In 2014, Brian Malatji founded Dinoko Automation Service & Repair with just R200 in his pocket. He turned his R200 into a R2.7 million, award-winning business in less than six years. Today, Brian’s township business is still thriving, having survived the pandemic and all the struggles that came with it.
But how did Brian safeguard his business at a time when many small businesses could not? And how has the pandemic changed how Dinoko Automation operates?
In this article, we reveal Brian’s tricks of the trade.
Dinoko Automation Service & Repair fact file
Business name: Dinoko Automation Service & Repair
Founder: Brian Malatji
How it started: A story of determination and resilience
After quitting his job at a gate and garage automation manufacturing company, Brian took his skills and cashed in his provident fund to start his own township security business. The gap was there, the demand was there, and he had a solid foundation from which to start.
That was until a car accident exhausted his funds and left him with just R200 to his name. Brian was left with no capital, a poor credit record, and two choices: he could either look for another job or use his R200 to pursue his new venture.
After no luck finding another job, Brian was left with plan B.
Using his R200, he bought airtime to call his contacts and ask if they knew anyone in the township who needed gate and garage automation services.
“I set appointments with potential clients and asked for a deposit to purchase material and start with the installation.”
Fast forward to the 2019/20 financial year when Dinoko Automation turned over R2.7 million. Brian took just five years to go from an anxious start-up entrepreneur to owner of a multimillion-rand business.
Numerous awards, humble beginnings, and millions later, Brian is more resilient and motivated than ever before.
But not without facing a new set of challenges.
The good, the bad, and COVID-19
Like many businesses, Dinoko experienced a decrease in demand when lockdown hit. People were forced to stay at home, and many were retrenched and without income.
This meant that Brian had to adapt his services beyond residential and more into the commercial landscape.
“We normally offer our security products, like gate motors, alarms, and cameras, to residents, companies, and schools. We had quite a good turnaround from schools due to fears of vandalism, theft, and the like during times when schools were closed.”
“On the residential side, people were sceptical about spending money – especially in the township areas where so many people faced retrenchment and loss of income,” he adds.
However, Brian also says that the demand for alarms increased as residents spent more time at home and needed to feel safe throughout the day. And because schools were closed, residents didn’t want to leave their children home alone without proper security systems.
Although there was interest from other market segments, Brian was still left with a gap usually filled by his residential clientele.
The recovery: Customer loyalty makes all the difference
As we near what appears to be the beginning of the end of the pandemic, and as residents return to work, their incomes and spending will slowly return to normal as well.
“While my residential business is returning, it’s not quite fireworks yet,” says Brian.
When asked how he plans on reigniting the residential fireworks, Brian says: “We have a database of loyal customers, and I regularly phone clients for two reasons: the first is to find out if their products are still working properly, and the second is to ask for referrals.”
Brian’s client base has revolved chiefly around word-of-mouth and door-to-door marketing, but he has had to find other ways to market his business during uncertain times. He says that social media and his online presence have become increasingly important to raise awareness of his company.
“We’ve started uploading more content onto our website, social media, and TikTok accounts to improve our online presence.”
He adds: “But remember, always keep communicating with your loyal customers, even if it’s just to ask them how they’re doing. This will make them feel that you care while keeping your business top of mind for future projects.”
Be wise and diversify
Although Dinoko Automation’s core business is supplying security services in townships, Brian has had to diversify his products, services, and market segment.
He advises other SMEs to do the same: “In hindsight, if I only relied on residential clients as a base of income pre-lockdown, I wouldn’t have had any clients to fall back on. For example, I visited local businesses, schools, churches, etc.”
COVID-19 has proven that businesses can’t put all their eggs in one basket because there’s always a chance that your primary source of income can decrease or fall away entirely.
Moving to automated accounting
In anticipation of financial year-end and soon launching another branch in Alberton, Brian has decided to automate his accounting and business management processes through Sage to give him more visibility over his operations and accounts.
“Because of financial year-end in February, I want to be able to track all my business dealings, like income and expenses, VAT calculations, and automated transactions. Sage lets me do that effortlessly.”
In our previous interview with Brian, he told us about his plans to create a Technical Training Centre for young and aspiring entrepreneurs. At the time, his goal was to launch the centre by 2025, but he has reached this goal in under a year.
Today, the Dinoko Installation Training Centre is in full swing, empowering potential DIY and full-time installers with the necessary skills to master the art of security installation.
“One of the major reasons why I started this academy is because of the unemployment rate and cases where people were looking for something they can do to survive,” he says. “Once we’ve trained them, they start buying material from us at reasonable prices instead of paying double in town. And by the time we get to 2025, we may have training facilities in all provinces.”
A secure future
Brian also has big plans for Dinoko. He plans to soon open an office and shop in Tembisa, through which installers can receive trade discounts. And he’ll keep expanding and diversifying his services and products to reach more customers and trainees across South Africa.
A serial entrepreneur, Brian is also looking to venture into agriculture and has bought five goats.
Brian’s top tips for aspiring entrepreneurs
Brian doesn’t intend to stop venturing any time soon. He has the following advice for small business owners who want to keep it going through the good and bad times:
- Good customer service, always: “It always boils down to the level of customer service you give to your clients. When times get tough, you can be honest with your loyal customers, and you don’t have to start from scratch when things pick up again.”
- Don’t give up: “Continue putting your business out there by phoning loyal clients to check up on them or by expanding into online marketing.”
- Diversify: “Not only your products and services but also your market segments. You can’t rely on one segment to be your main source of income because when events like COVID-19 happen, you might not have that customer base anymore.”
- Never mix business with friendship: “As much as you love your friends, business is business, and you don’t want to risk not getting paid or losing friendships.”
- Never stop working hard: “Try to read or learn something at least once a day. If you’re more into online content, watch videos or listen to podcasts to stay productive and keep your mind busy.”