MBOMBELA – Working in hospitality is not easy. You stand in constant 24/7 service of the customer who is always right. Mr Willem Fick loves every minute of it. As the owner and general manager of Hotel Numbi & Garden Suites

he has very seldom had a day when he did not want to go to work or thought that he had made the wrong career choice.

As part of a hospitality empire entering its sixth decade, the third generation of the family has joined in running the hotel, a guesthouse and four additional restaurants. Fick said a family enterprise is as challenging as it is rewarding. He also makes no secret of his humble beginnings. “Use it as a foundation. The most critical thing, even about a lovely house, is how the foundation is cast,” he told Bring Change Lowveld winner Ms Phephsile Maseko recently.

As a mentor in the entrepreneurship programme, he shared with her the challenges he has had to overcome in his career in hospitality. This week Fick shares what he considers to be the 10 ingredients of his recipe for success with Lowvelder readers.

1. Consistency is critical
To be profitable the quality of your services and product must be consistent, according to Fick. “The biggest challenge is being consistent in the product you provide. You must always strive to exceed your customers’ expectations, be on or above par with the best while constantly trying to improve on it. “Additionally, be consistent as a person in your approach to dealing with people. To get the maximum out of employees they need to know that you are always fair and honest. There is nothing as frustrating as not knowing in what mood you might find your manager.”

2. Earn and give respect
“Respect your opposition, competition, customers and employees,” he said. “Respect people with knowledge, respect your elders. You can only maintain or improve a product if you respect your competitors and business partners.” Nowadays, he sees it lacking among young people, and it can close certain doors – unbeknown to the person causing offence. “You first need to earn respect. You gain it through what you deliver in the workplace to gain recognition, you don’t walk in with it due to your qualifications.”

3. Never fool yourself
“To be successful in business, there are three people you can never lie to. First, be honest with yourself. Know your limitations and what is possible. Secondly, be honest with your banker. Never lie to your financier. And thirdly, be honest in your spiritual life. Be honest to God.” Fick further recommended confiding your challenges in your personal or business partner – the support this can get you is valuable, particularly during difficult periods. “You must be very honest with regard to your problems and get the backing of the person close to you.”

4. Remain humble
In Fick’s business, that of hospitality, you serve the public. He added, “Being humble is to realise there are people around the world who have earned more respect in what they are trying to achieve than what you have. “It also teaches one to listen more than one speaks. Humble people tend to be better listeners. Once you listen well you become a doer – as opposed to being a talker.”

5. Share information
By sharing information you don’t give away your competitive edge. “Sharing your knowledge with your peers makes your industry stronger and richer,” Fick argued. He considers being unwilling to share as a sign immaturity and a lack of self-belief in the product. “Sharing helps you pick up trends and enables you to benchmark yourself against what competitors think about your products and services.”

6. Do onto others…
Apply this principle in business: Treat your creditors with respect, pay them in time and then only can you expect that your debtors will follow. Go in with an attitude of just taking your slice of the pie and it will come back to you in how others treat you.

7. You are not an island
An open hand gives, and it can receive. “Participate in the community,” Fick says. “Be a support structure and participate in what is happening. “People often look to successful people for leadership. Should your community fail, ask, ‘What is my part in the collapse of this community?'” Remember that whatever challenge you are facing, others have had the same. All business principals, across sectors, remain the same. “There is nothing new, there have been successful people that came before you. So keep in mind that it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel: Keep what is working and make it work better. Keep the good and build on that.”

8. Know the political climate
You have to understand the political climate in which you do business, especially in terms of repositioning yourself. However, don’t listen only to the negative. “I don’t like to associate with people who bring me down. I like people who lift me up.” Don’t be an ostrich either but also don’t read into things unnecessarily. “Economists are talking about the country’s credit rating possibly being reduced to junk status. You have to ask yourself, ‘Am I going to allow this negative perception to impact on my business and do I really understand what the impact of junk status could have on my business?’ “In the tourism industry, a downgrading to junk status and the economic rating of a country are not critical in the decision-making of a tourist when travelling to a foreign destination – more important is that they look at safety and security, the exchange rate (value for money) and other things when deciding to visit.”

9. Get in, do it
Work has never killed anybody, a fact, Fick says he learned from his father. “People who have stress are more likely people who don’t work.” There is always something to do to work towards your goals, and with the hard work, stress evaporates. “Never wait for someone else to do something. Do it yourself if need be – then you know it is done properly and there are no comebacks.” It is also important to be able to perform in any aspect of your business and better than any employee. “I can’t criticise someone else for doing something incorrectly if I can’t make up a bed myself or make a better sauce than another chef,” Fick explained. It still helps to have good people around you. “I don’t believe in having a high turnover of staff, we rather grow the potential in our staff in the direction best suited to them.” This is one of the reasons the company boasts a staff member tenure of an average of 17 years.

10. Think like an entrepreneur
What is the most important aspect of a restaurant? Is it atmosphere, food, service, location or prices? Sun King Sol Kersner said it is simply, “Is it open?” You may have the greatest product, but what good is it if people don’t know how to get it? Entrepreneurs must have the ability to adjust to survive. Continue to grow and expand. “There is a limit to what the market is willing to pay for what is being offered,” Fick said. “Once you reach the ceiling and can’t put prices up more, others will take steps like repackaging or rebranding their products, and find ways to cut costs.” The true entrepreneur, according to him, continues to expand and grow. “That is the reward we get from being in business and therein lies the success of capitalism. “Broaden your range and diversify, but remain in the line of business you know and understand,” Fick concluded.

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