Mrs Thabang Molefi is qualified as a traditional medical practitioner and beauty therapist who, with the little savings she had at the time, opened the first health spa in Soweto six years ago. Today she owns The Roots Healthcare Centre, a business with a multi-million rand turnover and branches in three South African provinces and a neighbouring country.
Her pioneering health centres introduced affordable health care to black communities through the use of the different but effective technique of iridology for diagnosis and herbs as prescribed medicine. She also offers a beauty and detoxing service for the first time in these areas and is a member of the Ethno Medical Practitioners Association.
Ms Molefi has since the success of the first centre in Soweto grown her business considerably to establish another seven health care centres in previously disadvantaged areas in Gauteng, Kwazulu-Natal, the Free State and a mobile unit visiting communities in rural and remote areas in the rest of the country.
The Roots Health Care concept was conceived whilst Ms Molefi was training in London to become a beauty therapist and later in managing a Spa on a luxury cruise liner sailing the waters of America. She gained invaluable practical experience in a world more health and environmentally conscious and knew that Africa was calling her.
Ms Molefi returned to her roots with the idea of opening a health centre in Soweto, capitalising on the return to more natural and Ethno ways of living and to bring the professional healing powers of herbs to communities in townships. It was important to her to share her knowledge and experience with her community at home.
Her efforts to get a bank loan to open an up-market Spa in Soweto failed but this was no deterrent. She went ahead and opened on a smaller scale with the little personal funds she had available. It was the highlight in her life but a tough time at first and frustrating trying to sell beauty and health treatments to the Soweto community.
Ms Molefi’s answer to resistance in the market was spreading the word that it is important to serve your own body. Her message was that whilst a car needs a service to run smoothly the human body, because of the stresses and hardship of every day, needed more “servicing”.
In reaching out to Sowetans she also realised that there was a huge need for affordable health care. Western medicine was out of reach to a large section of the black population and previously disadvantaged because of high cost. That is when she qualified herself at the Indigenous Medical Plant Training College and Rituals in Cape Town in Ethno medicine and ailment healing with particular emphasis on herbalism.
The first two years of starting The Roots Health Care centres were difficult. In the first six months after opening her first health clinic Ms Molefi paid staff salaries from her savings. She also spent a lot of time giving free talks at schools and churches in a bid to educate and change the mindsets of people in Soweto about health care.
After six years of trading she has not only grown her business substantially but has exposed her community not only to health diagnosis through iridology but also reflexology, nutrition, herbs and beauty treatments — all contributing to a healthy and a “feel good about yourself”- lifestyle in previously disadvantaged communities.
She has created 41 jobs for women in these communities and developed some to managerial positions to run the health centres. Ms Molefi has also outsourced services such as accounting, laundry and security to local business. It is her intention to branch out into franchising creating more business and job opportunities.
Don’t Give Up on Your Dream – Just Change How You’re Getting There
Thabang Molefi’s introduction to the world of entrepreneurship wasn’t easy. Sinking her R700 000 savings into a business that didn’t make money for two years left her despondent and desperate – but not demotivated.
When Soweto-based Roots Healthcare Centre wasn’t able to attract enough clientele to turn a profit, Molefi started giving away free consultations to Soweto businesswomen in the hope that they would spread the word.
The plan worked when a neighbouring entrepreneur told Lesedi FM’s Chomane Chomane, who invited Molefi on-air for an interview.
“We went from having no clients and no money to having over 30 clients the next day,” says Molefi, an iridologist who studied at the Indigenous Medicinal Plants Training College in Khayelitsha.
Driving word-of-mouth referrals is just one of many strategies she’s come up with over the years to secure Roots’ growth and profitability.
She entered the SAB Kickstart competition in the hope that she’d win enough money to purchase an iridology scanner – and promptly won R40 000 in the regional leg of the competition.
She followed this up by winning the R150 000 first prize in the national competition, allowing her to open a second brand.
But as money started rolling in Molefi made a classic entrepreneurial blunder – opening more branches than she could manage. “I was working full-time in the Soweto centre and didn’t have the capacity to manage the other branches.
“I was working too much in the business instead of on the business.
“I hired an area manager but the business started losing money to stock loss and theft,” she says.
Recognising that the business couldn’t be sustained, she acted fast and scaled back, closing six of the nine branches and focusing on those outlets that were working well.
“I’ve definitely learnt some lessons about managing steady growth,” she says.
Still wanting to grow the business, she hit on the concept of a mobile healthcare service for remote communities.
“This involves visiting small communities in remote areas to deliver the range of services usually offered in one of her branches.
“I came back to South Africa from working cruise ships in the US because I was passionate about giving back to my community and starting a business in Soweto.
“I’m still passionate about delivering affordable wellness services to communities, and the mobile units allow me to do this without having to open and manage branches,” she explains.
The mobile visits also target a captive market and generate crowds of 30 to 40 people at a time. It’s good business.
Molefi recently penned a book about her journey. Dollars to Soweto is as much about giving back to other local entrepreneurs as it is about generating awareness of the business.
“I’ve walked a hard road in business and made many mistakes. I’d love other entrepreneurs to learn from them and I hope reading the book will inspire them to believe, in spite of all the challenges, it can be done,” she says.
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