While Government has taken an overdrive to emancipate locals in the business community in a manner that improves their livelihoods and promotes proliferation of the local folk in the economic, business people in the outskirts of the metropolitan cities have somewhat been neglected. Prime Focus Magazine Journalist, Rosalia David, engages the Project Manager of TMI Holdings, Salatiel Kaapangelwa, to zoom into the operations of the company, future aspirations and also challenges facing the construction sector.

Prime Focus: Could you explain what services and products are offered by TMI while also giving us a brief background on how and when the company was started?

Kaapangelwa: TMI stands for Tulimo Mekondjo Investment CC. It also has a division known as TMI Industrial Concrete Works.  TMI industrial concrete works specialises in concrete products and curbstones which are used on road construction.
We also have an electrical department where we manufacture cable markers which are used to mark cable lines amongst that we also manufacture wall capping, pillar capping and capping stones. These products are mostly used on government capital projects such as buildings, and Government contractors approach us to supply them with these materials.

TMI was established in September 2009 and at the time we were only making bricks and blocks until we managed to advance into offering specialized products that are rare to find, especially in the Northern part of Namibia. We also have a division where we install cabs.

The reason for starting the business was because we saw that most contractors in the Northern part of Namibia source products from Windhoek and it is very costly to transport these products to the North.

 The other reason was to create employment and with the mindset of not wanting to work for someone else but rather to make profit.  We decided to venture into manufacturing the products we produce to cater for the high demand in the Northern part of the country.

Prime Focus: What are some of the challenges that you have encountered in your operations and in the construction industry at large since 2009?

Kaapangelwa: One of our major challenges was to acquire land because we did not have a site to operate from and it is still a challenge because the places we are operating from are very small and we need a huge area for our operations.

Another challenge has to do with funds to help us expand our business all over the country. We have also had challenges dealing with competitors who offer the same services as us. Some of the competitors have been in operation for many years and they get public tenders to work on the roads and still to manufacture their own kerbing stones.

We also have a challenge with the employees who we train but decide to move to other jobs and we have to start all over again employing new people.

Other difficulties include like getting customers because some of them are buying from our competitors. It is also difficult to penetrate the market and convince customers to stay loyal to us because of other options that are available.
When we started, we struggled to get big clients like Build It to buy from us but now all that has changed for the better.

Sometimes we produce more than what the market needs and it becomes rather difficult to get customers for the products.

Prime Focus: What skills did you acquire during your stay in Cape Town that gave you the confidence to enter the local market, and how important are these skills to the transformation of your company into an elite supplier of the above mentioned services in the construction industry?

Kaapangelwa: The trip to Cape Town has exposed us to the Manufacturing Business by teaching us how to produce our own products. It gave us the opportunity to see how things are being done elsewhere. After seeing others do what we are doing right now, we felt motivated and inspired to reach for our goals.
It was a great experience to be exposed to the manufacturing industry and we have learned a lot from that.

Prime Focus: Would you say the government is doing enough to support local SMEs such as yourself to flourish in the construction industry? If not, what can be done with regards to giving companies such as TMI the much needed support?

People depend too much on the Government for sustenance of their business and projects. I do not think people should depend too much on the Government but should concentrate more on putting initiatives in place to grow in the industry.  The Government is helping SMEs as they do give loans and opportunities to grow.

Prime Focus: With regard to Training, what measures does TMI take to ensure that its employees are empowered with the appropriate skills?

: We do internal training for our employees.  With help from specialists  in concrete mixing and testing, we teach our people how to mix and design. We are also planning on sending our employees to VTC to learn how to operate the machinery.

VTC will do specific training and empower our employees  by teaching them how to operate and conduct the maintainance of the machinery since it requires being maintained on a regular basis. When a machine breaks down in Ruacana, for instance, we usually have to get someone from Oshakati to travel to Ruacana to fix the machines which is expensive and takes time.

We currently employ 5 people in Ruacana, 15 in Oshakati and another 5 in Tsandi.

Prime Focus: With the recent decision to service land for the construction of 200 000 houses countrywide, what impact will this have on TMI’s business operations and what role does your company play in this process?

: It is very difficult for us to get a direct contract with the Government but if any contractors get the tender, they will need to buy products from us and that is how we would benefit from the company which gets the tender. Civil contractors would buy kerbing stones from us and the electrical contractors would buy cable markers while the water contractors would buy the fire hydrant marker and gravity valve-markers.

We are moving and planning on opening up another section within the concrete department where we manufacture lintels which support the window frames for the houses and other precast walls.

From this, TMI is going to play a big role and we are willing to work together with the contractors to make work easier for them.

If we are given this opportunity, the company is going to grow and we are going to employ more people.

Prime Focus: How would you rate our banks in terms of giving financing to entrepreneurs that want to set up organizations in the local construction industry?

There is support from the banks. The only thing is the banks need to know your bank record. They do support a lot of SMEs around the country.

It is just difficult to get financing from the bank if you are unable to run a business. Sometimes ideas do not turn into reality.  The idea might be good but the question is on whether the person can run the business. They have to make sure if one is able to run and sustain the business for long.

The banks and SMEs should work together and create a relationship. I would advise banks to visit sites where SMEs operate from and really see if the business has potential or not and the SMEs should also bank their money to create an impressive banking record.

Prime Focus: Again with reference to the market, how is the competition in the local construction industry?

We have bigger competitors out there but I look at them as motivators for our company to be like theirs. I look at them as an inspiration to grow the company because there is a reason for them being a big company and I believe it is through hard work and dedication.

Some of the competitors that are getting road tenders however, end up manufacturing the product themselves and it is unfair.  If the Government does not interfere, we will also be forced to go into road construction with our own products although that is not our intention.

We also understand in the past they did not have a supplier for the products which left them with no choice but to produce themselves.
Our competitors will feel our presence particularly when we start tripling our production which is something we have envisage.

Prime Focus: What is your long term goal for TMI? Where do you see yourself and the company in the next five years?

: We would like to have branched out and being the largest concrete manufacturer and employ up to 400 people.

I hope that people will be able to build their own TMI franchises as well as having a branch in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Africa, Botswana as well as Zimbabwe because I believe we can also invest in other countries like they invest in our country.

Prime Focus: With regards Corporate Social Responsibilities, what does TMI do to give back to the communities in which they operate?

We have done a couple of donations including materials to people living with a disability at the Oshakati hospital to make wheel chairs.

There is also a young man who worked for us during the December holiday and we are sending him to school until tertiary level. We have given him a scholarship on the condtion that he comes works for us.  We are also looking at employing a woman to adhere to the concept of gender equality.

I would also want to tell people that if you have an idea, go for it. People always want to start big, making big money. Most big companies we see today did not start off huge.
We are an independent country without war and I believe that there are so many opportunities here.

The Government has stated that there is no protection for products made in Namibia. Local manufactures need that protection from competition to be able to grow with our own time.

I believe we can be given a chance to also export at least three percent until we are capable of supplying huge quantities. Whatever South Africa can do we can also do. We just need to improve on our production.

Prime Focus Magazine: How would you advise someone who aspires to be a business owner one day?

I want to advise the young generation out there who want to venture into the business world to start small. It doesn’t mean if you sell Kapana today that you will be selling Kapana for the rest of your life.