Nicolette Coetzee’s brand new business touchit is all about promoting unique South African people, products and places. Her website features different designers, businesses and places on a weekly basis, and also includes an online shop where quality handmade South African pieces are sold.
Nicolette started out in the decorating business in Dublin five years ago, and has always known that what she loves the most in the world of design is sourcing beautiful pieces. “I really get a kick out of seeing people’s faces light up when something I have found touches them. I also think that people these days are more aware of the social and environmental impact of the products they buy. It is not just about the price of something, it’s more about the story behind it,” says Nicolette.
Moving back to South Africa and Thabazimbi, miles away from anywhere, Nicolette wanted to find a way to reach a wider audience. “The most logical step for me was to start up a website and online shop,” she explains. But she didn’t want her business to be just about one person or product. “It’s about trying to make a difference in the lives of as many people as possible, and to make more people appreciate what our country has to offer.”
Because of Nicolette’s remote location it doesn’t make financial sense to keep stock of the pieces offered in touchit’s online shop, which means that everything is made on order. “The only capital layout I had when starting up was for the design and development of the website,” says Nicolette.
The products touchit offers appeal to a wide spectrum of customers, because although they are handmade in South Africa they are not your typical African cliché. “I like to think of the pieces as having local roots, but international appeal. They are all handmade using environmentally friendly materials. A lot of the products also incorporate traditional skills such as crocheting, weaving and knitting, but with a very contemporary edge,” explains Nicolette.
The day-to-day running of a business was a challenge for Nicolette to start off with. “I didn’t have any experience about business when I started out. I had to learn everything myself – from computer skills to accounting.” Another thing Nicolette finds challenging is not having enough time. “Being a mother of two puts extra pressure on my time. And my tendency of getting lost in searching for that special piece that just shouts out at me, does not help at all!” But having all that flexibility and independence, with no one looking over your shoulder, makes it all worth it in the end.
Although touchit is still very new, Nicolette is positive it will be successful – simply because it is based on a principal of caring, sharing and fairness. “It’s about caring for my country and its people, the sharing of knowledge, and fairness to those who make the beautiful objects I talk about and sell in my shop.”
As for going ahead and starting your own business, all Nicolette can say is “Just do it!” She believes you shouldn’t waste money on things like professionally printed business stationary and accountants. “You can do a lot of it yourself, or trade skills with a friend in order to save much needed money,” she explains.
The most important bit, however, is to make sure you have a support network around you. “I would never be able to do this without the support of my husband and family. I have a never-ending supply of babysitters and shoulders to cry on, as well as people celebrating all the good times with me,” says Nicolette.
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