#WIB – Q&A With Adri Williams MD Of Khayelitsha Cookies

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1. Can you please tell us more about your business?

Khayelitsha Cookies creates employment by employing previously unemployed ladies mainly from Khayelitsha and surrounding Western Cape poverty-stricken areas. The ladies are trained to hand bake and hand pack our delicious cookies, Brownies, and cheese Straws in our Food Safety accredited factory situated in Beaconvale, Parow.

By doing this we reduce unemployment provide the ladies with a sense of well-deserved dignity and put them in a position to provide for up to 5 dependents with the income they earn. Our cookies are then sold to various sectors such as Hospitality, Schools, Hospitals, Offices, and Retail stores.

2. When, how and why did you start your business?

Our business was started in 2005. It was started by an American MBA student called Alicia Pollock. She was in South Africa and helped the ladies at the Mfuleni Training Centre in Khayelitsha, teaching them how to bake cookies with ingredients that were sponsored by Unilever. The ladies had to walk in town with baskets and actually sell these cookies to afford more money to buy more ingredients. In 2006, her father fell ill and she had to relocate back to America. Our two directors, Tim Lehur and Tom Fehrsen, then bought the business from her and relocated to Ndbani in Maitland. They employed two staff members.

I joined the business in 2007, leaving my corporate company as I felt compelled to get involved in a business that has a strong social impact, doing business whilst doing good. For every thousand cookies we sell in a day, we sustain 1 job that results in 5 to 7 dependents benefiting from the 1 lady employed. For every additional cookie we can sell in a day, we create an additional job that provides meals for 5 to 7 dependents. The biggest impact we make is to put food on tables. We’ve asked the woman on a few occasions, what the biggest difference is from being employed by Khayelitsha Cookies, and the answers are always the same:

  • We have meals now, where previously we did not have a cooked  meal every night
  • We can send our kids to school
  • We can buy our kids’ clothes
  • We can afford a roof over our heads

What takes us 40 days to bake, takes a machine 1 day. If we had to mechanize our factory, we would go down from employing 87 women to only 12. That, in a nutshell, is who we are and what we are about.

3. What is your role in the business?

I am the managing director of the business and I take care of:

  • Sales and marketing
  • Finances
  • New product development
  • General management of the business
4. Where did you study and what did you study?

I matriculated in 1997 and completed my marketing and sales studies part-time, with a diploma. 2 years later I did another part-time course on Warehousing and distribution. In 2008 I did my food safety management course, also part time. In 2010 I completed my internal auditing course. The most valuable training was on-the-job training, and got trained by the school of life to learn from my mistakes. Due to the fact that I couldn’t attend a university because of financial difficulties from my parents.

It is my mission in life to ensure that I give my 2 daughters that privileges in life. The most valuable lesson here for other entrepreneurs is that a degree is not compulsory for you to start your own business and to make a success out of it. You can decide to give up or make it your mission to achieve everything that you put your mind to.

My biggest asset has always been my mentors, with years of business experience, and has always been my go-to in scenarios where I get stuck and need guidance. I refer to them as the “greybeards”, old wise men and women, as their experience in business often exceeds any course or degree that you can obtain. My advice to all entrepreneurs would be to surround themselves with “big brothers” in the industry (Large corporate business) as they have time to allocate to assist SMME’s and they always have experts in every single field. As an SMME owner, these will prove to be your biggest allies in your business.

5. How did you finance your business?

I bought the business in 2013, after working for KCCO for 6 years. I offered them R1 for the business and took over R2.5 Million rand in debt, which I am still busy paying off.

Tim Leher and Tom Fehrsen are 2 amazing individuals who funded Khayelitsa cookies from 2006 to 2013 whilst the company made huge losses. If it wasn’t for their willingness to sell the business to me and allow me to repay them interest-free, my dream of owning Khayelitsha cookies would not have come true. Subsequently, after I bought the business, I had to source funding for the growth of the business through obtaining external funding in the form of QSE money from large corporations.

Again, this is not easy to obtain, as it is only given, once you have built very strong relationships and proven your worth to large corporates. This is where doing business ethically is absolutely critical. For new entrepreneurs, realise that it can take you up to 15 years to get your business to profitable levels. As owner, you often go without, while your staff gets paid. The most critical element here is to do realistic budgets, put in realistic goals that you can achieve, and exceed your own goals year after year. Remember no one wants to invest in a losing horse.

6. Describe your average workday, if such a thing exists.

There is no average work day for an SMME owner. The work day often starts at 6 am in the morning, getting your team set up for the day and production set up. Then you move over to managing all the divisions, and problems solved in between. Rush to pick up kids, do homework with them, do tasks around the house, and as soon as everybody has gone down to sleep, you put your laptop back on and attend to administration or dream up the next new product development and exciting ideas.

Even if you take a few days’ leave during the year, you can never really switch from work, your office just moves to a different location. It is important to balance your business and your personal life by attending your kid’s sports and schooling events. You need to remember that your kids pay the biggest price at the end of having a mom, where work never stops. So make time for them when it matters most.

7. How do you balance your home life and your work life?

Answered in the question above, add this, find a hobby or sport that you love and make time to destress.

8. What drives you and inspires you?

The vision I saw when I went for my interview at Khayelitsha Cookies, I saw an image of 1000 plus women employed. The net effect is over 7000 full tummies and even though this is only a drop in the ocean of the real problem of hunger we face in South Africa, where 14 million people go to bed hungry every night.

Every person we employ, means 5 to 7 fewer people form part of the statistics. Producing at less than 1 % profit margin leaves the business at continual risk of survival. What keeps driving us not to give up, is knowing that every woman represents 5 to 7 individuals, who are counting on us to keep this business going. So even though we only have 87 staff members, there are over 600 people counting on us to make this business work. The other driving force is to prove to people that you can do good while doing business, in the hope that many more businesses like ourselves will start up, with different product offerings.

9. Where and when do you have your best ideas?

Between 11 o’clock at night and 2 o’clock in the morning, I pray for God’s wisdom. And God always provides wisdom. The other place is in nature. Taking a few days off to spend time with the kids and hubby helps me to gain perspective and insight and, normally great ideas as a result, also, just looking at the beauty of God’s creation.

10. Where and how do you market/advertise your business for sales leads?

Social media marketing is done through a consultant who specialises in this field. They deal with our Instagram and Facebook accounts. Our entire management team, including production, will sit weekly and plan on products that we would like to put out for that week. Client relations, that are not social media related, get done by Rene and myself, where we identify key clients that we would like to have on board and we actively pursue them via in-person meetings. It is critical to have a good relationship with all of your clients by frequently visiting them in person and weekly telephone contact via our internal sales hub. Key principals to build your business

  • over-deliver and under-promise
  • consistent quality
  • right price
  • new product development
11. What is next for your business?

Punting our international brand which was newly launched, called You Cookie Company. My vision is that Khayelitsha cookies would be the most loved and most bought cookie in every household around the world.

12. What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs hoping to start their own business?

Surround yourself with like-minded women who will build you up and not break you down. I call my circle of woman friends my “tribe” and I have the best tribe in the world.

Start believing in yourself. A degree does not define your value in life, and for me personally, not having a business degree, always made me feel inadequate and inferior and made me doubt my own abilities/talents.

Don’t try to copy something else in the industry. Create something new/different.

Remember, there is only 1 of you. You are unique, there will never be another you, so be the best you that you can be to this world. My family is very grateful that there is only 1 of me. The world is not big enough to cope with another me!

Short Bio: Khayelitsha Cookies

It’s more than just cookies. It’s Homegrown. If there was ever a tale with goodness baked right in, it’s the story of Khayelitsha Cookies. The result of 4 women who gave up everything to serve the community, Khayelitsha Cookies began with Adri Williams, who came from a corporate background but never felt truly fulfilled. One day, while visiting a hospital as part of her church programme, Adri met Noluthando, a baby who was severely malnourished and critical. As the weeks went by, Noluthando gained more strength, and Adri gained more inspiration for her life’s purpose – Khayelitsha Cookies.

Starting with the mission of empowering unemployed women from Khayelitsha, Adri took a struggling cookie business and transformed it into a thriving success. Today Khayelitsha Cookies employs almost 100 people, hand-baking over 80 000 cookies a day. Using flour from a local mill for the Homegrown range, and sourcing 98% of their ingredients locally, Khayelitsha Cookies is proudly South African, and a testament to what women with vision can achieve.

Contact: Adri Williams

Managing Director

C: +27 82 940 6358 | E: adri@kcco.co.zaW:www.kcco.co.za  | A: 52 Beaconway, Beaconvale, Cape Town,7500