Book club buddies Vanessa Ridgway and Angela Boulle’s love for local and delectable goodies flourish into a booming business
What’s your favorite part of a road trip? For lots of us – especially those who enjoy a little nibble between pit stops – it’s popping into padstals in places with names we can’t pronounce, browsing the goodies and then selecting a particularly risky-looking chilli or an exotic jam.
When lockdown put paid to padstal visits, let alone road trips, book club friends Vanessa Ridgway and Angela Boulle had an idea. Imagine if you could find all those delectably tempting foods – from spices to relish, baked goods and everything in between in one place?
That’s how LuluLocal was born. Although both Angela and Vanessa had experiences as entrepreneurs and business owners, neither had previously ventured into e-tailing. That’s what turned LuluLocal from a great idea into a life-altering experience that has led both to develop new skills and interests.
The first of those learning curves came when they started selecting the products they wanted to stock in their pantry. “We spent four months finding out what was out there,” Vanessa recalls. “We asked our friends about the products they’d found and enjoyed, we thought of goodies we’d purchased ourselves, and we trawled the internet to see who was selling what. The idea was that we’d create a space where you could get whatever you wanted to create your perfect moment … excellent coffee or an unusual tea, with a homemade rusk to dunk in it and maybe the perfect little biscotti on the side for extra indulgence,” Vanessa says. The pair had two key criteria. Whatever LuluLocal stocked had to be made locally, using artisanal or small batch methods.
Angela recalls this as one of her favorite stages of building the business. “We uncovered some of the most heartwarming stories,” she says. “A lot of these little companies are based in small towns where there isn’t a lot of access to skilled labour, so they’ve trained the local community members and created many job opportunities in the process. Some have even gone on to set up creches and other support structures for their staff.” Angela confesses that hearing these stories brought on a storm of emotions, especially at a time when the sustainability of many small businesses – and the livelihoods of those involved – had been threatened.
The website was finally ready to launch in November 2020, with an impressive inventory. “As an afterthought, we decided to include a small gift box section. We’d thought people would use the site to shop for their own treats, but that it would be good to offer them the opportunity to curate a selection of goodies they could send to friends and family,” Vanesssa says. Even though Christmas was around the corner, they couldn’t have predicted the demand for gifts, which saw them sanitising (given the pandemic conditions), packing, wrapping and writing handwritten letters for all shoppers. “It was mad,” says Angela. “At one point, Vanessa’s husband and daughter got Covid so she couldn’t come into the garage where we were operating, or touch any of the products. She’d stand at the window, adding her two cents where she could.”
Trying though it was, this period helped to seal the pair’s partnership. Today, Angela and Vanessa can communicate without words: “I’ll be on the verge of asking Vanessa to pass me a product when she’ll already have it in her hands,” Angela says.
She adds that the rather unique circumstances of LuluLocal’s birth also helped it flourish. “There was a strong sense that South Africans needed to support each other through a difficult time,” she recalls, “and one of the best ways we could do this was by buying local.” Vanessa agrees. “People also wanted to spoil each other, and since we couldn’t reach out physically, an indulgent gift was one of the best ways to go. Some of the notes we had to write for people who missed each other or, worse still, had lost someone were absolutely heartbreaking.” Then there were the corporates who, no longer able to organise face-to-face conferences, had to find a creative way to jazz up online webinars – and what better way to do this than with a gift box full of local treats.
Covid and its devastations may be over, but LuluLocal’s following continues to grow, driven by a loyal bunch of buyers who love South African brands just as much as they love a little bit of decadence. “I’m very proud to have provided a showcase for the brilliant makers in this country,” Angela comments. “Many of our products are just as luxurious and exciting as anything on offer overseas. South Africans just need to start backing ourselves and to believe we are as good.”
For Vanessa, it’s all about the fact that LuluLocal’s products speak to who we are as a nation: We’re quirky and warm, diverse and yet connected. Maybe above all, we love a kuier – and, of course, we need food for that.
The duo admit that it hasn’t always been easy. On one occasion, Vanessa had to drive from Joburg to Hilton in KwaZulu-Natal and back in one day so that the company could meet an order deadline. But these school fees have been part of the process – and on the flipside, it’s been inspiring to see how suppliers rally to help them fill an order, even when timelines are tight.
Thanks to the amazing growth of both the e-commerce side of their business and the many corporates who are starting to walk the talk of supporting local, LuluLocal is now ready to take its next step into larger premises. The range is also growing, so that the team is geared to meet the needs of corporate gifting clients. Vanessa and Angela are working to target this market, which they believe is a good way to gain a larger audience for South African products. “And that’s important, because when local products have an increased following, local suppliers can grow. That means local communities can grow, and our local products will just keep getting better and better,” Angela concludes.
Angela and Vanessa’s tips for working with a friend
Make sure that your personal values and business aspirations are completely aligned, and that your values translate into every aspect of the business.
Know your partner’s work ethic, and make sure it matches your own. You need to be prepared to put in the same amount of time and energy.
Honesty, respect and integrity are obviously vital, but you also need to be able to be upfront with each other about what you like and don’t like, what you can or can’t do.
Keep your sense of humour! Things don’t always go as planned and you need to be able to see the learnings without blaming or shaming.
Text: Lisa Witepski • Photos: MEGAN BRETT.