By Robert Stitt
Lere Mgayiya needed to find a way to keep food on the table when he lost his job passing out boarding cards for South African Airlines in Johannesburg, South Africa. According to the Atlantic Black Star, Mgayiya went to work for his uncle in the family livestock business, but was fired for “being too ambitious”.
Several careers followed, including selling eggs to the kitchen of the South African parliament and running a tree planting company. He even won a television show for entrepreneurs that gave him a cash prize. Each time, however, his dreams would end after a short run.
He decided to try his hand at shining shoes at the airport. He sold his refrigerator to buy equipment, so he was really all-in on the venture. Even so, due to a delivery delay, he started by shining shoes on his lap since his pedestals did not arrive. Putting in 16-hour days, Mgayiya was determined not to fail this time.
In between customers, Mgayiya read voraciously. He needed to understand business, not only for his own knowledge, but so he could relate to his customers. He devoured business and finance books and could soon talk intelligently to his customers about “the Repo rate, financial markets, inflation, CPIX and the exchange rates.” These were the things his clients were interested in, so he became an expert on those things.
After a year of success, he took a business idea to the head of all of the South African airports and was well-received. He now owns the largest shoe shine business in Africa, Lere’s Shoe Shine, operating in three major airports and employing 45 people.
In an interview with the African Globe, Mgayiya said, “We’re the biggest shoe-shine company in Africa. In Johannesburg, we shine about 350 pairs of shoes a day, and about 120 pairs in Cape Town and another 120 in Durban.” In addition to the airports, he also has mobile shoe shine services for special events, is set up in several hotels, and provides services at corporate buildings.
Shining shoes may not seem like a lot of fun, but it has made Lere Mgayiya a millionaire.
When asked what he wants to do next, Mgayiya said, “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. [We have] to stop depending on other people [and] stop being idle.”