To some, shining shoes doesn’t sound like an appealing or even lucrative career. But in South Africa, one entrepreneur has become a millionaire by keeping shoes glistening.
Lere Mgayiya, founder and owner of Lere’s Shoe Shine, has 45 employees across three major South African airports.
“We’re the biggest shoe-shine company in Africa,” he told African Globe. “In Johannesburg we shine about 350 pairs of shoes a day, and about 120 pairs in Cape Town and another 120 in Durban.”
Before succeeding in the shoe shining business, the motivated entrepreneur lost his footing several times. Mgayiya once worked for South African Airways, distributing boarding cards for five years, before being laid off. Afterwards, he began working with his family’s livestock business, but was asked to leave by his uncle since he felt that Mgayiya was being too ambitious.
The resilient South African tried his hand at a new project— selling farmers’ eggs to the kitchen of the South African parliament. This project was not a profitable one since Mgayiya only made six dollars a box.
“I fell behind with payments to farmers,” he tells African Globe. “I didn’t have money to start my car. You need big pockets to run a supply business.”
According to Entrepreneur Magazine, Mgayiya decided to enter the Sandlam Money Game — a TV competition for entrepreneurs. He won the game and was awarded $3,100 in two days. Feeling lucky, Mgayiya took his winnings and invested the money into a tree-planting company. After six months, he lost all of his money.
“I needed a steady income, so I decided on a shoe-shining business at Cape Town airport. A hungry man can’t think, and I was starving,” he told African Globe.
Before he and his employee could begin working, Mgayiya pawned his refrigerator to purchase business equipment. On their first day, his sacrifice was met with utter disappointment as his supplier failed to deliver pedestals. Like any determined business owner, he worked it out by shining shoes on his lap. In addition to working 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week, Mgayiya vigorously read business and finance books.
“I taught myself about the Repo rate, financial markets, inflation, CPIX and followed the exchange rates,” he told Entrepreneur Magazine. “It meant I was able to interact with my customers, and converse with them about things they were interested in.”
After a year of success in Cape Town, Mgayiya got the opportunity to pitch to the person in charge of all South African airports. African Globe states that the idea was well received and the company grew to 60 employees in five airports. To date, Mgayiya scaled back and is at three major airports—Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.
In addition to maintaining success in major airports, Mgayiya has multiple revenue streams including providing the mobile shoe shine service at events, exhibitions, hotels, conferences and permanent stands at corporate buildings.
“I want to build other businesses that serve communities because I believe that my community, the African community, has so much potential of being a business on their own,” he told SouthAfrica.info. “[We have] to stop depending on other people [and] stop being idle.”