Co-owner of “South Western Dairy”, Niko Mtimkulu, shares candid details about his inspiring journey as a black dairy farmer and milk processor.
By: Gift Musa Mqwashu
Popularly known on social media as “the milkman”, Niko Mtimkulu is passionate about agriculture and enhancing the local economy through creating jobs, alleviating poverty and sustaining food security.
He and his father Stephen Mtimkulu started their 100% black-owned dairy company in 2010 at their family farm in Groot Marico, in North West.
Due to the high demand for their quality farm products, the business expanded its milk operations to secondary milk processing in 2014.
He is currently making waves in the entrepreneurial field with their dairy products like pasteurised fresh milk, Amasi (cultured milk), yoghurt, and dairy blends, which are now available in local supermarkets, like Spar.
Speaking to Blacklight during a ZOOM interview, he says that many challenges hit small growing businesses but that should not stop entrepreneurs from reaching for success.
“Dairy farming is not like many other businesses – every cent counts. You have to be very good with money management,” he shares.
I am constantly checking out the trends and the best ways to maximise our profits and grow the company to the point where we can compete with big companies like ‘Parmalat’ and ‘Clover’.
The entrepreneur says resilience is the key to starting a business. This is one quality he had to learn to become a successful entrepreneur.
“I have learnt that ‘Rome was not t built in a day.’ To succeed, you have to put in the work,” he explains.
“I have now discovered that I am extremely resilient. I am at a point where challenges hit me, but I am not dismayed; I instead I look for solutions and ways in which I can overcome.”
Niko has a strong background in sales and marketing; he says one of the best ways to source new clients is to walk in and introduce yourself in person.
“The best way for me is to have a face-to-face introduction where a person gets to see, feel and hear me.
“No one can have the ability to sell my business the way that I do. It is my passion, and it shows even when I speak about it,” he shares.
The businessman points out that it is vital to keep relationship with clients well maintained.
“This means that we consistently supply our clients on time with proper and quality dairy products, including the packaging.”
He adds that loyalty is also important: “The customer should purchase from me consistently, as it must be a give and take situation.
“We are selling them our products, and them providing us with a platform to grow when they purchase from us regularly, instead of the big companies.”
According to him, local dairy products, like his, stand out because of their full cream and richness and are loved by many coffee shops.
“Our product is authentic, and what makes it even better is that we are a small business whereby a customer can directly deal with the owner.”
He continues: “I see South Western Dairy being one of the top five dairy companies in the country, and I am not just saying, I see that happening.”
The entrepreneur says we need to have more black practitioners in the dairy farming sector.
“We need to get to a point where we buy food that is produced locally.
He urges creators and entrepreneurs with bright ideas to move away from the mentality of relying too much on other people to make their dreams a reality.
“Whatever plan, idea or goal that you have, just start, even if it means starting small – you will get to a point where you will attract people who recognise the work that you are doing.”
Niko shares the best achievement for the company was finally seeing his product in local supermarkets.
“Walking in a big supermarket and seeing your brand next to other big brands; it’s a feeling that is too hard to describe. That is a beautiful achievement,” he shares ecstatically.
“We have not penetrated their entire Gauteng, but the few stores that we are in, I appreciate and I am thankful for that.”
He says that we need to have more black-owned dairy farming companies.
“I have learnt not to be intimidated by giants. When I look at my environment and my surroundings, I see these big companies that have also started small.”
He cites one of the tough times for the business was taking a two-year gap to conceptualise the idea of starting the factory.
“There was a long waiting game, and I felt lost at some point. I just carried on and did what I could,” he shares.
“Before starting the factory, we needed documentation, business plans, and finding funders and suppliers, that was intense.
“There were moments when I wanted to give up, but I would dust myself off and snap out of it because I always knew that I would make it happen.”
He advises an entrepreneur embarking on this journey to adopt a great attitude. “You need to believe in yourself. You cannot leave even the slightest room for doubt.
“You need to have absolute faith that what you are pursuing will be a success.”