To end off our Do What you love. But get paid campaign on a high note, we ran a social media competition asking businesses that use PayFast to receive payments to enter for the chance to win R10,000. All they had to do was tell us about their small business and why they love doing what they do. While there were many inspirational submissions, one that really stood out – and who was ultimately selected as the winner – was madebyartisans – Online Store.
The online store was founded by Celeste le Roux and her partner Mark Knijnenburg in 2020 during the early stages of COVID-19 lockdown. Having worked in the tourism industry, Celeste’s livelihood was at stake, so she wanted to find a solution to secure a source of income while also helping other South Africans who found themselves in the same predicament. Her idea was to start an online store that focused on helping small, home-grown businesses that didn’t necessarily have an online presence.
“In March 2020, on the first Saturday of the first full lockdown, my boyfriend and I were chatting about the impact the pandemic would have on the local producers in our country who were dependent on physical markets to sell their products and make a living. We discussed their options, such as listing their products on existing online marketplaces and that they would need to pay commissions and fees to do so, which wasn’t ideal for them,” said Celeste.
“We were also discussing how my own job would also be affected in the long run since I was in the travel industry and the writing was on the wall due to the pandemic. With my boyfriend’s background in IT and my background in sales, we wondered how we could do something a bit differently to help the local producers and my upcoming predicament at the same time. There was no time to plan, that same Saturday we decided to build and launch an online store using Shopify, focusing specifically on supporting local producers in South Africa – we chose the name and madebyartisans – Online Store was born,” continued Celeste.
Supporting the buy local initiative
The vision behind madebyartisans – Online Store was to create a digital marketplace that supports local artisan producers and traders. Celeste and Mark reached out to suppliers of locally produced products, ranging from food to clothing and everything in between, to buy the goods upfront to sell on their new platform.
“We believed this approach would be better for our suppliers; we would buy what we needed from them up front so they at least had some source of income, and we would resell the items to our customers at a workable margin,” said Celeste.
“We started cold-calling (and cold-emailing) potential suppliers and were overwhelmed by their willingness to work with us. It took us around three weeks of hard work to build our online presence and list a core range of products available for sale. We had no stock yet, and only a little money of our own to work with – now we needed customers,” continued Celeste.
Overcoming lockdown hurdles
When Celeste and Mark came up with their business idea and launched their online store during hard lockdown, they had no idea how tough it would be with the restrictions on movement and restrictions on couriers at the time, as they were only allowed to carry essential goods.
“We also didn’t have access to boxes and packaging materials such as tape during lockdown, as most places were closed. We were forced to scratch around for used boxes and print our logo to stick over other box printing to make things look better. We couldn’t even buy masks at the time while interacting with suppliers and customers and had to get very creative with using socks – interesting times,” continued Celeste.
madebyartisans – Online Store received their first order on 18 April 2020 and it was at this point that Celeste and Mark realised they would need an essential services certificate to collect the stock they needed to fulfil this first order. They quickly registered with the The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) and 20 minutes later had their essential services certificate. “We ventured out that same day to collect the stock we needed and hand delivered our first customer’s order that evening – she was overjoyed, and so were we,” said Celeste.
Growing their online presence
To attract online shoppers to their ecommerce platform, Celeste and Mark focused their efforts on adding products and driving SEO, which resulted in the odd order here and there.
“It was tough juggling our time between our day jobs and growing our new venture since we were doing everything ourselves to keep costs down. Our dining room became our base of operations and crates of stock were stacked all over the place,” said Celeste.
Celeste was retrenched from her day job in August 2020, which allowed her to dedicate all her time to her online store. Fast forward to mid-2021 and they have managed to grow their online business to a point where they receive around 300 orders per month at an average monthly turnover of R400k. To date they have processed more than 3,500 orders and currently support over 95 local suppliers.
“We have been fortunate to have enjoyed great success for such a young business, and we attribute that to our relentless focus on store quality/details, supplier relationships and customer service. We started the store in our dining room with a few Rands of our own to buy our first batch of stock from our two or three suppliers at the time, and in the first financial year managed to grow a turnover of R1.854m and R461k gross profit, with a positive net profit at close,” said Celeste.
“We’ve heard that most businesses only turn a real profit from year two and three, so we are really excited about that and know we have a winning recipe. We’re VAT-compliant and recently received our first set of financial statements, which we are using to finance a business vehicle which we desperately need as we’ve been using our own cars to date,” continued Celeste.
Partnering with PayFast to receive online payments
When Celeste and Mark were setting up their online store they chose to partner with PayFast as their online payment gateway due to how easy it was to sign up online and integrate with their Shopify-hosted online store.
“PayFast was the logical choice at the time, they supported all necessary payment methods, including credit card, Instant EFT and scan to pay solutions like Masterpass and SnapScan, had the brand reputation and because of the pandemic they were offering a sign up special to get 20% off their fees for the first 6 month. Also, since we had built our store on Shopify, the integration was really easy – it was a no-brainer really,” said Celeste.
madebyartisans – Online Store is a success story of how a couple made the most of lockdown by launching a profitable business online. “Our business is debt-free, self-sufficient and has been able to consistently pay me a basic salary since the beginning of 2021. We can only afford to grow organically and are reaching a point where we need to consider commercial space or a warehouse, as we moved the business into our garage at the end of 2020 and are already bursting at the seams. We also need to consider hiring someone to assist with day-to-day operations,” said Celeste.
“We know that advertising is key to our growth as our limited budget on Facebook and Google advertising brings in the majority of our sales. Winning PayFast’s ‘Do what you love’ competition will enable us to increase our advertising spend and focus our profits on taking our business to a new level, while at the same time growing our core value: supporting the local artisanal producers in our country who make fantastic products!” concluded Celeste.
PayFast has helped thousands of merchants like Celeste get their small businesses up and running online. To find out how PayFast can help you get paid online, visit www.payfast.co.za.