My story | Not finding an internship motivated me to start my own waterless carwash

From a young
age, she never imagined working for someone else.
She knew that one day she would have her own business and be her own boss.

After graduating from college, Nqobile Rathebe couldn’t find an internship. She took this as a sign that she needed to do something for herself, instead of waiting and hoping she’d find a job.

Now, Nqobile is
the owner of a waterless carwash called Nqotrends (Pty) – a mobile car wash
that uses chemicals instead of water to wash cars.

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“I studied financial
management at Westcol Technical and Vocational Education and Training College,”
Nqobile tells Drum.

“After I
graduated, I struggled to find an internship. But because I didn’t want to sit around
and do nothing I thought, why not start my own thing while I’m waiting for a
job? And that’s how I started my own business.”

The 23-year-old entrepreneur from Protea Glen in Soweto has always been business-minded – she used to wash rubbish bins for her
neighbours to earn some extra cash as a student.

Starting a business
requires a fresh idea that will make it stand out from the crowd, Nqobile says.

“I wanted
something different and I also wanted to change the whole mindset that cars are
only washed by men.”

Given South
Africa’s water situation, she wanted to make it as ecofriendly as
possible.

“But when we
say waterless, we don’t mean no water at all,” she admits. “We just mean using
as little water as possible.”

Regular
carwash service stations use around 120-150 litres of water for a single wash.
Nqotrends (Pty) uses just one litre – and that is for rinsing their cloths.

“We use
chemicals to wash cars, instead of water.”

Without
revealing the brand of the chemicals she uses, the young business owner says her
products are safe.

“They are
ecofriendly chemicals. Awamoshi lutho (they don’t damage anything). We
have chemicals for the body of the car, one for the tyres and also the widows.”

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Nqobile’s
business was registered in 2018 but she was only able to start operations at beginning
of 2019. 

“When I
started, I didn’t have the equipment to run a waterless carwash and I used buckets
of water.”

After seeing a social
media post on a Durban-based waterless carwash, Nqobile reached out for advice.

“I explained to
him what I had in mind and he then told me more about what kind of chemicals I
could use, where to get them, and how much they cost.”

This advice and
some funding from the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) gave her business
the kickstart it needed to really take off.

Like so many businesses,
the pandemic has taken its toll on Nqotrends (Pty). Nqobile says she’s lost a
few clients thanks to lockdown and sadly had to retrench two people. The
business currently has three employees.

“We would
normally work with companies and schools. So, each day we knew we had clients
that we had to go to. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, I had to come up with
another plan and implement something new. That’s when we started going to
apartment complexes and people’s houses, since a lot of people and some of our
clients were working from home.”

Her fees are reasonable.

“I charge based
on the size and type of a car,” she explains. “We have a normal size, which is
R60, and a SUV, which is R90. Then there are additional costs if you want us to
clean the interior of the car.”

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Nqobile says business
is not for the fainthearted.

“It will be
hard, but you must be persistent.”

Her advice is
to be realistic.

“You have to
start with what you have. I had to buy my first equipment before I got funding
from NYDA. People don’t fund what they can’t see.

“You can’t say,
I want to sell airtime but not initiate anything and just expect someone to
believe in you and fund you. So, start with what you have – even if it small, show
people something.”

Nqobile Rathebe refused to be discouraged by failing to find a job – she started her own business instead.

Nqobile Rathebe refused to be discouraged by failing to find a job – she started her own business instead.
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