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Woman entrepreneur powers a male-dominated fuel industry

Woman entrepreneur powers a male-dominated fuel industry

Linda Dlova, owner of a bustling BP fuel station and forecourt in the heart of Kyalami, means business. Formally a PR executive, Linda craved more, so decided to leave that industry and pursue her passion to contribute to the mainstream economy. But the way she did this was decidedly different: Instead of considering something familiar, Linda specifically investigated male-dominated industries (Railways, Telecoms, Aviation, to name but a few), finally settling on the petroleum industry. Says Dlova (unphased by her hefty decision), “It wasn’t about the industry specifics, I was far more interested in identifying industries where we, as women-owned entities were not sufficiently represented. Then I did my homework to link up with individuals and colleagues to create opportunities and make that happen.”

She goes on to explain that breaking into a new industry isn’t as difficult as it seems, saying, “Once you get the technical understanding sorted, it really comes down to character, which is basically a question of whether or not you are the right person for this.” As it turns out, Linda has this ‘character’ in bucket loads… or shall we rather say, in “petrol tanks.” Determined to take on a male-dominated industry Linda was grounded in the understanding that women can add something different. “Not necessarily better,” She clarifies, “but a new point of view that can add immense value”. Linda wanted to be part of that movement.

Linda currently runs her own successful BP forecourt, tackling whatever is thrown at her. While fuel is a necessity for customers, she has found that customers are finding ways to manage the pinch of incremental increases by decreasing the amount of petrol per tank, spending less in the convenience store and opting for ride-shares so they can fill up less often. That said, business is going well for Linda. She understands that while fuel is a grudge purchase for customers, there are other ways to lighten this load: Through convenience, polished service and shrewd marketing. Her strategy is to persuade customers to stop at her service station (instead of her competitors) by providing value-adds. Her commitment to taking pride in everything she does has helped her to attract fuel fleet servicing as well, which is another substantial cash-generator.

When it comes to cash flow, Linda recognizes that cash is king warning that, “lack of access to funding is an obstacle to transformation.” She explains that while fuel is a cash business, the profit is not as high as one might expect. And like so many other South African businesses, she inevitably had to seek out funding for working capital. That’s why she partnered with alternative lenders Merchant Capital to help her balance her inventory pressures and keep up with other related cost requirements. Linda says, “I really value Merchant Capital’s model which is simple, quick and renewable.” Meaning that not only can business owners receive cash in their accounts in less than 48 hours, but the application process is virtually paperless. Plus, once you have paid back 70% of your cash advance, you are eligible to get a re-advance. As a fellow entrepreneur Linda praises how Merchant Capital is filling a crucial funding space that needs to be covered and wonders why more companies aren’t offering this. Her hope for the industry at large is that the different stakeholders will finally engage; suggesting that Government, oil companies and the finance industry should have an important conversation about addressing the funding gaps. Understanding that so many great businesses fail due to lack of access to working capital she believes that institutions have a responsibility to think creatively around funding, transforming the sector, like Merchant Capital are already doing.

Linda’s outlook is positive and infectious, “When the South African economy has hit rock bottom, there is only one way to go and that is up,” she continues, “While the economy is in crisis, there are always opportunities and eventually the effort will pay off.” Linda aspires to eventually have a portfolio of fuel sites and then branch out into the other value chains associated with the fuel industry like logistics, infrastructure and warehousing. From where we stand, Linda’s real ‘petrol’ is her positivity, productivity and outlook…and so we have absolutely no doubt that this powerhouse entrepreneur will get exactly where she needs to go.

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