Beverly Gumbi is the 2018 winner of the Judges' Prize in the Entrepreneur of the Year competition, sponsored by Sanlam and Business Partners, but it took a fair amount of guts to get there...
In 2005 Beverly abandoned a 'comfortable' job and took a major leap of faith. "I was working for a telecommunications company at the time and one of my administrative tasks was to order shipping containers. I became aware that there was a waiting list for containers as long as 500 units at certain suppliers. It was clear that there was a major gap in the market there," she says.
So, Beverly took the plunge and resigned from her job and left for a trip to China, where she investigated what the Chinese people were doing with shipping containers. She came back full of inspiration and ideas for the new container conversion company she wanted to start. Isivuno Containers was born in the same year. Beverly chose Isivuno (the isiZulu word for 'harvest') as she felt it was a prophetic name, which spoke of the great success that the company would reap in the future. "My mother also loved the name from the very beginning. We were all together for lunch after church one Sunday and I mentioned a few names. My mom was adamant that it had to be Isivuno," she smiles.
Isivuno's first order was for Hlabisa Municipality in northern KwaZulu-Natal. "I applied for a tender to supply units for entrepreneurial development and – to my surprise – I got the tender! It was an order for 15 containers, which were converted into internet cafés, sewing rooms, spaza shops and other entrepreneurial ventures," she says.
Today Isivuno Containers is a well-established company with 30 staff members, and the only container conversion company in South Africa that is owned by an African female. The company supplies customised containers to a wide variety of clients, with conversion options including offices, kitchens, spaza shops, hair salons, ablution facilities, childcare facilities, gym in a box, and more. "What makes Isivuno different is that we deliver a completely finished product. When you move into your container, all the installations have been done. There are shelves, water, electricity – you can literally just move in and start using it," says Beverly.
It is evident that Beverly is a very solution-driven businesswoman. When Isivuno started experiencing delays with the delivery of their containers due to issues with logistics partners, Beverly started her own logistics company, TBN Logistics, in 2013. "We now have our own trucks, so we don't have to rely on others to deliver our containers on time," she says.
Of course, Beverly has learnt many lessons along her business journey. "One thing I had to learn is that time really is money, and time management skills are essential. I used to be a late sleeper in the mornings, but these days I start my day very early, as I have found that people are far more responsive in the mornings. Their minds are fresh, and they're more open to you suggesting new things and marketing your product. Marketing is something that you have to do continuously – you can't just get comfortable and think the business will grow itself. I aim to reach at least five new people every day. That's the only way to remain sustainable as a business," she says.
Beverly is motivated by the huge impact that her products and services can have on communities. "Last year we were awarded a National Lottery project which entailed the establishment of an early childhood development site. We provided container classrooms, kitchens, ablution facilities, offices, installed a JoJo tank, and more. When the project was finished, I was struck by the fact that just a few weeks before it had been a bare piece of land, and when we left it was filled with happy staff members and children – that's an incredibly rewarding feeling," she says.
Her experience of the Entrepreneur of the Year competition, sponsored by Sanlam and Business Partners, was that it was very well organised and very diligently adjudicated. "I actually found parts of the assessment quite daunting, but it turned into a very good opportunity for growth. I was able to identify areas where I could improve my business. I think that's the mark of a mature entrepreneur – when you are able to acknowledge your shortcomings and take action to improve them," she says.
Beverly's proactive attitude evidently impressed the judges, as she was awarded the Judges' Prize in the Entrepreneur of the Year competition. However, this accomplished businesswoman remains remarkably grounded and humble. "My parents instilled important values in me from a young age. I've always known the importance of working hard, being loyal, living with integrity and doing things with absolute dedication," she concludes.