Meet the boss
Although he had studied hard for a career in Electronics Engineering, in 2013 Nonofo Ditshego spotted a gap in the market that was too tempting to ignore.
Thus, at the age of 31, the Ditshego set-up Tlou Detergents, influenced by the realisation that almost all detergents sold in local shops were imported from South Africa and neighbouring countries.
Based in Ditshego’s home village of Mochudi, Tlou Detergents manufactures hand washing liquid soap in 400ml, 750ml, 1.5l and 5l packages.
Despite a rocky business environment, the company remains resolute and willing to go an extra mile to achieve its mandate.
Kindly introduce yourself?
I am 40 years old, and I am from Mochudi.
I hold a doctorate in Electronics Engineering, a qualification that I obtained from the University of Southampton, United Kingdom.
Take us through your career path before you started this company?
I started Tlou Detergents (Pty) Ltd nine years ago when I was still a student trying to obtain my Philosophy Doctorate.
I run this business part-time because I’m currently employed by Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) as a Senior Lecturer.
How do you juggle between two such demanding roles?
Honestly it is tough! It takes all to create a balance between the two.
It drains the energy but I have employees who are indispensable.
How was Tlou Detergents established?
The company was established because of the great deficit I noticed.
From Botswana’s imports, over 70 percent of all products that we use are from South Africa.
I want to reduce that huge dependence but it’s a mammoth task.
So, I developed the company to compete with big South African detergent brands.
When I first started, there was no Motswana company selling these products at 1.5 litre or below packaging, especially the 750ml bottle.
Things are changing now, more Batswana have started venturing into the business.
So what products do you offer?
The company is offering a variety of products which include dishwashing liquids, sanitizer, hand washing liquid, car shampoo, empty plastic bottles with caps.
These are offered at various sizes starting with 200ml up to 25 litres which we mainly make ourselves.
We manufacture and sell only Botswana Bureau of Standards (BOBS) tested products and our prices are low with excellent quality.
What’s the plant’s daily production capacity?
We measure our processes on a weekly basis because it takes time to complete.
Per week we produce between 1, 500 to 10, 000 units depending on the demand.
This means we can reach 40, 000 units per month.
Such numbers are like of Sunlight and Maq detergents which are imported this side.
Where do you source your raw materials?
Outside the country, in South Africa; and it is expensive, especially when we include transport.
But the prices are still better than the local ones because no local produces the raw materials and locals get the raw materials from the same sources as me therefore they inject markup prices.
So in a nutshell SA is better than locals.
As an electronic engineer by profession, where did you get the skills required to make detergents?
I saw various productions of detergents both local and abroad.
I saw that I have skills to operate and maintain the machinery.
Since I understand the machinery that’s how everything started, for mixing the raw materials it’s quite easy.
I have a lot of support and I also studied chemistry for two years at University of Botswana(UB), so it helped too.
How is the company doing in the market?
We are present in a number of shops which include: Payless, Sefalana Shopper Tlokweng, Saverite Supermarket Tlokweng, Sefalana Jwaneng, Square Mart, Saverite Supermarket Mochudi , Chanda Brothers just to mention a few.
But the reception of the products is still very slow, many of them are still trying it out.
Our greatest presence is within the Kgatleng region.
What challenges are you currently facing?
Marketing is our biggest problem; when you sell detergents in small bottles, the only way to succeed is through mass production.
We are still selling low volumes.
Another one is manufacturing machines and tools keep breaking down and therefore need constant maintenance and vigilance.
There are more challenges, if I mention them all, I will never finish!
Haha, let’s focus on the positives instead then – what remains your major highlight since starting this entity?
We sell quality products at low prices.
For example, we sell our dishwashing liquid at P13 to individuals and P12 to companies.
Compare that with other dishwashing liquids, you can see the difference there.
Where do you want to see Tlou Detergents in the coming years?
We would like to see the company selling at most if not all chain stores.
That’s the Big Dream!
What difference has Tlou Detergents brought in the retail market?
We are slowly bringing locally made detergents that can compete with South African detergents, which will in the long run hopefully remove them from our shelves entirely.
But we are not yet there since most of our retailers are still trying out the products.
Let’s hope they will settle on them because once the chain stores can embrace us then big things will come.
This is a local company producing local products, how is the #Pusha BW campaign working for you?
It is helping.
#Pusha BW campaign has advertised and publicized the company.
We are so grateful for it.
Unfortunately we can’t talk business without mentioning Covid-19 – how has the pandemic affected your eneterprise?
We have been hit hard.
Together with wars that we have no say in; transportation is bad as fuel prices are high, raw materials are expensive.
During the pandemic’s peak, BIUST manufactured sanitizers and soaps, were you at the forefront of that?
Very true that BUIST was engaged in that exercise.
With my experience with detergents they sought me out to help and I did.