Interest in starting concrete brick and block making businesses has steadily increased since the start of the pandemic, says Matthews Magwaza, lecturer at Cement & Concrete SA’s School of Concrete Technology which regularly presents half-day training on the subject.
Magwaza says because the training is now presented online, enrolments have been countrywide, even from remote areas such as Mthatha and Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape; Mkhuze, Msinga and Mvoti in KZN; as well as Giyani, Steelpoort, Phalaborwa and the Venda region in Limpopo province. “I am aware of at least three students who have successfully started their own businesses following our tuition,” he states. “It appears that it is easier to find sites for these new businesses in these rural areas.”
Magwaza, who is capable of teaching in five local languages, says the pupils have little difficulty in “attending” the online courses as they invariably have access to smartphones.
John Roxburgh, senior lecturer at the School of Concrete Technology, says in these tough economic times one of the easiest entries into starting a business is to establish a small-scaled backyard block yard.
“If you drive through any of the so-called ‘townships’ in South Africa, you always see building taking place. New perimeter walls, additions to existing structures, stand-alone rental rooms, and spaza shops all need masonry blocks which a trained operator could provide after attending our online tuition.”
However, Roxburgh says before considering producing blocks in a backyard there are some golden rules to follow.
“Firstly, is there a market – will people buy your blocks? There ought to be a market if there is no other block making operation close to you or any large-scale producer servicing the community. With limited funds, it is difficult to create a market for the blocks: the market must be there already.
“For a raw beginner, I would suggest concentrating on making hollow concrete blocks rather than stock bricks. A M140 or M190 hollow block is the masonry unit that yields the most ‘bang for your bucks’ when building. The cheapest masonry wall is a hollow block wall and so, in less affluent communities, this is the most economical unit to buy. The mass of material going into a M190 square meter of wall is almost half of that for one 220mm brick wall. It makes sense to use hollow blocks if money is in short supply.”
Roxburgh says it is also important to concentrate on quality – even if it means increasing unit costs. “A quality block should have enough cement in it, with top quality crusher sand, and be created after the block has been compacted and cured without compromise. Quality blocks sell and produce repeat business but poor quality quickly leads to a bad reputation and the collapse of a business.”
He adds that potential block- or brick producers should be prepared for hard work and dedication. “There is a lovely Chinese saying that says ‘he who plants rice 365 days a year will not go hungry’. A block yard requires the same dedication. When not physically making blocks, the owner should be out and about letting people know about his or her product, visiting places with building activity, and pitch the product wherever possible. Blocks do not sell themselves.”
When it comes to finances, Roxburgh advocates “cash up-front” only. “A block yard business needs cash flow to survive. So, before a buyer even touches one of your blocks, he or she must first produce cash. Also, avoid getting involved in delivering blocks as this can be tricky and expensive. Cash and carry is the best option when starting out.”
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