Nqobile Tshili, columnist
As people building modern houses switched to aluminum rather than steel window frames, Mr Innocent Mlalazi from the Mahatshula suburb of Bulawayo saw this as an entrepreneurial opportunity as the product was imported from South Africa. South and Botswana.
After working in an aluminum window frame factory in South Africa, Mr. Mlalazi made a bold decision in 2014 to return home, bringing with him the skills he had learned in the neighboring country.
He set up a manufacturing workshop in the city of Bulawayo, run by the city council, Factory Shells, located on the industrial site of Kelvin North.
Mr. Mlalazi has tapped into the high demand for aluminum window frames which have become a hit mainly in new suburbs as they beautify homes.
“I learned this trade in South Africa where I went after finishing my ordinary levels.
I then returned to the country in 2014 to start making aluminum window frames which were becoming popular with house builders and they were importing the material from South Africa,” Mr Mlalazi said.
He said he recorded good business because only a few players were able to supply the door frames on demand.
Mr. Mlalazi said he managed to train about six young people who went on to set up their own workshops producing similar products.
“When I started, there were only a few who were able to make these window frames.
I think there were one or two companies that produced them.
So business was good,” Mlalazi said.
He said window frames are not cheap because most of the materials they use are imported.
Mr. Mlalazi said that through the business he was able to earn a living supporting his family.
“At the moment, aluminum and glass are very expensive and most customers have little disposable income, so it’s difficult to make much profit.
But we are able to pay the bills as well as buy groceries.
However, I am happy that the work we produce finds its way into the new homes being built,” Mr Mlalazi said.
Bulawayo Factory Shells is home to carpenters and metalworkers producing household furniture such as beds, cabinets, kitchen units, tables among other products.
Other players operating in Bulawayo Factory Shells are involved in manufacturing sliding gates, window frames, door frames and most of their customers are those who build new houses.
Ideally, Bulawayo Factory Shells should be a small industry incubator for start-ups who receive vocational training and after graduation they should establish their small industries all over the city.
A carpenter operating in the same area, Mr Danisa Nxumalo, said that while business in Bulawayo was no longer lucrative as in the past, their products were heading to mining towns such as Gwanda.
“At the moment we are making arrangements with some traders who allow us to place our products in their stores in town who then sell our products for us.
They also put a markup for the same products.
We also get furniture store businesses in mining towns such as Gwanda and Filabusi who come to buy our products,” Mr. Nxumalo said.
He said one of their challenges is that while the Bulawayo Factory Shells should serve as an incubator for upcoming artisans, some people are renting out board space to others at a profit.
“The challenge is that there are people who have no interest in managing these facilities, but simply apply for municipal leases and once they have them, they rent the spaces.
And sometimes when you’re busy working and you’ve paid your rent, you’ll see city officials come and close shops saying you haven’t paid your bills,” Mr. Nxumalo said.
“Most of the people running these stores are just people who have successfully secured leases, not people interested in running this business.”
Chairman of Bulawayo Factory Shells Phase II, Mr. Benedict Ncube said that through a partnership between the government and the
International Labor Organization (ILO), they have state-of-the-art equipment which they use for their carpentry as well as metalwork and fabrication work.
100 young people were also trained under the ILO partnership and after the incubation period they obtained certificates and were able to start their business.
Mr Ncube said students from vocational institutions such as West Gate Training Center also get internship places at Bulawayo Factory Shells. — @nqotshili