FLOWERY BUSINESS NOT SO ROSY

By Jemima Beukes
February 2012
Women in Business
With her feisty demeanour and go-getter attitude, one soon understands why Gisela Ludwig – Van Zyl has managed to make herself the owner of two thriving flower shops in the heart of Windhoek along with another one in Rehoboth.

Ludwig-Van Zyl, a mother of four, accomplished her tertiary education in South Africa at the Anchor College in Klerksdorp, where she enrolled for a secretarial course.

When she wtihdrew from her course, the college offered students ad hoc courses to kill time and Ludwig-Van Zyl took up a flower decor course which has become her destiny.

“During the apartheid era, only whites got computer jobs, blacks could forget, yet by 1985, most whites could still not manage to use a computer.

“I decided to look for a job at a florist as I knew about flower decorations and I got a job at Windhoek Flora, which I now own,” she says.

Windhoek Flora changed ownership three times during the time Ludwig-Van Zyl worked there.

When she was approached by the third owner, Ms Magnus to buy the place, she was more than willing to do so but had no capital.

“When I asked her where in the world I would get the money to buy the place, she said I could pay it off in installments. So we signed the contracts and I started to work myself over the edge to manage the instalment of N$11 000 for the next 12 months with the last instalment for interest only,” says Van Zyl.

In the meantime, she rented a shop in Rehoboth with just a shelf of seeds and a counter.

“Businesses are not started with money, they are started with one’s own initiative and hands. I had a very big shop with no stock. The business only took shape when people started placing orders,” she notes.

Ludwig-Van Zyl has since managed to build her own shop in Rehoboth, which she runs on a daily basis. She currently has 10 people in all three shops.

Five years ago, the owner of the Elnconi, a flower shop with the popular flower stands in the Gustav Voights Mall, approached Van Zyl to buy the shop.

“I literally worked my hands off. People did not approach me because I had money but because I do a good job . . . I am happy when my clients are happy, especially when the Germans see that I do the job just as good as they do or even better, ” she says.

Van Zyl adds that she does all her flower arrangements with attached emotions; whether it’s for a schoolboy who cannot afford the bouquets, or a son trying to rip his mother’s off.

She wants to preserve the emotions usually associated with receiving flowers.

“Those butterflies you feel in your stomach when you get the flowers is what I want a person to feel - special - even if it is a cleaner; every person is a special client,” says Van Zyl.

However, she expresses grief over lack of suppliers and customs hold-ups at ports of entry, which affect business.

“They hold up stock at the borders and by the time flowers reach us, they are weary and wilted. This costs us a lot of money in losses and it is difficult to get flowers in Windhoek,” she says.

After the glass factory, which was her supplier burned down in South Africa last year, the florist has since been forced to look for a new supplier for her glass vases.

“I must look for a new supplier. I must run around to make the business run smoothly, then you find people who want fat pay cheques but don’t want to work for them,” says Van Zyl. It is a big headache to retain clients, says van Zyl , joking that running a business is a tricky game.

“A client is like a hooker, they go where they are satisfied . . . today we have them, tomorow they are gone. Some want us to work on their prices but they forget that we have employees who must get paid. These people must get bonusess and increments, how can one manage if we have to run our shops to the tune of customers?” she asks.

However, according to her, flowers can be grown in Namibia, saving the country a lot of money.

“Mariental has a lot of water; if the Government can offer us a piece of land, we can grow our own flowers . . . The Government must realise that all our money goes to South Africa and we can really keep our resources here.”

Ludwig-Van Zyl who believes in empowerment invites Namibian women to come to her for lessons on how to use their hands to make a living for themselves.

“Even if they are on the farms, they can still be creative. Everything is there on the ground and can earn them money; the porcupine pens as well as old coffee tins can be decorated as a vases and be sold to the modern women,” she explains.

It is easy, she says, if one has the will power to make a difference in their own life.

Her biggest dream is to own Ramatex Infrastructure, in order to train the youth ‘thrown’ onto the streets.

Ludwig-Van Zyl is currently busy finding a plot or farm where she can start her flower farm to solve the lack of supplier problem in the country. PF