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How Lere Mgayiya Became Africa’s Most Successful Shoe Shiner.

Lere Mgayiya

How Lere Mgayiya went from being an egg seller to the founder of one the biggest shoe shine companies in Africa still remains an enigma to many. But in truth, it needn’t be.

His climb to success has been steady but not without challenges and several grapples which have indeed formed the ranks that have now lifted him to where he is today.

Without a tertiary education, Lere Mgayiya founded Lere’s Shoe Shine Experience in 2003 to provide shoe shine services to passengers and staff at airports around South Africa. Currently, the business has over 45 employees and an annual revenue of about 2.5 million rand ($227,000).

The trying beginnings………

Lere started his career as a boarding cards distributor for South African Airways, and after a few years, he earned an enviable position as a supervisor. At this point, he felt he was fast approaching the peak of his career, but unknown to him, life held a different agenda.

After five years with the airline, Mgayiya was made redundant.  A transition he never envisaged, at least, not yet; but one that would later become the push, he needed.

“I wasn’t ready to leave,” he recalls. “If the truth be told, I was afraid — it gave me a push.”

Lere Mgayiya
Credit: SAB Foundation

Lere knew what option he had and he gladly embraced it. He devoted his time and energy to the family livestock transportation business. “I enjoyed being out and about, I enjoyed setting my own goals and achieving them.” He says, in his interview with CNN Africa Start Up.

Indeed, he fitted well into his new role, but that too wasn’t meant to be for long; his misunderstanding with his uncle few months later ensured he lost his position in the business.

Again, He was jobless.

But his optimism and the few relationships he had built with his farmer clients cheered him, and soon he was off on his next project: he began selling the eggs he got from the farmers to the kitchen of the South African parliament. But that didn’t yield good profit; he could only make $6 profit per egg box. “I fell behind with payments to farmers,” he tells CNN Africa Start up. “I didn’t have money to start my car. You need big pockets to run a supply business.”

Survival….. was all his heart could hum at the time, and each time with an interesting verve. He soon found an opportunity and entered the Sandlam Money Game — a TV competition for upcoming entrepreneurs. Marketing executives at Red Bull liked his advertising idea, and Lere won the game. “I got 35,000 Rand ($3,100) in two days,” he says. “It was great.”

Lere invested the money in a venture he believed would yield great benefits, but it didn’t, in just a few months, he lost his job and it was life back to square one.


This time again, his connections saved the day; he contacted, his friends from his airline days and applied for the business space in November 2002. But it wasn’t until September 2003, that he got the approval he needed. “In that year I sold my car…I worked as a receptionist for three months. I begged and borrowed just to make ends meet.” He recounts.

Well, those were not the only sacrifices he had to make. He also pawned his fridge to be able to buy business equipment. In a few months, Lere started his shoe shining business at Cape Town International Airport – with only two chairs.

But things soon took a drastic turn; he expanded the business into a franchise by training and mentoring inexperienced youngsters from the township to manage and own a business and become income-generating, contributing members of society. In his first year of business he polished more than 13,000 shoes.

Since then, his business has grown to incorporate shoe shine stations at Cape Town International Airport, Durban International Airport, East London Airport, George Airport, Port Elizabeth and four Protea Hotels. “We shine more than 175 000 pairs of shoes each year and employ 45 people full-time,” says the shoe shine boss.

Despite the challenge of overseeing all his existing stations around the country, the devoted entrepreneur is looking to expand into large corporate offices, build other businesses and also train disabled people to become shoe-shiners.

“I want to build other businesses that serve communities because I believe that my community, the African community, has so much potential of being a business on their own to stop depending on other people to make them stop being idle.”

 Lere has found his passion. If you haven’t found yours, don’t stop. keep seeking…….

Lovelyn Okafor
Lovelyn Okafor
Lovelyn Okafor is a Journalist/Writer, Poet, Lawyer and God-Lover. She enjoys a good read and sees everyday as an opportunity to live and enjoy her calling whilst working towards perfecting it. She believes that someday soon, Africa will reach her full potential as the light-bearer of the world. You can find her on Twitter: @lovelyn_o

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