About Bibi Cash and Carry

In a country that is desperately short of successful entrepreneurs, BiBi Cash & Carry Supermarkets offers an inspirational story. It was founded 25 years ago by Tommy Makhatho, who started out as a waiter at the Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg. BiBi Cash & Carry, which is the largest retail operation in South Africa wholly owned by black people, now has four massive outlets in the Free State, the company’s operational heartland.

BiBi’s competitive advantages over the bigger retail chains have been its superior local knowledge, its flexibility as a smaller regional player, and its determination to operate close to the townships and communities where most of its consumers live. The product range is extensive, with many brands bought from smaller local suppliers and so offering better prices. The company is looking to expand beyond the Free State and also to a possible listing on the JSE. There are exciting strategic plans to move into alternative supply-chain methods, such as stokvels (the community buying groups that represent a R6bn national market); funeral and monthly grocery plans; and bulk supply to prisons, hospitals and education institutions.

Tommy is proud and passionate about the business and expects a good few years yet at the helm, but he has also made provision for succession planning and has built up a solid blend of skills on his executive team. “We believe in conducting our business professionally, progressively, honestly and with a commitment to address the expectations of our predominantly black customers”, he says. 




Like many top entrepreneurs, Tommy knows the formula for success and has learnt from his failures. His first enterprise was a travelling hair salon on the East Rand, founded with money he made as a waiter and on the skills he gained from training as a hairdresser, through the good offices of a sympathetic businessman.

With basins, blow-dryers and scissors packed into the back of the mobile ‘salon’, Tommy’s services were much in demand. He then opened a backyard hair-salon in Orlando East in Soweto – but he had misread the market and had to close the business within a couple of months. “I had been over ambitious and greedy and made the mistake of not planning properly,” he says.
By 1982 he was back on the road, distributing hair-care products and a range of bed linen to townships in the Free State, Northern Cape and Lesotho. “I travelled thousands of kilometres every week and the business was doing well. I figured that with the extra money I was earning from the bed linen, I could afford to open up my own hair salon in QwaQwa.”

The MT Black Hair Salon, which still exists, first opened in 1980 and went from strength to strength, and six branches were opened. From an initial amount of R7 000, Tommy accumulated R300 000 in two years. Then he opened the Jabula Cosmetic Centre in QwaQwa in May 1991, and four others followed. With 3000 different stock items in the business, a great deal was learned about storage space, planning, management and control systems.

In 1994 the great political changes in the country saw the demise of the QwaQwa self-governing “homeland.” With the departure of many government officials, unemployment rose. Tommy looked at a market area that was not effectively serving the black community of Phuthaditjhaba. He closed two Jabula stores but tried his hand at general grocery retailing.

In 1998 he opened the first BiBi Cash & Carry Family Supermarket, followed by a second store at the Setsing Shopping Centre and another at the Naledi Mall in June 2004. A food distribution centre opened in the Free State in October 2006 and BiBi Wholesalers QwaQwa in December 2006 as well as BiBi Cash & Carry Bethlehem in April 2007. Today he employs over 500 people and indirectly benefits more than 3000 people.