How I built a personal brand at a PEP store

To some extent, I love the expression, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.

This is because I did exactly that when I got the opportunity to work in a clothing shop called PEP in Johannesburg a few years ago. I landed the job after my attempt to study for a diploma in media and communications failed due to financial constraints. I needed something to do with my time and earn myself money.

One of the things that made me excel in that job was my love for people. Although it could be strenuous a lot of the time, especially on weekends and at the end of the month, I found ways to invigorate myself.

I found happiness there. I found myself. I built a strong personal brand in a job many consider dead end.


I love people. I enjoy finding out what makes them tick and so, in a setting where there were always people doing shopping, I was in heaven. (Okay, I exaggerate.) In my shoes department, I often walked up to customers, introduced myself and sought to help them. With others, I would end up chatting with them about their lives, children, things that made them happy, problems, et cetera.

Building strong and genuine relationships with customers was crucial for me because getting into the retail sector as a shy person, I had to train myself to be good with people. Of course, this skill is one that has put me in good stead even after my retail days.

My genuine love for people and talking allowed me to be valuable in that business for the three years I was there. So much so that there were customers who would not buy shoes (they always went back home) when I was not at work. They often said to my colleagues, “I will come back tomorrow when Themba is here. Thanks.” This is because I never only wanted to sell shoes to them, I wanted the best for them. If a shoe isn’t made of quality material, I would say so. And then recommend the one that’s best. That way, I built deep trust.


I put my heart and soul into my work. I used to say to my friends, “I worked hard in that business like it was my father’s”.

The work was satisfying because it involved connecting and having impact on people. The journey was its own reward, not so much the salary at the end of the month. The money was a cherry on top somewhat.

This lesson is a life long one. Necessary to succeed in everything you do. I am certain you’ve heard people say something along the lines of, “Nothing worth having comes easy”. And it is true.

Working my fingers to the bone allowed me to stand out and most importantly, deliver customer experiences that were worth seeking out. Customer experiences worth waiting for when I was not around.


Earlier, I made mention of how timid I used to be. And that was not going to cut it! The “I am shy, this is how I am” excuse was unacceptable because as I’ve said before, I love people. I get joy from communicating eloquently with other people and leaving traces of impact through my words and actions.

So, I had to step up my communication game. This made me work that much harder in my sales assistant role — I was preparing for my public speaking craft.

Working at PEP allowed me that privilege. Being in the presence of many people every single day, convincing and selling them products shook me out of my reality and introduced to the world a Themba Jay who could communicate incredibly well and move people.

And I cannot stress enough how important it is to teach yourself to be able to get your point and thoughts across effectively. At the end of the day, that’s what communication hinges on. No bells and whistles, just the simple ability to tell people what you want and have them understand it.

If there’s anything you teach yourself, let it be that.

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