Nicoline Kriek won the Existing Business – General category at the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity with her business, The French Parfumerie.
She saw a gap in the fragrance market in 2016 when perfumes were no longer available or affordable for independent pharmacies. The business now manufactures over 250 fragrances, is distributed nationwide, and employs 12 women and 28 sales representatives.
What led you to start The French Parfumerie?
Firstly, I needed to do something to earn an income. Secondly, there was a change in the South African fragrance industry which caused a problem. Fragrances were no longer as easily accessible in independent pharmacies. The few fragrances that were, were unaffordable. Therefore, there was a need for accessible, affordable fragrances in small towns and rural areas.
What makes your business different?
Our team and approach are what set us apart. We manufacture over 250 fragrances, in one of South Africa's only all-female production facilities, and distribute to over 500 stores. We started as nothing more than a side hustle in a time of necessity – and still pride ourselves on being a medium-sized business with a small business, hands-on approach.
What have been some of the highlights and challenges of the business so far?
2019 was a significant year in our growth. Our stockists grew from 150 to over 300, and our turnover doubled. In 2022, we opened our first retail store and head office in Cape Town. We now have two homes – Johannesburg and Cape Town. We plan to improve and grow our online store in 2023.
The biggest obstacle was building the confidence I need to lead my team. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely journey at times. A weakness that transpired from my past was being extremely indecisive. Years ago, severe anxiety kicked in, even when faced with options on a menu in a restaurant. Now, making swift but calculated decisions confidently is one of my traits that I value most. These decisions decide the fate of important parts of the business, and building enough trust in myself to make them confidently has taken time.
How did you juggle studying with your work as an entrepreneur?
Finding the right balance between work, study, and maintaining a social life is a challenge. Before important academic times, such as exam season, I would often block out study- only days and catch up as much as I could without any distractions. Luckily, my best friends are the kind you don't have to see every day to stay close to – they're incredibly supportive. We scheduled 'productive fun', such as going for runs, walks or gym sessions, and then coffee.
Are there any specific perks or challenges that come with being a female entrepreneur?
I have had to develop an extremely tough and no-nonsense part of my personality to succeed as a woman entrepreneur. Our business environments are still largely male- dominated, and women often subconsciously become quieter and more apologetic than their male colleagues. I have had to undo some hardwiring by teaching myself that I am not only an equal, but a strong, capable equal. For that reason, I do not have to be overly polite or overly apologetic, and I have learnt that I should take up all of the space I need to convey a particular idea.
What is next?
As well as planning to launch a number of new product lines this year, The French Parfumerie plans to expand its current network of stockists to include stockists in at least three other African markets, establish a satellite operation in Zimbabwe in 2023, expand our network of independent agents who sell to their local communities, grow our online store by introducing new products and acquire a larger production facility.