Winning Women – Nonhlanhla Nxumalo: Coming up roses

Gutsy woman from Soweto today owns a decor event company and is the major shareholder in two flower shops at Joburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, writes Sue Grant-Marshall

The eyes of many an excited, or anxious, passenger touching down at Joburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, sparkle when they see flower shops in the arrival halls.

Friends, family members or visitors who want to pitch up at their destination bearing gifts stop off at Nonhlanhla Nxumalo’s Flower Centre.

She has a shop in the international arrivals hall and a big kiosk at the domestic arrivals terminal. It’s highly likely that many a relationship and friendship has bloomed as a result of her floral arrangements.

Gifts include greeting cards, helium balloons with messages on them, pot plants, fruit and flower hampers, some inspirational books, pretty glass jars and vases.

Nxumalo has the unusual knack of being able to source just the sort of thing we all want to buy. Her friends call her lucky, “but it’s nothing of the sort”, she says firmly as we walk through her pretty shop at international arrivals and then stride over to the domestic side of the airport.

She was a 24-year-old single mother, still living at home in Orlando East, Soweto, when she realised she’d better capitalise on the business management, sales and marketing courses she’d done at Damelin College.

The aunt who had helped her father raise her (her mother died when she was 10 years old) introduced her to a businessman importing clothes from the
Far East.

“He worked from home and his staff tried to bar my entry but I just pushed my way in,” she says forthrightly. He sensed her potential and hired her on the spot to sell his clothes.

“I suggested he could make more money if he sold direct to the public,” she says. They opened their first shop on Joburg’s President Street, “and business boomed from day one”.

Three years later, in 1997, Bangkok Fashions had seven outlets, including one in Durban, and Nxumalo was flying to the Far East with the businessman to source clothing.

“I have a flair for things that sell. I usually don’t make mistakes when I’m buying and I don’t keep dead stock,” she says.

But the relationship crashed due to a lack of trust. “I am an open book and I like others to be straightforward too,” she says.

When Nxumalo’s aunt opened a flower shop at a Pick n Pay in Ormonde, the young woman stood surety for it and ended up “being stuck with it”.

She was servicing the three-year lease when she met brothers Krisen and Nathan Govinda, who have a large flower outlet in City Deep.

They owned the two flower shops at OR Tambo International Airport and asked Nxumalo to run them.

Nxumalo insisted on owning shares in the business and by 2008, she owned 60% of Flower Centre.

“I’m happy with that because airport rents are extremely high and I would not cope without the support of the Govinda brothers,” she says.

Her two airport outlets, with a staff complement of 11, differ widely. She opens for business at 6am at international arrivals when the morning flights flood in, “but by 10am it’s really quiet here”, she says.

The domestic arrivals kiosk is busy all day long. One of the feisty businesswoman’s major challenges lies in trying to get a shop there because at night she has to lock everything away in a storeroom.

Nxumalo has another business – Decor Mechanics. She opened it as the indirect result of the wedding of the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila, in Kinshasa in 2007.

“My business partners had been asked to do all the flowers for (the wedding). When they realised that the person handling the decor was not coping, they offered to help, and when they returned they told me there was a terrific business opportunity for me in decor styling.”

Nxumalo didn’t hesitate and today she is the 100% shareholder of Decor Mechanics, catering for weddings, corporate functions, birthday parties and just about anything else.

She has 13 full-time staffers and hires temporary workers for big events and in the December wedding season. Her right-hand woman, Chantelle de Hahn,
has excellent experience in decor styling.

In the years to come, Nxumalo plans to expand Decor Mechanics into Africa, starting with the SADC region. She also dreams of opening flower shops, or kiosks, in the entrance halls of major corporations, such as banks.

She was instrumental in helping Discovery Health get one going at their head office. That was an “eye opener” for her.

Nxumalo is busy completing the year-long Goldman Sachs-Gibs 10 000 Women Certificate Programme. “I’ve been told that everything I touch turns to gold and until recently I’ve mainly trusted my intuition.

“Now I need to retune my approach to business by concentrating on the academic and theoretical aspects of it,” says this born businesswoman.

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