Written by Kate Shuttleworth   
Monday, 05 July 2010 10:25

When I won Top Women in Business and Government Entrepreneur of the Year in 2008 I said I thought they had the wrong Shuttleworth.

Marvellous Maids was started over 13 years ago from absolutely no money. Not R1000, not R100, we did not have a cent and never mind a business plan, we did not have a clue.

Started as Guest House Temps, it quickly became Marvellous Maids, with Wonderful Workers briefly tacked on in an attempt at political correctness.

Despite the lack of conventional business applications, it grew, inexplicably as we taught ourselves the business, through trial and error, we reacted to market demand, trimmed, shaped and added until Marvellous Maids resembled its current form.

As we taught ourselves, so did the dynamics of the domestic workers market. In 1998 the law was amended to include domestic workers the protection afforded by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. Clients ran scared of the CCMA and turned to Marvellous Maids.

The terminology changed too. Nowadays we hardly hear of a Cook General and the first time I was asked if we had up country girls, I said no, only up market. Garden boy and house boy still slip through today, but then nobody said gardener or houseman and people did not hesitate to specify.

Client: Do you have any coloureds?

Kate: What colour would you like, sir?

He never became a Marvellous Maids client.

Then there was dear Mrs A, an apple cheeked, white haired nonagenarian from Constantia who asked: The last one you sent me was very dark. Do you think I could have a lighter on next time? This was only 12 years ago.

For the first year or two you could have had the business for the change in your back pocket and in year three and four you could have had it for the small amount in mine. We stuck it out because there were leases in place and obligations to staff and, frankly because there was no alternative.

But slowly, as I became good at what I did, I was astounded at the appreciation from employers and employees and the dream to grow Marvellous Maids to a nationally known brand with a Marvellous Maids office in every town took hold.