Know your product’s potential and go with it, advises award-winning entrepreneur

Cubicle Manufacturing Solutions is a South African company that manufactures moisture resistant toilet and shower cubicles, lockers, benches and urinal divisions. The company was started four years ago by Sue Hadcroft and her husband Alan, who are no strangers to receiving awards. Last year Cubicle Solutions received the Best New Business Award at Africagrowth Institute’s annual Africa SMME awards.

Sue Hadcroft

Sue Hadcroft

In June, Sue scooped the Entrepreneur Award at the Regional Achiever Awards held by the Businesswomen’s Association, and has recently been made a finalist for the 2013 Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year award. How we made it in Africa speaks to her about Cubicle Solution’s expansion plans in Africa, her views on entrepreneurship and what it has been like to go into business with her spouse.

How were you inspired to start Cubicle Solutions?

There was a distinct opportunity within the toilet cubicle industry for a more robust system. My husband carried out the research but had no real experience of running a business, so, together with his technical knowledge and my business acumen, we make a good team.

You have done work in some of South Africa’s neighbouring countries. Have you noticed potential for business in the rest of the continent?

Absolutely. One of our prime strategic goals is to further expand into Africa. We have our products on an online library which is accessed by architects and designers across southern Africa, so this has opened up the gateway to Africa. I have also just attended the G20 African Infrastructure Investment conference in London and have identified opportunities in Nigeria. I think if your product shows potential that it is exportable, you must ensure you exploit those opportunities. That is what being an entrepreneur is about; not limiting yourself to boundaries.

What is your greatest challenge and how do you plan to overcome it?

Cash flow has been a constant challenge and one I do not envisage going away any time soon. From the beginning when you need finance to kick-start, to where we are at present, needing to grow, as the business demands, but with limited finance to do it. I have to micro-manage the cash flow and find that by knowing where we are today, and our forecast for the full financial year, enables me to work within the constraints. So I never actually overcome this challenge, it is what keeps my feet on the ground and in touch with the reality of running a successful, fast growing company.

How would you define an entrepreneur?

An entrepreneur is someone with the ability to take a concept and transform it into an entity with no self doubt and immense confidence. An entrepreneur has passion and motivation to take the business and the team within it to great success. Understand though, that to be an entrepreneur you need to have the humility to recognise your own strengths and major on those, and surround yourself with a strong team who can deliver the balance the business needs.

What was the most exciting moment of your entrepreneurial journey?

Without doubt, it was receiving the first order, which was the toilet cubicles for the Fifa head offices in Sandton (Johannesburg). It was the defining moment and true realisation that we had a winning product.

Tell us about the sacrifices you have had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?

As a family-run business we have definitely felt the strain over the past five years. Working with your husband is not necessarily the recipe for success. However, for us it has really worked. The detriment has been the fact that we are never really away from work – you can’t help but wander into a conversation about a particular project or finance. That has been difficult for our daughter, Olivia, but now we have a resemblance of stability that is more easily managed.

We have also had to set ground rules with regards to our business life and home life. I think for any entrepreneur this is also important. Whether you work with family or not, a new business can take over and you have to be able to have some down time where family and friends play a key role. Getting the balance is vital.

What is the best business advice you have received?

To stay focused – advice I have been given by professionals and my family alike. As I have said, as an entrepreneur you are driven, motivated and passionate and it is vital to keep these traits visible when the going gets tough. You must ensure that those around you stay positive and if their leader is waning, then it will impact the whole business. If you have done your market research, have a strong business plan which is realistic. Keep your eye on the end goal – success.