‘You only succeed when others succeed with you’
Sneaker cleaning services can be a lucrative business, and examples of success stories can be seen all over neighbouring South Africa. And a sneaker cleaning business is no longer a venture that is limited to the townships. In recent years there has been an uptick in sneaker cleaning businesses, with entrepreneurs launching businesses in the suburbs and central business districts (CBDs) of cities. Public Eye reporter IRENE SEME (PE) spoke to entrepreneur and small business owner HAPE MAKOETLANE (HM) about this business, his vision about his sneaker-cleaning venture and how it all connects to his personal life.
PE: Briefly tell us about yourself – who are you, where were you born and grew up?
HP: I am Hape Makoetlane, born in Maseru and raised between the boundaries of Lesotho and South Africa, that is, Maseru and Standerton, respectively.
PE: Where did you go to school and how far did you go with your education?
HP: I went to Ulwazi Public Primary School, Leseli Combined School in Standerton and completed my higher education at Gert Sibande College where I obtained a National Certificate Vocational in Marketing Management level 4.
PE: What was your dream job growing up, and what profession did your folks direct you towards?
HP: Growing up I wanted to be an astronaut. I was very passionate about it from primary school and I would win Astronomy quiz competitions. I was also a poet that turned to a rapper at that time. As for my parents they just believed that their son would appear on television one day so they just wanted to me to do whatever I love.
They were both big fans of my early childhood music career but on the contrary I have always been a salesman because in every stage of my life I have been selling something for profit over time so I believe despite everything that I have wanted to be, the salesman in me remains.
PE: Did you ever imagine yourself as a businessman while growing up? When did the thought cross your mind, and is the business you are in now the one you dreamed of?
HP: I have always seen myself as a versatile person because the scope of my interests has always been broad. I just wanted to see myself successful so it comes with everything that I am – a writer, an artist, content creator/director. In my teens I wrote a book that I still feel the need to publish. I have always wanted to be so many things and, as I grew up, I realised that I could potentially be anything I want to as long as I put my focus on it.
PE: The rate of unemployment in Lesotho is high and recently even the youth are showing concern over this, and to see a young person like yourself creating their own business and employment for others is uplifting. Tell us… how has it been for you to start and sustain your own business?
HP: It has not been easy at all. At the start many people won’t believe your dream because it’s not that clear to see light in someone else’s dream until you make it happen. Starting with the simplest and seemingly small things like cleaning shoes then growing to be the sustainable start-up service needs patience.
The frustration of unemployment and ignorance and lack of government support to graduates comes with a lot of pressure to a young start-up owner like me but eventually it’s all on how we use that pressure to make it to the next day, next week, and next month until its forever in business. That is the concept I sustain my business with.
PE: Briefly explain your business to us?
HP: My business is called Musef Sneakers Cleaning Clinic, we specialise in footwear cleaning, care and maintenance. We clean dirty shoes and make them look new. We have recently added footwear insurance, meaning we care for your shoes until they are worn-out and irreparable.
We offer a wide range of services and products for an essential cover of footwear cleaning and care needs. With the assistance of my late brother, I have also invented my own footwear cleaning spray after I realised that the shoes do not get as clean as I want them to be. It was a trial, it worked and now I manufacture more, brand and supply.
I work with three people – one is in foot wear cleaning whom I have hired, and the other two that I have partnered with – one is in custom shoe design to renew shoes and the other one is in repairs.
PE: What time do you start your day and how does your working day look like?
HP: Honestly, I do not have any specific time that I start my day; sometimes I sleep around 3am and wake up at 6am fresh like I rested all night! Almost all my days it is always a new discovery of solutions to cover all needs.
PE: Your business is very unique, what triggered this thought?
HP: It came natural. I loved cleaning my sneakers during the weekend as I would always walk to the campus. I needed to remain fresh, so this other time my neighbour asked me to clean his shoes for money and I did. His friend also came asking for the same service, I also delivered and he paid me.
Its then that I realised this could earn me extra income. I saved up and bought a few cleaning essentials like brushes and started selling the idea around the campus that I clean shoes. Word spread and suddenly students, my lecturers and other college staff members started bringing shoes for cleaning service. There is a God favoured pattern of growth on how I started and it surprises me daily. I am grateful.
PE: The majority of young people at your age want to be employed, what is it that you realised and made you think that you want to start your own business?
HP: I had no choice but to reach my fullest potential in life realizing that the unemployment rate is high and I thought I might as well continue with the sneakers cleaning and expand it to be able to make a living out of it.
Also, I started my own business to give myself a challenge to reach my fullest potential; to be my own leader and manager and to become the world’s great version of who I want to become. I am just following on a route that God made and well set out for my destiny.
PE: When did you start your business?
HP: My idea of business was brought to practice from my mid college days in 2017 then after I graduated late 2019, I came back to Lesotho to establish it as a start-up and that is when I can confidently say I started.
PE: At what level is your business at now?
HP: In business there’s a life cycle; we are still at a stage of developing to be the brand that inherently covers people’s needs. There is still a long way to go so now we are at a point where we are fueling up for the long road ahead and beyond.
PE: What keeps you going each day?
HP: I believe my relationship with God keeps me going every day.
PE: You seem to be having quite a busy schedule, do you ever make time for family and friends?
HP: I talk to my mother on the phone every day. Social media also makes it easy to keep in touch with my siblings and family in South Africa. My late father once told me that it’s wise to let them see me build from a distance.
PE: As the political campaigns heighten in the country heading towards elections we see street vendors and small business players accepting gifts from politicians, some even saying they do not want to be loaned money to support or develop their business but seeking outright donations to buy more stock to sell. From a business point of view, how dangerous is it to accept handouts and not seem interested to expand their own business?
HP: It depends on the nature of a business; whether one could opt for a handout or not but from where we are it is so easy for any business to accept any boost to get the results they want. Possibly it’s the same with us as well but as long as it does not affect our core values and what we stand for as a business, there is no harm. So always be careful who you affiliate your business with.
PE: What are the challenges you come across in your business, and how are you able to overcome these challenges?
HP: We do not have our own in-house delivery cars yet so it often gets difficult to cater for all prospective customers in need of our services out of town and in other districts. So the use of hired transport for pick up and drop offs costs us a lot but with time that will definitely not be a problem anymore. This builds up to a complete luxury service over time, a need for us to expand.
PE: To come to a point where you can as a young businessman ‘I am successful’, what would you like to have achieved?
HP: Being at the point where as a nation we will be free of the poverty setting in such a resourceful country like Lesotho; where my business would have created thousands of jobs throughout the country and when the solutions we offer would have changed the economy style and created new functions of the economy for betterment of all of us because success is not success without others being successful from it.
PE: Would you encourage other young people to start their own businesses and why?
HP: The start of business is mostly on what you love and are passionate about and you can offer that to people’s needs. I think it would be unfair for me to say I advise other young people to start businesses, it’s not an easy task to identify what people need, it can be an exhausting process that needs consistency and resilience.
So youth should just go for what they believe would work for them. There is always a way out of the struggle within our capabilities.
PE: What is your advice to small and start-up business owners?
HP: Keep moving, the world is yours for the taking.