“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration.”: a saying by Thomas Edison that could be applied to Brent Kairuz.
At the age of 19, he stopped being a karate instructor to open his first food outlet, Shawarma King. That was the beginning of a journey that would eventually see the 36-year-old own 28 coffee shops in partnership with South African food giant Famous Brands.
Kairuz arrived 30 minutes early at our office. Before we started, he firmly told me his intentions for agreeing to the interview.
“I’m very honored and grateful for this interview but I just want to be clear on how you want to angle it. If you want to angle it on the fact that there’s entrepreneurship, building a business outfit and how to do it then I’m more than welcome to give you the interview,” says Kairuz.
Growing up in the south of Johannesburg, Kairuz has always had a passion for entrepreneurship, venturing into two businesses while in Glenvista High School. In standard 9 (grade 11), Kairuz coached karate and by the time he turned 18, he had 180 students at four different schools, generating a good income at the time.
“With some of the money I made from being a karate instructor, I bought equipment for my mobile disco company. I was a DJ at weddings, 21sts and different gigs while still being a karate instructor,” he says.
As good as he was in karate, he realized the risks of injury and how it could hamper him as a breadwinner.
So Kairuz went to varsity, after a year he dropped out to open Shawarma King, in the south of Johannesburg.
“I approached one of the student’s fathers who had a successful business for advice on possible ventures I could go into. He ended up giving me a loan of R30,000 ($1,800) and I used it to open up Shawarma King in 1998,” says Kairuz.
With hunger for success, Kairuz grew his Shawarma King business and by the time he was 20, he had five shops.
Three shops were in university canteens at Midrand University, Milpark Business School and Damelin Braamfontein, in Johannesburg.
“I called the shops Shawarma King but I had a fully-fledged menu. I had steak rolls, shawarmas, chips, burgers, you name it. I had a wont to be Steers,” chuckles Kairuz.
The downside of running the shops in varsity was that it wasn’t a year-round business because of holidays and exams and Kairuz wanted more.
A telephone conversation with a man who ran hospital coffee shops would allow him this opportunity. The man told Kairuz that he was getting out of the business because it wasn’t paying and Kairuz said he wanted in.
“I put the phone down, did my research on all the sites that his particular company was in and phoned the relevant hospitals, told them I have a coffee shop business that I’d like to see them about,” says Kairuz.
Kairuz didn’t own a coffee shop. One of the hospitals listened and gave him a chance. By the time he was 22, Kairuz got his first break.
“My first coffee shop looked like a franchise, felt like a franchise, had menus that gave variety and quality products like a franchise but we were not a franchise business,” says Kairuz.
In 2006, Kairuz formed a partnership with Royal Sechaba Holdings to merge all the Royal Sechaba coffee shops into Kairuz Café, under Kairuz Holdings. With this partnership, Kairuz grew from three coffee shops, to owning 49% equity in 10 hospital coffee shops, by 2008.
At this point, Kairuz wanted to franchise off the Kairuz Café but Royal Sechaba Holdings wasn’t keen, so, he bought their 51% equity and franchised out their stores.
“I retained two of the coffee shops and franchised the balance,” he says.
Kairuz was still interested in growing his business and looking for options to do so. He got a call informing him about a brand that was going into liquidation. When he called to inquire, he heard that the brand was going to be auctioned off in a closed auction within the hour.
He got into his car and quickly rushed to the auction venue where he ended up bidding against industry giants Famous Brands.
“After tying twice in the bidding, I said to them, ‘Do we need to carry on driving the price up? Can we not do a joint venture together like you’ve done with other Famous Brands businesses?’ and they declined,” says Kairuz.
In the third bid, Famous Brands ended up beating him by R1,000 (around $60) but they were impressed with how he took initiative to negotiate during the bidding process. This paved way for a new partnership as he got talking with the group CEO, whom he knew prior the bidding, and in May 2011, he formed a partnership with Famous Brands.
Kairuz Holdings and Famous Brands launched Creative Coffees and they set up coffee shops in three different hospital groups. For Life Healthcare they set up House of Coffees, for Mediclinic they set up Coffee Couture and for Netcare they created NetCafé.
“We had 28 coffee shops in various hospitals across South Africa under Creative Coffee all in captive business,” says Kairuz.
In March this year, Kairuz moved on, selling his 39% equity in Creative Coffee to Famous Brands.
When I suggested that he probably made a fortune in the buyout, he was very modest in his reply.
“Everyone always perceives the buyout to be bigger than what it is. It was a fair buyout, but it was good enough for me to reposition myself, start again and move on,” says Kairuz.
At present, Kairuz is weighing out his options for future endeavours and is creating a Juicy Lucy Smoothie from his Juicy Lucy brand.
“I’m currently doing a lot of consulting work for the likes of Famous Brands and looking at other business ventures for the future,” he says.
Kairuz is living proof that dedication and hard work pay off because, at the end of the day, that’s virtually all he had.