes to the most important day. It’s been fun, it’s been a learning curve. You learn with every single wedding. But really I’ve enjoyed it and we’ve taken it from strength to strength.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: What did it take for you to leave formal employment to start up?
TSHEGO MOLOABI: I guess I just felt that I wasn’t learning much any more, and I had sort of reached my limit in corporate and was looking for something to give out of my creative side, to be able to do something more creative. And I went into this. I was in the service industry and I also thought I would enjoy it a lot more bringing it into weddings and into planning events.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Let’s go into detail about how your corporate background helped you start this particular business.
TSHEGO MOLOABI: I was in the service industry, as I said. I was at Standard Bank, at Cell C, and my last employer was OUTsurance. The companies have got a very good entrepreneurial culture, especially at OUTsurance, where we were able to run our business units. I was heading the customer services/client services call centre. You operate that as your own company and you are responsible for targets, you are responsible for capex, manex. And that has really helped me to be a lot more focused on running things efficiently in the business, and to also be able to see where opportunities are and hone in on those because that’s how you can make a differentiating factor for yourself in the industry.
So, having been in the service industry and bringing it into weddings has been something that I find differentiates me from the run of the mill.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Having worked for corporate, the budgets there are huge. Now, how was that transition, coming into a business where the budget is all on you?
TSHEGO MOLOABI: It’s quite a big difference. The budgets aren’t as big, but there is emotion attached to a wedding budget. So in my first meetings I always say to couples please tell me what it is that you would like people to walk away saying about your wedding, because then I know that’s where we should be focusing on to make sure that we’ve offered the right meal to people, the right bar service and the right décor. The budgets aren’t as big, but that goes a long way in being able to manage an element of a wedding that couples seem to see as very important.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Now how important is it then to have a distinctive difference?
TSHEGO MOLOABI: It’s very important, because that’s what people walk away remembering, and word of mouth in this industry is your biggest advertiser. So that’s been very, very important for me to be able to say, because I know the service that I give differentiates me. That’s something, even with people who come on board and assist and work for Meletlo, that’s something that I highlight as the most important factor in how we deal with our brides.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: We’ve touched on budgets, we’ve touched on advertising. When it comes to social media, how has that helped your business?
TSHEGO MOLOABI: Weddings are very visual things and very emotive, as I said earlier. So social media helps in the sense that from when you are starting, let’s say, especially with a marquee wedding. To be able to take pictures and post them on social media immediately from when the marquee is being erected to when the flowers go on, to when the bride walks in and the last bit, which would be the dancing just before the wedding ends, social media really, really helps because then you have a lot of people tagging each other to say: “Oh, look at this.” And that’s how people get to hear about you. It’s not necessarily that you’ve gone out of your way to advertise, but people talk and they just start tagging each other. So it’s been great, great free advertising.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: This line of business is quite competitive. What challenges have you faced in this industry so far?
TSHEGO MOLOABI: From a planning point of view it’s copying each other’s work. I don’t make a big deal about it because I think that it’s different to post pictures on Facebook today and not expect people to say: “Ooh, I like this, I would also like it for my wedding.” Execution goes a very long way. So we can all see – there are a lot of American and European wedding planners that we all look at and we all say okay, this would really, really be lovely. But whether your bride has the budget for you to be able to execute that is something completely different.
So yes, we are competitive, but ultimately the budget will predict what you are able to give as a final product. On Pinterest, for instance, every bride is pinning pictures of this wonderful décor that they would like, with lots of candles, lots of orchids, but the reality of it is that some of them cannot afford it. So where I come in is to say: “Listen, with this budget this is what we can give you. You wedding will still be absolutely beautiful. That’s not necessarily a South African thing that you are looking at, and the vases that are in that picture are not available in South Africa.” So unless we are really bringing in everything that’s not the final product. But the inspiration goes a long way.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Having said that, from the sourcing of material and even to the nitty-gritty of couriering the bride’s dresses – I noticed recently that you couriered someone’s Vera Wang, and I was so excited. I thought, is this really happening? Where are the challenges there?
TSHEGO MOLOABI: Pshew, that was really quite a bad story because the bride was supposed to take an SAA flight. SAA messed up the flight, so the dress had to be couriered. But you have to be so careful with the dress getting lost. You have to use the right companies to make sure that we are able to track at any given time. There are some really, really amazing companies. This particular company gave us information blow by blow – where the dress was from day to day. So we were quite excited about that.
But we do weddings all over South Africa, so you will get people, let’s say in Howick, saying “I’m looking for a really special pair of shoes, Manolo Blahnik’s.” But there is no shop that is going to have those. So then the brides come to Johannesburg, they look for the shoes, they get ordered, and then we courier them wherever. So it’s just making sure that you are using the right companies.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: It’s an amazing service, but you must get tired.
TSHEGO MOLOABI: Of course.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: And how do you wake up in the morning and think I need to go and make my money?
TSHEGO MOLOABI: Because we work with beautiful things and in our industry people are happy. Yes. You get very few brides who are really saying: “Oh, my goodness, can this day just be over.” Very, very few. We say we want to enjoy the journey to the ultimate with you, and that’s what gets us up in the morning.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: What advice would you have for someone who is looking to start their own business – having started from corporate and now six years into the events business?
TSHEGO MOLOABI: Planning. I would say you have to be really, really meticulous in what you are doing. It’s a lot of hard work, it’s a lot of time on your feet. It’s not the heels, meals that you see on TV and you think I would also want to be a wedding planner. There is a lot of hard work. So if you are prepared to put in the hours and you are prepared to be on your feet, then that will take you a long way.
Secondly, because the wedding industry is a lot of small businesses, most of the people are working from home, manage your things properly. Manage your finances properly, manage your books properly and learn the credits and the debits – because that’s where a lot of people also just get lost in the business. A lot of people I know, a lot of the suppliers, got into the business because they enjoyed making stationery, they enjoyed doing flowers, but they never understood that they still have to deal with the accounting side of the business. And also don’t forget that you are not the accountant. Outsource that part, go to the professionals. You are the professional with planning weddings. Get somebody else to do your books for you.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: I’m glad that you raised the finance aspect of the business. What are your views on the current SME space in South Africa when it comes to funding?
TSHEGO MOLOABI: That’s difficult still. It sounds like a cliché because everybody does say this, but the banks aren’t always there for you. Even the other institutions that provide funding are not always there for SMMEs – and especially in this industry, because I think it takes a lot for people to understand how much the wedding industry contributes to the economy. So I think there are a lot of challenges in terms of being able to get capital and being able to buy stock, for instance in a décor business, or being able to have the right machinery for making invitations and the like, or for photographers being able to buy the right sort of equipment so that they are competitive and they can really be the best that they can be.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Lastly, Tshego, where to for Meletlo Celebrations?
TSHEGO MOLOABI: You know, you are only as good as your last wedding, so we’re always trying to go to the next level and give our brides something that’s different. It’s very difficult, very competitive, but we really are always pushing to be able to offer something that’s that much more beautiful because every bride comes to you and says I want it to be the first time it’s ever been done. So being able to do that is something that pushes us and makes us do all the research that we can to be able to do this.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: That’s was wedding planner Tshego Moloabi of Meletlo Celebrations in this week’s SME feature.
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