Erna Pretorius’s parents owned a general dealership in Hennenman in the Free State, so she was exposed to entrepreneurship from an early age. Her father always attributed his business success to her mother. When Erna was in grade 1, she already had to assist to count the coins of the day. Her father taught her the value of money, which came in handy when she was in Hong Kong. Her husband, Stuart, worked in Hong Kong for three years and this was a stepping stone for them to establish a successful import enterprise. Erna explained that, through years of hardship, the Chinese developed a system of basic health care that was based on a mixture of Western entrepreneurship and Chinese wisdom in the field of traditional herbs which has a history of more than 5000 years. Her personal experience and exposure to Hong Kong and China assisted Erna to identify a few popular products that were not available in South Africa. She appointed more than 60 agents to assist her with direct marketing to clients. Back in the day, she imported ±2,3tons of products annually. The lessons she had learned from her parents and the Chinese people taught her the importance of hard work and punctual client service. She offers some sound advice to anyone that wants to embark on an import business:
- Ensure that you have a market for your products.
- Planning your import cycle is important as it is more cost-effective to import twice a year than five times.
- Avoid debt by paying your import fees with sales income.
- Import non-perishable products by shipping as it is cheaper than airfreight.
- Built good relationships with the clearing agent as this person can assist you to trace your orders or to find them if they get lost.
- Negotiate with suppliers on the prices of goods as the exchange rate have an impact on the sale prices.
- It is important to also look for local suppliers for products that can be added to your range and decreases your exposure to imports.
Erna Pretorius became President of the SACBW in 1993 and followed in the footsteps of Kotie Botha. She hosted a phenomenally successful congress in Bloemfontein where Sheila Camerer, Minister of Justice at the time, spoke about “Rights and the role of women as mediators in politics.” When Ms. Camerer arrived at the airport for her flight to Bloemfontein, it was found there was no fuel for the plane. Her team decided to drive down, which meant that she arrived late at the congress. Whilst waiting for the Minister to arrive, Erna and her team announced the winners of the Business of the Year Competition. Minette Smit, from the University of the Free State’s Department of Economics, spoke about the “South African economy and the skills of women” and George Huysamer, President of Ahi, spoke about the role of white people in the economy. Engels von Ludwich, the representative from the AHi in those days, asked Erna what the Council meant to her as a person, and she replied that not all the courses in the world could prepare her as a person like the Council did!