WINDHOEK – A Walvis Bay native spent two years in the United Kingdom on a working holiday, John Weber started out cleaning construction sites in the UK but always knew he would come back home. On his return, he held several jobs and eventually walked away from his last position to start his own business.
“I was 24 years old and I only had N$6,000 in my pocket,” he said. For a while, Weber would buy fish and sell it in Kuisebmond in his hometown. “I told myself I would look for my own clients and not hustle clients off of my previous employer, but a previous client called me out of the blue and told me that he wasn’t entirely satisfied and wanted me to handle his business from then on,” he said.
This was when West to East Coast Investments was born in 2011.
“For about a year I didn’t have an office, I would arrange to meet clients at shopping centres and I would tell them my offices were being renovated. We now have 11 full-time employees and some of our clients are some of the biggest importers from Zambia and Zimbabwe. We also have our own fleet of trucks and transport mostly steel, salt and paper to South Africa,” said Weber.
The company also does, amongst others, customs clearing and forwarding, transport to any southern African destination, as well as fish distribution to any country bordering Namibia. And that’s how his company’s name came about.
“I looked at the map of Africa. We are on the west coast and we mainly move cargo to the east – it tells our clients exactly what we do. But it’s not all been plain sailing … We have many challenges. I see new agents enter the sector almost every day. There are a lot of fly-by-night operators in this sector and excessive bureaucracy gets in the way. Government’s financial difficulties have definitely affected us. Some businesses, including ours, have not been able to receive VAT refunds from as far back as July 2017. For small businesses cash is king. You need this money to run your business,” said Weber.
However, he says he always looks at the positive side. “I treat this as savings. You know you’ll get it but I feel sorry for some of the smaller operators,” he said.
“Even though there are many new agents and many big companies competing with us, I have no fear. I have managed to build strong relationships. You need to have clients’ trust and must remind them that they are in good hands. I have not lost a big client. I treat every job like it’s the first job, I put pride in it. All clients need attention. Just because they have been with you forever, doesn’t mean they’ll always be with you. The better you know your client the better you can cater to them.”
A longtime Nedbank Namibia client, Weber said he likes the fact that Nedbank services are fast and efficient. “I have a very good banker who always does that little bit extra for us. We are always guided in the right way. As a small business, you need that. And that’s why I have never left. I have never had another account with another bank and I have never taken a loan from another bank,” he said.
Nelson Simasiku, Nedbank Namibia’s head of SME Business advised that a choice of bank plays a key role. “Your bank should not only be seen as an avenue to borrow capital but a valuable partner who will help you plan for the future, assuring your customers of the credibility and stability of the undertaking.”
Simasiku continued that Nedbank understands the importance of digitalisation and embracing it remains imperative for the growth of any business or sector. “We’ve made good progress as we tap into new mobile and other technologies. One such example is our strategic relationship with PayToday – a smart, safe and social Namibian payment app that makes paying a business, or a friend, as easy as sending a mobile text message. It also allows you to buy airtime, pay for fuel, make donation, event tickets and even pay for accommodation as more business, utilities and other services are added regularly.” These partnerships provide SMEs with more access to financial services, he concluded.
Weber said other young people who want to start businesses should open their minds and not get stuck in their ways. “Always put money back in your business. Don’t spend your money on things that do not increase value. And remember, it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can do anything,” said Weber.