Using his hands to grow his business

By Gabi Khumalo.

His talent was spotted at an early age, when he used to collect tins and carton boxes to make toy cars and build double storey houses with clay in the dusty streets of Blood River in Limpopo.

At the age of 14 years, Mpho Maphoto was already making his own money as he was often called by elders to repair broken things in their houses. It was then that everyone in the neighbourhood knew that one day he would become an entrepreneur, a journey he took nine years ago when he arrived in Pretoria.

Meeting him for the first time, Maphoto doesn’t look anything like an entrepreneur and his shyness makes one doubt him even more. Until he starts talking about his business and how it all started, is when you realise that he is a man of many talents, when it comes to hand work and hard work.

Aged 34, Maphoto runs an aluminium business and the house he shares with his friends in Soshanguve South, extension 12, tells the whole story as one is greeted by various designs of aluminium doors and windows he makes for his clients.

He admits that although he was always good with his hands since the age of five, the thought of running any type of business never crossed his mind.

“I was an A student in Maths and Science and I always knew that one day I would be a qualified  engineer because I wanted to do both mechanical and electrical engineering. That is where my passion was, but little did I know what life had in store for me,” he says.

Mid-year, while in Grade 12, Maphoto’s mother passed away, and he instantly accepted that he would probably no longer be able to become an engineer. As a first born of four children, after completing school, Maphoto was forced to look for a job and support his siblings.

Thanks to his talent, he found a job from a contractor, who was building houses in the area, where he was responsible for roofing.  Barely three months in the job, another construction business owner, who was impressed by his work, offered him a job.

“I didn’t have a formal training in roofing, but whatever I touched with my hands, I did it professionally. My new boss wanted a plumber, and even though I knew nothing about plumbing, he showed me the basics and I was on it.

“While I was working there, I also did a three-month basic electricity training and on completing the course, I did electric wiring in the houses. My employer also organised a group of young people for me to train them,” he says.

However, as time went by, Maphoto realised that working on  housing construction at the time was not sustainable as the work depended on jobs they got, and when the project was completed, he would sometimes spent months without work.

It was time for him to move to Polokwane, where he did piece jobs before heading to Pretoria in search of  greener pastures. It is there that he discovered a glass and aluminium business.

“When I arrived in Pretoria in 2008, I worked in one of the firms doing maintenance. At the floor where we were working, colleagues from Gauteng used to make fun of people from the north, and I ended up being close with one colleague who was also from the north.

“One day he told me about aluminium business and that he could teach me how to make aluminium frames, and in return, I would teach him the skills I have like plumbing and electricity. Within two weeks I was able to make aluminium frames for windows, doors, garages and showers. He also referred some of the clients he got from his friends.”

Maphoto initially used the weekends and holidays to do aluminium jobs. An opportunity to turn it into a formal business came when one of his  colleagues left the company and gave him a steel cutting machine.

“The gift of the machine was a blessing for me because, I didn’t have enough budget to buy the equipment. When I started formally in 2010, I asked my customers to buy the material themselves and I only charged them for labour.’’

But as in any business, there are challenges that Maphoto’s enterprise is facing.

“The main challenge I have is when a customer asks for a specific aluminium frame and design they saw somewhere, without checking the costs, and when you tell them that the kind of frame they want costs more, they will think I’m overcharging them.

“This becomes a problem because sometimes I lose potential customers, and in an attempt to avoid this, I negotiate a lower price and I end up not making profit, which makes it difficult to grow the business.”

Whilst Maphoto’s dream is to expand his business, he also wants to help unemployed youth by sharing his skills with them.

“Most of the youth roam the streets because they are unemployed, and some of them are drug and alcohol abusers. My wish is to open a skills training centre, where I can share the skills I have. This will give them more opportunities to find jobs, even better, they can become job creators.”

With June being Youth Month, Maphoto challenges the youth to use the month to reflect on what they want in life, and what needs to be done in order to achieve their goals.

“Wake up and do things yourselves instead of waiting for handouts. Times are difficult and it’s not easy to come back after messing things up. Discover your talent and passion and use them as a survival tool,” he says. Maphoto can be reached by email on Mphobongo16@gmail.com. – SAnews.gov.za