Isaac Mbatha’s strong entrepreneurial spirit led him to establish Sky Tents in 2015. His entry into the tent business began with washing and mending tents as well as, on a small scale, acting as a middleman in the tent hire business. The establishment of the tent manufacturing business was in response to the many requests from people who had done business with him.
Sky Tents was the name chosen for his business venture as he said the name would encourage him to push his business’s growth as much as possible. Isaac explained, “There is nothing above the sky – there are no limits on the road to growth and success.”
Isaac faced many challenges in the first year of operation including opposition from his competitors. As his profit margins were slim, each tent he made relied on the 50% deposit paid by the customer in order to purchase material.
He spent much time walking the streets and handing out flyers as well as sticking flyers on taxis windows in order to get his business off the ground.
Isaac hit his biggest challenge in 2015/16, when he felt that everything was going wrong and he had a large amount of debt. At that time Isaac hit rock bottom and he struggled enormously with stress. He said, “I learnt that I had to be brave. There was only one way to get out of the predicament I was in and that was to pick myself up.”
Isaac had always enjoyed listening to Ukhozi FM radio station and he saw a means to both help people to change their lives and to get his name in the tent business known. He approached the head of Ukhozi FM with a plan to be the first radio station to give away businesses to aspiring entrepreneurs, which was accepted by the station with much enthusiasm. During 2017, Sky Tents gave away 100 tents to entrepreneurs to create a business and an opportunity for their own success. Isaac said that helping people to change their lives was a highlight of his career.
The business growth is evident in the Sky Tents’ number of employees. The company started tent manufacturing with only three employees. In 2017 this number grew from six to 13 employees with the company now employing 79 people.
While Sky Tents started with pole tents, the range of products has grown to include stretch tents, frame tents and dome tents amongst other products, for a wide range of applications. In addition, Sky Tents services include the supply of tables and chairs, draping, mobile toilets, and mobile chillers. The company is now venturing into injection moulding.
Sky Tents has branches in nine locations in South Africa and has international clients in Namibia, Botswana, Nigeria, Algeria, Swaziland, Uganda, Lesotho, the Seychelles, Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Isaac says his business philosophy is based on his belief that consistency is key to success. “My head has been down and I have run my own race. Clients are not just about buying your products; they are about your services. As a company, our clients value our service and our opinions so they will even often ask us for business referrals for unrelated products.”
For him one of the highlights of his journey to success has been being recognised by the Forbes Africa 30 Under 30 list in 2019. In 2022, he won the Standard Bank KZN Top Business Entrepreneur award for resilience and in 2023 the Standard Bank Client of the Year award in the SME category.