Being of service: Making your business a vehicle for change – Meet Theo Baloyi

Written by Topco Staff Writer

20/01/2022

By Fiona Wakelin & Koketso Mamabolo

 

Theo Baloyi, founder and CEO of Bathu Shoes, dynamic entrepreneur and philanthropist, won the 2021 Top Empowered Company: Job Creation Award. This accolade was a true reflection of Bathu’s mission – to reignite hope and create sustainable jobs. The company currently employs 300 people and its business model ensures it is robust and scalable, irrespective of what is going on in the global economy.

So, whereabouts did you start, and how did you market the first 100 pairs?

It started among a circle of friends, as a proof of concept, in three townships initially: Alex, Tembisa and Soweto, selling out of the boot of my car. Quite funny, because I think some of the people still owe me the money from that batch!

 It was such a small number that it sort of became limited, so everyone wanted them. Even when I went to my big batch, the 1000 pairs, I knew that I’ve got a demand. And the more people wore the shoes, the more they spoke about the brand, the more they spoke about what it means, and the brand values, the more it grew.

Congratulations on reaching 300 employees. Please tell us about your plans for reigniting hope, creating sustainable jobs, and expansion both locally and internationally.

We are very intentional about how we want to build our back-end, and our strategy around protecting our brand and growing it. One of the things that we did, from day one, the intention was always to own the end-to-end value chain. So we had this big mission: ‘reignite hope and create sustainable jobs’.

 I decided I am going to own the end-to-end value chain: Means of production, supply chain and distribution. Because if I do that I will be able to achieve my mission.

 Bathu has done very well in the SADC region, I must say. I think we’ve cemented our brand; we’ve built our brand equity.

One of the things we really want to do is we want to expand into Africa, predominantly east and west Africa. Just this year alone we were part of the top 100 Most Admired African Brands, a brand survey conducted by Brands Africa. Over 28 countries in Africa, constituting eighty percent of African consumers. And here’s this brand from a room in Alex, sitting at number ten on that list. Alongside Dangote Group, MTN, DSTV. In the top ten there are only four South African brands, including us.

We realised there’s an appetite, and our online data has been telling us about the appetite that is in other parts of Africa. So our strategy is that going into the SADC region, or expanding further into the SADC region, we want to be able to optimise our omnichannel commerce, so that we will be able to service the appetite that is currently there. And going into east and west Africa, we’re going to do the same but we’re probably going to need the relevant stakeholders and partners that are going to help us build that value chain. So we’re planning to expand into Africa for the next five to ten years or so.

What would be some of your most memorable milestones, personal and business?

I’m just grateful for the man I’ve come to be, throughout the journey and the things I’ve generally achieved. And I’m just humbled by the opportunities that I’ve gotten and how I’ve maximised them

I am so humbled by what our business has managed to do over the last couple of years, with the people that we employ, and the impact that I’ve seen in people’s lives. We have people in our business who started off as casuals in our retail stores, now they are regional managers for the retail landscape. We have people who started off as drivers, now they’re part of our e-commerce unit. Most importantly we have people who have gotten their first undergraduate qualification through this business, people who have bought their first cars, some are even on their third cars through this business, some have built homes for their parents. Some have actually bought their first homes. Some have erected tombstones for their loved ones and some are role models in their own right, showing that there are many other fields in society. It’s truly humbling. So, that has to be my highlight.

I just wanted to add that I’m a firm believer that excellence comes through service. Oftentimes we make the mistake of thinking that for you to be excellent, to be great, you need to be a genius, but oftentimes it comes from service and how you are of service to the next person, or to your community.

And I believe that’s where excellence comes from, when you’re of service, and that’s what this business is about: to reignite hope and create sustainable jobs.

What are your thoughts on the journey to transformation in South Africa and what can we do to increase the pace

We need to be ‘woke’ to where the world is going. And most importantly we need to be ‘woke’ to our own capabilities.

It does not matter what we are trying to introduce, if people are not understanding their capabilities, or we’re not understanding our capabilities, as a continent, as a people, it’s going to be really hard for us to transform. It starts with us as individuals, or citizens, as corporations, and as the corporate sector collaborating with the state.

Gone are the days when we should be at the receiving end. The receiving end of the latest technology, of the latest app, the latest trends. We need to own our own resources and start transforming it so the rest of the world can receive whatever end-product we develop. Strengthening the voice from the South.

How did Covid affect your business model?

We were very fortunate to have survived the big negative impacts. Mainly because of the way we started our business. When we started the business we reinvested our proceeds into the right avenues. It’s almost like we knew Covid was coming. The first few years we were just an online business; selling from the boot of my car, even though big retailers approached us and we said ‘no’.

We did not fire anyone in our business. We still paid all the salaries even when people were at home, mainly because we reinvested in working capital.

We’re selling to people who really don’t need shoes.

Our revenue went down a bit but we managed to still sustain the business.

How do you relax? How do you cope with stress?

I read a lot and enjoy non-fiction books, autobiographies about entrepreneurs, great, successful people, and self-development. I am a car fanatic and spend time at the race track in Centurion doing advanced driving courses with friends.

Who are your favourite authors? 

Judy Collins and Robin Sharma

If you could have five people over for dinner, past or present, who would they be and what would you have for dessert?

  1. My late father
  2. Richard Maponya
  3. Elon Musk
  4. Vusi Thembekwayo
  5. My best friend, Andrew

 Baked cheesecake for dessert.

What are you looking forward to most in the coming year?

Excited to grow!

What tips/advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs

  1. Be authentic to your call.
  2. Be of service in whatever you do.
  3. Enjoy as much as you can!

Do you have a message for our readers?

Let’s try to leverage what Topco has done for us as a country, and as a continent.

 

 

 

*Check out the latest edition of the Top Performing Companies publication here:

Regarding being profiled or showcased in the next edition of the Top Performing Companies publication, please contact National Project Manager, Twaambo Chileshe: 

Telephone: 086 000 9590 |  Mobile: 072 126 3962 |  e-Mail: twaambo.chileshe@topco.co.za

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