leather works

Words Corrie Erasmus   Photographs Melanie Maré

 

From the classic and authentic to the exotic and wild, leather products from the Southern Cape are so beautiful and diverse, they are cherished by customers from around the world.

Beatnix

Werner Pienaar is the owner of Beatnix Leatherworks, cowhide and calfskin cases and handbags manufactured in a workshop in Great Brak River. His rustic workshop supplies more than 120 shops countrywide and clients worldwide.

An entrepreneur to the core, he started his leatherworks business 25 years ago with only R700 in his pocket. “I had just finished my national service duty and with the last of my salary I bought some simple tools and a cow hide.”

With these meagre supplies he began making vellies, (South African leather shoes), and painted them by hand with a daisy motif. Not long after, he followed it up with leather handbags. He decided to move from his hometown, George, to Johannesburg to sell his creations at flea markets. Various shops took note of his talent and he began providing them with stock.

In 2000 he returned to Great Brak River, from where Beatnix now operates.

He and seven skilled local employees produce about 80 bags a week, as well as wallets, suitcases and belts.

“Hard work and well-priced, excellent products, along with first-rate service is the key to our success. We offer a free, five-year repair guarantee, which clients find remarkable.”

They manufacture their products from top-quality, ready-tanned cowhides and calfskins, but the colouring of hides they do themselves – which can be quite tricky.

Although he has experience working with other types of leather, Werner has found his market in the cowhide niche. In addition to South African shops, Beatnix exports to the United States and sells online to clients around the world.

Leigh Foyster, Beatnix’s administrative officer and bookkeeper, says she finds it very exciting to see how the business has grown over the years. “In the past, most of our clients were local, now there is an increasing amount of interest from a wide variety of prospective clients,” she says.

beatnixleatherworks.co.za

Lugro Ostrich Leather Products

When disaster struck the ostrich farming community in the late 1990s, ostrich farmers Fanie and Lucia Greeff turned to Lucia’s handbag-making hobby as a potential lifesaver, which has since morphed into a lucrative business.

“Severe droughts, floods, slaughter quotas and disease pulled the rug from under the feet of many ostrich farmers, including Fanie’s,” remembers Lucia.

An experienced seamstress, Lucia had started some years earlier making handbags from the treated ostrich hides of fallen birds on the farm.

With no experience or knowledge, but with plenty of common sense and strong needlework skills, Lucia consulted leatherworkers in Cape Town and George, who helped her refine her products.

Things began to fall in place when, in 2001, the Greeffs were approached by Graaff-Reinet ostrich farmer, Charles Biggs, to manufacture ostrich leather products for a new shop, Karoo Classics, in Stellenbosch.

At about the same time, an ostrich leather wallet manufacturer in Oudtshoorn closed down. The Greeffs obtained some of the old factory equipment and employed four is its staff members. The workshop initially started on the farm but moved into town in 2010. Today, Lugro Ostrich Leather Products operates from the premises of a beautifully restored national heritage house in Langenhoven Road and the custom-built factory behind the showroom. They employ 14 permanent and two temporary staff members, who are mentored and trained by the Greeffs.

Ready-tanned and dyed ostrich hides are sourced from the Klein Karoo Cooperation and used to create a wide range of quality products for shops and private clients around the world. The range includes handbags, wallets, purses and belts.

Their exciting upwards growing curve has taken Lucia to Milan, Italy, three times in order to follow courses in pattern making and design.

“We strive to keep on producing articles of the highest quality and to put out something new every year. After all these years in the business, the most rewarding thing remains seeing a happy client. I still get excited about every new product that we put on our shelves,” says Lucia.

lugro-ostrich.co.za

Der Lederhändler

The factory shop is teeming with customers when South visits Der Lederhändler owner Hennie Pienaar in the Tamsui George industrial factory premises. “Our factory has become a popular tourist stop where visitors can buy quality products at very competitive prices,” says Hennie.

Started in 1981 as a hobby in a garage in Pretoria by German brothers Rolf and Mike Stumpfe, Der Lederhändler makes a wide range of luggage, handbags, belts, shoes and accessories, which are distributed to shops across South Africa, Namibia and online customers around the world. The company moved to George in 1984. Hennie joined the company as financial manager, relocated with the Stumpfes and evolved with the business until he became sole owner in 2006 when the brothers retired.

A dynamic team of 46 people, many of whom have worked for the company for more than 20 years, is behind the quality and excellent service for which the brand has become known. “We are a very strong team and each worker takes responsibility for his or her specific function. To me, one of the biggest joys is to see a happy team, growing along with the business,” says Hennie.

Ready-tanned and dyed leather is procured from various tanneries. Kudu, cattle and ostrich hides are the most popular.

New prototypes are created from synthetic material and tweaked until perfection before the production team works on the leather. “When designing a new product, we consider aspects such as functionality and the availability of accessories.”

While most Der Lederhändler styles are timeless, Hennie travels regularly to monitor market needs and fashion trends. “Our classic look means our products remain functional for a long period and therefore have to be top quality – one of the handbag styles continues to be in demand 20 years after it was first introduced to the product line.

When the Stumpfe brothers retired, Hennie decided to outsource the footwear, mostly slippers and sandals, to a shoemaker in Cape Town where manufacturing is done under licence and according to Der Lederhändler’s specifications.

“Although economic times present challenges, we survive tough times by being cost-effective and quality-focused. Our credo is that a person must feel important, not imported, after acquiring one of our products,” 
says Hennie.

“One of our strong points is the fact that we can repair our own products in the unlikely event that something needs mending.”

In addition to the factory shop in Tamsui, Der Lederhändler also has outlets in the Garden Route Mall, the Pick n Pay Centre in Knysna Drive in George and the Langeberg Mall in Mossel Bay.

derlederhandler.com

Aldo Kleyn Leather Designs

Aldo Kleyn Leather Designs (AKLD) in Thesen Islands Harbour Town creates trendsetting leatherwear and accessories in a fine symbiosis of classical and cutting edge.

A passionate leather designer for over three decades, Aldo started in the competitive Johannesburg industry of the 1980s before moving to New York where he met and partnered with fellow leather artiste Cilia in what was to become one of the hippest outlets in the East Village. “It was great fun,” he smiles as he flips through albums portraying leather-clad movie and pop stars twirling in front of their mirrors in striking custom-made creations.

Moving back to South Africa 12 years ago, the duo set up shop in Knysna, from where they continue their exceptional neo-classical range of handbags, belts, bracelets, clutch bags and purses, moulded from South African indigenous hides such as ostrich, springbok, kudu and zebra.

The couple’s extraordinary work with exotic skins, such as python, crocodile and stingray, and their new favourite, mussel cracker fish, has established a loyal following of local and international clients. In addition to their ever-evolving accessories range, AKLD continues to do custom work.

“Exclusive, yes. Exotic, surely. AKLD is simultaneously wild and refined. We have something for everybody here, trust me,” says Cilia.

aldokleynleatherdesigns.com

 

 

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World class

Gone are the days that the Garden Route was considered too remote and obscure for locals to make it big. South is proud to profile some of the increasing number of internationally outstanding individuals who call the region ‘home’.

PHOTOGRAPHS Vanessa van Vreden, Melanie Maré and supplied

Bianca Buitendag
Professional surfer Bianca Buitendag, aged 23, hails from Victoria Bay and is among the top women surfers in the world. She reached the number four spot in 2015 and continues to lure international sponsors with her talents and charm.

As a professional surfer, Bianca travels the world and finds herself in a different time zone at least every two weeks. At the time of interviewing, Bianca was on the southwest coast of France preparing for a World Tour event.

Although she has surfed professionally since the age of 17, her surfing-related travelling started at 14. Growing up in this unorthodox way encouraged her to become open-minded towards other cultures and opinions, and she regards it a privilege that few others get to experience.

She sees the ocean as her escape. “My heart thrives when I find myself under water, lost in the freedom of the ocean and its movements.”

Becoming one of the world’s top surfers required hard work and dedication. Bianca spends long hours in the water practicing and follows a physical exercise regime focusing on core strength, cardio and stretching. 
To qualify for the World Championships Tour, which sees the 17 best surfers in the world competing for the crown, she has to surf heats during various events in the Qualifying Series. Her favourite surfing spot in the world remains Victoria Bay, where she grew up next to the ocean. She matriculated from Outeniqua High.

“All my memories of the Garden Route are fond; I had the joy and privilege to grow up in an untouched and uncorrupted environment. I would love to settle down in this area one day and pass these memories on.” For now she is focused on her sport but in future would like to become involved in business. “We will have to see where the opportunities might arise.”
biancabuitendag.com

Elroy Gelant
Born and raised in Pacaltsdorp in George, Elroy Gelant, 30, qualified for the 5000m Olympic Games finals in Rio de Janeiro and finished 11th despite an injury. A few months earlier he had spectacularly broken the South African record at an event in The Netherlands in a time of 13:04:88 – just a few milliseconds slower than the Olympic bronze time. “I worked for that record, but it still came as a bit of a surprise. During my preparation, the time trials showed I was capable of running the 5000m within 13:10.  My previous personal best was 13:15. I’m really humbled and honoured.”

Elroy says the Olympics were a tremendous experience from which he took away a lot of skill and self-confidence that he will use to his advantage in preparing for his next goal – a top-five position in the IAAF World Championships in London in August 2017. He also has his eye on top positions in the 2018 Common Wealth Games in Australia and the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

But, just participating and doing well is not where his dream ends. “The holy grail of running the 5000m is a time of under 13 minutes. I’m going to try my best to achieve this over the next two years,” says Elroy.

He wants to take his athletics career as far as possible and intends running professionally for at least the next 15 years. “When I’m over my peak for the track events, I want to switch to road races and marathons. Running is what I love to do and it is a God-given talent.”

Schooled at Pacaltsdorp Primary and Outeniqua High School, Elroy’s outstanding talent surfaced when he won the bronze medal as an eight-year-old at the South African schools championship that year. “I remember it well. I stepped in at least two thorns while running, and cried and cried, but pushed through. In some aspects that 
is still my motivation – despite thorns and other setbacks, one has to keep going.”

He loves the Garden Route deeply and returns from his training grounds in Potchefstroom at least twice a year. “Nothing beats running in the Outeniqua Mountains. The whole landscape unfolding beneath, the fog, the sea, 
the vegetation … it’s awe-inspiring.”
Social media: @elroygelant and Facebook

Meyer von Wielligh
The unique furniture of Norman Meyer and Abrie von Wielligh has been attracting international attention for some time, but it was the $30 820 (± R400 000) sale of one of their pieces at world-renowned auctioneering company Christie’s that led to real recognition.

“It was the best moment of our 12 years in business. We could follow the auction live on the Internet. Works of some of the best designers in the world were sold just before and after our piece. It is very encouraging and we take it as a sign that we are on the right track with our business,” says Abrie.

The story behind the top-selling piece, the Battleship Table, is just as intriguing. It was made from the wood of a giant oak tree, which used to tower in York Street in George, and made headlines in the local paper when it crushed a car when it fell. The slab of wood they fashioned the table from resembled the shape of a battleship, hence the name.

The Southern Guild Design Foundation, an independent organisation that acts as a platform for local designers to showcase once-off creations, approached Meyer von Wielligh to create an item for an exhibition in Cape Town. They submitted the Battleship Table, which was eventually included in the foundation’s select exhibition in London.

Abrie and Norman first met as students at Furntech training academy in George before going into business together. They are enchanted by the Garden Route lifestyle and draw inspiration for their exceptional designs from the region’s breath-taking nature.

They have several international clients who have bought properties in the Garden Route and export some of their products to the Czech Republic and the United States. In addition, they have won several business awards, attracted attention at Design Indaba 2012 and took part in numerous international exhibitions in association with Southern Guild.

They are currently involved in a five-year export marketing programme in collaboration with the Dutch government agency CBI, a centre for the promotion of imports from developing countries. “We are definitely looking at the global market for future growth,” says Abrie.
meyervonwielligh.co.za

Mark and John Collins
International adventure racing legends Mark and John Collins, aged 48 and 43 respectively, were on the team that beat 50 others from 18 countries in this year’s Expedition Africa race. Their three-hour win secured them a spot in the Adventure World Championships and the respect of significantly younger competitors.

The Knysna-based brothers, who are also behind the highly successful sports events company Magnetic South, will be part of the Sanlam Team Painted Wolf, derived from the Latin name of the endangered African Wild Dog – Lycaon pictus – which literally means painted wolf. “Wild dogs hunt in packs, which involves efficient team work, so we fully 
identify with that characteristic. In adventure racing success depends on working together as a team. It’s also our way of raising awareness of the plight of the African Wild Dog,” says Mark. The brothers made headlines almost immediately after starting to compete in the endurance sphere and have participated as competitors or organising teams in nearly 50 international events worldwide.

In 1998, at the age of 24 and 29, they represented South Africa at the legendary Camel Trophy competition in South America, surprising veterans by coming second. Four years later they became the first rookies in the top five, taking fourth place in the 2002 Eco Challenge in Fiji, a race in which only 10 out of 89 teams managed to finish.

They wouldn’t trade their Garden Route lifestyle for anywhere else in the world. “We have a good life in Knysna and everything we want and need is right here.”

Their efforts for the World Championships were well supported by the whole community.  “Many businesses joined in with sponsorships, which we truly appreciate.”

The adventurous duo wants to participate in the adrenaline-filled world of adventure racing for at least another three years, defending their Expedition Africa title amongst others, before they start thinking about slowing down.
magneticsouth.net

Duran de Villiers
Selected in 2015 as one of the 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa by internationally renowned Forbes magazine, Knysna’s ‘drone man’, Duran de Villiers, has a can-do attitude and passion for everything he undertakes.

Duran attracted tremendous international attention after launching his revolutionary unmanned aerial camera support system in 2012, which he designed and built himself.  At the time he was a sports photographer and saw the need for filming race participants in inaccessible areas.

The SteadiDrone transformed especially the filmmaking world and has subsequently found many other applications, and earned revenue of more than US$1.2 million in 2014, according to Forbes.

“For me it’s all or nothing. I believe in hard work, finding passion and joy in everything I do and being progressive, moving forward all the time. And then of course the support and hard work of my wife and team – they are 
all a massive part of our success,” says Duran.

Born in Johannesburg, but in Knysna since the age of 10, Duran matriculated at Knysna High and after school, when his parents emigrated to New Zealand, joined them there for a while.

“My romantic interest was here, however, and I decided to come back. Alexa and I got married and started up a media production company, which sowed the seed for the creation of SteadiDrone.”

Duran and his team are currently taking the company to the next level by building a new brand identity where their latest invention, the Alti Transition UAS, is the star of the show.

“The Alti is a world first in many aspects. It is a next-generation, fixed-wing unmanned aerial aircraft, which we’ve developed from the ground up. It has the ability to take off and land vertically, anywhere.”

Future plans involve going bigger and improving their products.
altiuas.com/steadidrone.com

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Sow successful

A passion for gardening, instinct for business and a chocolaty idea has grown into an award-winning business for George-based entrepreneur Vanessa Jacobs.

WORDS Yolandi North  PHOTOGRAPH Desmond Scholtz

Vanessa Jacobs, inventor of the Slab of Seed®, recently won the prestigious Sanlam and Business Partners Limited 2016 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year award. The slab – an ingenious chocolate lookalike made of seeds – forms the core of her Sow Delicious niche gardening business.

“We create inspirational products that make vegetable gardening doable and easy for anyone who wants to try it. We take dreamers and turn them into doers,” says Vanessa.

Initially created to solve her own planting problems, the slab contains open-pollinated heirloom seeds embedded in a specially formulated bio-degradable, pre-fertilised growth medium that allows seeds to germinate in half the time it would normally take and retain water three times longer than the soil they are planted in. A block is broken off and pushed directly into the ground, and the rest left to nature.

The slab idea came from nowhere: “It fell out of the sky and into my head. I saw a chocolate and thought: What is more inspirational than chocolate?” In 2011 Vanessa and her family relocated from Pretoria to the Garden Route 
after selling their home renovation and telecommunications businesses. The profits bankrolled her and husband Deon’s new plans – gardening for Vanessa and a lecturing post at Africa Skills Village in George for Deon.

Vanessa’s love of gardening developed when she had her own home, where she planted her first food garden. She discovered heirloom seeds while planning her new food garden in Wilderness. Heirloom, or heritage, refers to old-time varieties that can be regrown and passed from one generation to the next. “With the advent of hybrid and genetically modified seeds, thousands of cultivars of heirloom seeds have gone extinct since the 1960s. It is not just fancy or fashionable, but important to keep growing these veggies – to ensure that our food sources are protected for our children’s sake.”

Vanessa’s first soil ‘chocolate’ was created in her garage at home in Wilderness in July 2013. Starting with what she had at the time, she applied her gardening knowledge to combine things that would help plants grow. 
The product is organic and biodegradable, and attracts earthworms to further fertilise soil. “Slab of Seed sets out to solve common problems experienced by gardeners when working with seed, such as planting too deep, soil that’s not fertile enough, soil evaporation and correct plant spacing. I think we’ve resolved all these issues but we continue to improve the slab as we get customer feedback and learn more.”

Vanessa added Slab of Seed to Sow Delicious in 2013 . It was soon picked up by several magazines and took off almost immediately. Within months she stocked the majority of nurseries countrywide. A major coup was the inclusion of Slab of Seed on the foodie website yuppiechef.co.za in June.

“Initially to us, Slab of Seed was the side dish. What took me by complete surprise is that it has quickly become the main meal and now the pudding too!

“To this day I am flabbergasted at how well South Africans have responded to it. I designed it to solve my own planting problems and am delighted that it solves the same dilemmas of so many others. It is a dream come true to inspire and empower people to grow their own delicious, healthy food.” While Vanessa knew about the Sanlam competition, she only felt the business was ready to enter this year. “I wanted to see how I compared to other South African entrepreneurs, but never expected to win an award. It was an affirmation of my passion, great exposure and the beginning, hopefully, of export opportunities.”

A self-proclaimed ‘serial entrepreneur’, Vanessa says Sow Delicious is unique because it comes from a place of passion. “Everything about this business is me. I stopped seeing problems as insurmountable, but rather as a challenge or stepping-stone that would take me to another level.”

Sow Delicious is available countrywide in nurseries, Melissa’s stores, health stores, delis, farm stalls and selected Super Spars. The range includes nine gourmet mixes, three herb mixes and nine exotic combinations.

CONTACT
123B Merriman Street, George
044 873 3968
sowdelicious.co.za
Facebook:gourmetgardener

Crowding the issue

Are there too many guesthouses, coffee shops, builders and estate agents on the Garden Route? South investigates the impact of too many similar businesses in small economies, which sectors are most affected, alternatives and opportunities.

WORDS Louise F Venter

Too many similar businesses clustered in one area, competing for the same market, is often felt more severely in smaller economies such as the Southern Cape, where opening just one similar shop in a tiny town could literally split the customer ‘pie’ in half.

Ilse van Schalkwyk, manager in the Knysna Municipality’s economic development department (EDD), says businesses across all sectors are vulnerable to many factors. “The occurrence of too many similar businesses in 
some sectors, such as contractors, estate agents and in the hospitality industry, is a natural part of a free market economy. You cannot and should not try to regulate it.”

In an effort to address this challenge, the Southern Cape’s various municipal EDDs collaborate with each other and other role players, including tourism offices, business chambers and government institutions such as the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda), to broaden the scope within sectors and industries. By identifying, showcasing and motivating new opportunities, they provide information and help to attract and create new business while leaving space for existing businesses to grow or change focus.

Seda Eden branch manager Quinton Coetzee says businesses often struggle to survive in a competitive market place because of a lack of information and mentorship. “Entrepreneurs don’t always know where to look and find 
help or lack the confidence to ask for help.”

Seda works closely with the formal business sector and other role players, offering workshops, training, technical assistance, mentorship programmes, business advice and incubation programmes.

Factors that contribute to the doubling up dilemma are a lack of relevant skills, ignorance about an industry and its specific challenges, bad business timing and a lack of proper planning. Other reasons why competing 
small businesses don’t make it include a lack of business skills, limited access to markets and high operating costs. “People look at a successful business and think ‘I can do that too’ but don’t do the research. Healthy competition is good, but instead of copying others, prospective entrepreneurs should come up with unique business concepts,” says Quinton.

Paul Hoffman, business consultant and project manager for the South Cape Economic Development Partnership (SCEP), agrees fly-by-night copycat businesses can flatten the market to the detriment of an entire industry, but adds: “Whenever one talks about this issue, what is often missed is the number of businesses in the same industry that are doing really well.

“A true entrepreneur will always be pro-active and try to find opportunities within the challenge, perhaps by restructuring or diversifying, curbing costs, exploring new markets or improving marketing strategies. To survive and grow as a business one cannot afford to be complacent or negative. An attitude of ‘I can’t do anything about the recession or the competitor across the street, let’s hope my business survives’, can be fatal to success,” he says.

Among the solutions for local businesses is a different approach to their own market sectors or exploring new opportunities.

Agro-processing, export and tourism are among the top economic drivers identified by the Western Cape government to boost the local economy.

“Proposed upgrades to Mossel Bay harbour and George Airport to an international airport that can accommodate cargo and passengers will open huge opportunities and new markets,” says Paul.

Integrated approach

To promote shared economic growth and development throughout the Southern Cape, a more integrated approach across towns and boundaries is required. SCEP aims to provide an integrated platform for local business leaders in the private and public sectors to share information, collaborate and solve problems to benefit the greater community. It is also looking at ways to address specific needs within high growth sectors in collaboration with role-players like the Western Cape investment and trade promotion agency, Wesgro, and the various Southern Cape business chambers.

In 2015 the Western Cape’s Municipal Economic Review and Outlook (MERO) indicated Eden and the Southern Cape, with George as its business hub, was the fastest growing region in the province. George alone had a growth rate of 2.5% in 2015, one of the highest growth rates in the country compared to the national average of 0.3%.

George Business Chamber (GBC) chairman, Dr Willie Cilliers, who owns an accounting firm as well as an entrepreneurial navigation company called Ten-SA, says from a business chamber perspective it is vital to empower existing businesses for further growth, but “we also need to create opportunities for new businesses so we can address the unemployment rate in our region”.

Calling it “the entrepreneurial missing link”, he reiterates that entrepreneurs with the right mind-set, innovative ideas, talent, the willingness to learn and the commitment to work hard, need to step forward.

“It starts with parents and our education system. We need to raise children to think like entrepreneurs.”

Willie, who is also the Western Cape chairman of the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut (AHI)(Afrikaans Business Institute), says the entire region’s business chambers are actively working to encourage entrepreneurship and create new business opportunities in the Southern Cape.

“Prospective entrepreneurs and business people are encouraged to contact and join their local business chambers as a pro-active first step to ensure they start a business suitable to themselves and the local economy and market.” The George Business Chamber, in cooperation with Trias, an international development NGO based in Belgium, intends to train 1000 entrepreneurs over the next three years by using the existing formal business economy to create, mentor and support new businesses, focusing especially on the youth, women and the informal business sector.

According to Willie, this approach benefits everyone and the occurrence of too many similar businesses becomes less of a concern as new entrepreneurs will be encouraged to support and add value to the existing business sector as suppliers and service providers to businesses that have helped mentor them.

While he concedes there are sectors in which doubling up occurs, Willie does not necessarily see it as a bad thing within the context of the growth climate in the region. “However, businesses in Eden face unique challenges because we don’t have the same kind of buying power that larger cities have and can be affected by the seasonality of tourist activity.

Willie also expressed concern regarding the impact of large mall complexes, which are springing up all over the region, on the small business sector. “These complexes are drawing business away from the small business sector and, worse, are causing many small businesses to close doors. This is particularly alarming if one considers that big corporate mall complexes, as part of bigger networks, don’t really contribute significantly to the local economy as does the small business sector, which constitutes about 98% of all businesses in the region and is a top economic driver.”

George and Knysna are currently looking at much needed CBD renewal projects, and Willie is considering approaching CBD property owners about using vacant buildings as incubation centres for new small businesses.

Many believe there are too many tourism and hospitality service providers, but the 2016 edition of Western Cape Business, a guide to business and investment in the province, indicates that tourism remains one of the top economic drivers in Eden. Around holiday peak seasons statistics indicate an average local economic growth rate of about 20%, mostly due to tourism and related industries. While there may be an oversupply in some areas of the tourism and hospitality industry, Ilse says the region has very good brand value internationally and statistics indicate there are sufficient tourists to accommodate more local tourism and related businesses.

Willie is confident community markets such as the Outeniqua Farmers’ Market in George, the three Saturday markets in Sedgefield and the Harkerville Farmers’ Market can be good sources of niche products for the export market.

The construction industry, which at one point was the region’s top economic driver, definitely seems to have suffered because of an over-supply and other economic factors in the past few years.

Many contractors went under, and supportive and related businesses like tool hire services took a knock, but Willie says there’s a definite rise in this sector and renewed growth is expected in future.

There is unanimous agreement that more artisans should start their own businesses and more artisans must be trained to supply in this major demand. “The Western Cape government plans to train about 7500 new 
artisans such as welders, plumbers and electricians per year and aims to place nearly 4000 in sustainable jobs,” says Willie.

While Oudtshoorn is expected to have a negative population growth, proposed expansions to the local South African Police Services college and South African National Defence Force training facilities are expected to draw more people and hopefully boost the business economy.

Other sectors and industries that are expected to perform strongly over the next five years include the financial and business services sector, transport, the oil/gas and marine energy sector, the green economy sector (especially waste management), creative (especially design-related businesses), a revival in the timber industry and the film industry.

CONTACT
George Business Chamber
111 Nedbank Centre, York Street, George 044 874 3349 
info@georgechamber.co.za

Knysna Municipality
Economic Development 
Department
044 302 6358 knysna.gov.za

AHi Western Cape – George
044 874 3349 ahi.co.za/ahi-western-cape

Seda Eden
Meade House, 123 Meade Street, George seda.org.za

Ten-SA Centre for 
Entrepreneurs
George 873 5240 ten-sa.biz

South Cape Economic 
Development Partnership
hwcedp.co.za

Putting for keeps

Amidst a flailing economy and changing sports trends, the Garden Route golf industry’s willingness to adapt and work together has not only resulted in a significant upturn in business but also reconfirmed the region as the jewel in the Southern African golf tourism crown.

WORDS Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPHS Supplied

It’s no secret, golf has suffered. An expensive, exclusive sport was always going to take a knock in the global economic crisis. And, in an era when time is money and relationships instant, an afternoon on the golf course means sacrificing elsewhere, be it productivity or family time. Pezula Golf Club general manager, golf industry consultant and former CEO of Fancourt, Ingrid Diesel, says the golf industry worldwide suffered significantly between 2009 and 2013. “At the core of survival lay an important decision, which not all golf establishments were willing to make. It meant laying down the traditional principles of the sport – which had always been formal, financially exclusive and mostly for men – in favour of survival.

“Most golf courses could no longer survive on membership fees alone and opened to non-members and walk-ins, throwing local and overseas tourism markets wide open. The Garden Route’s reputation as the ultimate golfing destination in Africa was soon re-established, and this time without restrictions or limitations,” says Ingrid.

“The Garden Route’s golf courses rate among the best in the country and the world, and are within easy driving distance of each other. Combined with a weak rand, foreign tourists can now experience world-class golf in one of the most scenic places in the world, at a fraction of the price of almost anywhere else.

“Many of the region’s golf courses were willing to market themselves together as a destination, which meant tour operators and self-drive tourists could plan itineraries around golf and add tourism activities such as game drives, sea adventures and forest hikes.

“These days, golf courses are booked to capacity in advance from November to March and our down-season shrinks every year. The Garden Route’s mild winters make it easy to sell winter stay-and-play packages, which have also extended the season.

“An unanticipated associated benefit was the golf merchandise, especially top quality branded clothing, which started flying off the shelves. Golfers were collecting branded t-shirts and caps from every course they played, to the point where Pezula made a decision to double the size of its Pro-shop to keep up with demand,” says Ingrid.

Pinnacle Point golf director Nic Grundtvig took over the reins during the recession, after the estate’s original holding company was liquidated and the Pinnacle Point home owners association (HOA) assumed control over the golf course.

“We made the difficult decision to not make golf course membership compulsory to owning property on the estate. At the time there were very few homes here and the HOA did not want compulsory membership to be detrimental to property sales.

“After being tied up in the liquidation, the golf course needed some serious TLC and our first priority was golf course restoration. Once the course was back in shape, it regained its reputation as a bucket list course. We also opened the course to non-members, reduced playing rates and invested in targeted advertising and marketing,” says Nic.

While re-establishing itself on the international tour operators’ radar reaped benefits, Pinnacle’s situation outside Mossel Bay, on the most western edge of the Garden Route golfing mecca, and the course’s relative difficulty offered unique challenges. “The self-drive market between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth benefited us in particular, and we have become the first and the last stop on the top golf journey. We have several lodges available for self-catering accommodation and make play-and-stay packages available for this purpose. Our location next to the Garden Route Casino also has great benefit.

“While Pinnacle will never be considered an easy course, we have made an effort to make holes more attainable by offering different tee-off positions that reduce difficulty and present more fun. The HOA is also investing in alternative sources of income, such as facilities for non-golfing partners and children as well as conferencing and functions, and has plans for a spa and indoor pool,” says Nic.

The industry agrees the profile of golfers has changed significantly and now includes women and children, while in the retirement segment couples golf has increased considerably. A new family-focused culture has required golf clubs to incorporate facilities and activities for non-golf playing spouses.

George Golf Club (GGC) council chairman Jonathan Monk says research has shown the biggest issues in golf course survival evolved around disposable income, rising costs and time constraints. “Golf takes long. Working people can no longer spend an afternoon or a day on the golf course, and the time of business deals being sealed on the golf course is mostly over. From a golf course management point of view, if we can reduce the time on the course and maximise enjoyment, our business market will grow and we will have more tee-times available, which ultimately means more revenue.

“The principle extends to families – if we can facilitate dads spending less time on the course, or get his family to join him during or after a round, everybody wins. The after-golf clubhouse culture is now more important, so making moms and children feel welcome ensures additional income and creates a community spirit.”

With 1150 members, the GGC is the largest municipal membership-based golf club in the region, hosting up to 45 000 rounds per annum. As a good-value-for-money course in a fast- growing town, the club recognised the need for a dedicated, professional golf manager and restructured to facilitate the appointment of Lloyd Martindale, now at Fancourt, and later current manager Sandra Lennox.

Jonathan says the structure change enhanced the club’s profile and it is currently rated 15th overall in the Golf Digest Top 100 golf courses in South Africa. “We wanted to compare favourably to our world-class surrounding courses and possibly cash in on golf tourism. The protected location and design of our course meant any day is a golf day, even when elsewhere was exposed to the elements.

“The approach paid off with 60% of the club’s revenue being generated by non-member income,” says Jonathan.

One of the most established golf and resort estates in the country, Fancourt continues to be the standard against which others are measured with two of its three golf courses in the Top 10 and the other 16th.

However, the brand has not been untouched by the recession and trends, which among other things saw its Bramblehill golf course close down, and resort restructuring and staff cut-backs in recent years.

As an established residential estate, expansive hotel offering and sports resort, Fancourt’s golf model is significantly different from other Garden Route courses. It is the only local estate that still requires membership for property owners, and play is not open to non-members unless invited by a member or as a hotel guest. “There are only so many tee-times in a day, and members and hotel guests should be ensured of playing time,” says golf general manager Lloyd Martindale.

The Fancourt residents profile has also changed, with 50% now permanent residents, many of whom are families with school-going children, and subsequently a new generation of golfers for whom golfing is integral to their growing up.

The country’s number one golf course, Fancourt Links, has proven another recession point – at the top of the income bracket, there remains a platinum class golfer for whom the tradition of golf remains exclusive. The $100 000 Links membership fee for non-property owners, and $60 000 for residents, has not frightened away players at the top end of the market, but has rather become an economic milestone like a sports car or designer jewellery.

“Fancourt Links owner, Dr Hasso Plattner, decided to raise the exclusivity bar further with fencing between The Links and the rest of Fancourt, and longer time periods between tee-offs so greenkeepers can move unseen in front of and behind players, creating a feeling of being alone on the golf course. This is a proper private club, enforcing dress codes and rules, and membership is by invitation-only.

“The more we increased exclusivity, the more membership grew. Links membership stands at 80 and there is a cap, which once reached, will increase value and exclusivity further. Our figures, and those of our neighbours, confirm that golf on the Garden Route is healthy and has potential for real growth. The future is green,” says Lloyd.

How local courses compare
March 2016 Golf Digest Top 100 ratings:

  1. Fancourt Links
  2. Fancourt Montagu
  3. St Francis Links
  4. George GC
  5. Fancourt Outeniqua
  6. Simola
  7. Pezula
  8. Pinnacle Point
  9. Oubaai
  10. Plettenberg Bay GC
  11. Kingswood
  12. Mossel Bay GC
  13. Goose Valley
  14. St Francis Bay GC
  15. Knysna GC
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Everyone’s business

Since opening doors in George in 2007, Oakhurst Insurance has turned from a ten-man operation into the largest employer in town. CEO Brad Hogan shares his passion for business and community development, family and his new home town.

WORDS Louise F Venter PHOTOGRAPH Melanie Maré

“Nothing is inevitable.” A wall art quote framed by authentic World War II memorabilia and family photographs is the first thing I notice in Oakhurst Insurance Company Limited CEO Brad Hogan’s office.

Settling in with a cappuccino, his ease is belied by an inherent vibrance and energy, and lively blue eyes that reflect a keen and busy mind.

Brad says the quote has personal significance for him. “I think people can be very fatalistic. We often say ‘if it’s meant to be, it will be’ but I disagree. Doing that means giving away our power to control our lives and our destinies. For me nothing is inevitable. We can decide where we want to go in life and where we want to be, we make the changes. The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

At 44 Brad is considered a relatively young CEO, and one of the most innovative and successful business people in South Africa. His natural business acumen goes back to age ten when he started selling handbags, personalised stationary and, at age 14, burglar proofing and home improvement products – the latter would evolve into Johannesburg-based Badger Holdings, which he establised in 1993. The group now incorporates insurance and related businesses operating in South Africa and Australia.

At 21, Brad’s affinity and aptitude for financial services led to studies in investments and insurance at the former Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) and the Insurance Institute of South Africa.

Licensed since 2009 but operating under the brand name since November 2007, Brad chose Oakhurst Insurance’s head office to be in George despite having offices in Johannesburg and Australia – mostly because he wanted to realise his dream of living in the Garden Route.

His fascination with the region was born while reading the Afrikaans subject prescribed works of Dalene Matthee at Springs High School for Boys, where he matriculated in 1989. A Garden Route holiday in the 1990s sealed his love and he immediately started working towards his goal of one day living and working here.

“My wife Lindsay and I decided early on we wanted to bring our kids up in this kind of environment. So, when we had the opportunity to set up Oakhurst Insurance here, we jumped at the chance.”

Starting from scratch with a few clients and ten staff members, Oakhurst Insurance has grown into a highly competitive general and life insurance company with more than 400 employees and a growing client base exceeding 100 000. Outside government, Oakhurst is the largest employer in George – most staff are local and only a few transferred from Gauteng.

The reasoning behind opening another insurance company in an already competitive market was the reluctance of most insurance companies at the time to offer standalone motor-focused insurance as it was a difficult product line to manage. “Oakhurst filled a gap by offering reasonably priced, simple and innovative products to clients that, at the time, weren’t widely available in South Africa,” Brad says.

The company’s success was bolstered by Oakhurst’s willingness to be the first in the country to implement telematics, a vehicle management system that allows driver behaviour monitoring and vehicle tracking, which in turn enables Oakhurst to provide practical assistance to clients. The company has since widened its insurance product to include home, business and life insurance.

“Another success factor is the company’s inherent business philosophy and values, and that every employee takes ownership. We have a great culture and adhere to our company slogan ‘we really care, we deliver’. If you talk to any Oakhurst employee, you will find passion, which in turn leads to innovation, hard work and service excellence.”

He says choosing George as his hub was a good business decision and he hopes to leave a lasting legacy for his business and the greater George community. He predicts the town will continue to grow, particularly as telecommunications advance and technology improves, although he hopes it won’t become so big that it loses its character. “The world is becoming smaller and the Garden Route more easily accessible. The unique characteristics of a town like George are starting to be discovered and being away from big centres is becoming less of a hindrance and, in some cases, may become irrelevant to doing business.”

Brad believes Oakhurst’s presence in George has contributed significantly to reducing the number of people who would otherwise be forced to leave the Garden Route to find employment elsewhere, especially those wanting to work in a corporate environment.

“The nice thing about an insurance company is that there is a career for almost everyone. We’ve got accountants, sales people, marketing, legal, IT and call centre personnel, to name a few. If you’ve got the right attitude, the right drive and passion and share our values, then we may want you on board.”

People development is essential and staff members are encouraged to further their studies, be innovative and passionate about their work, and to make use of the company’s dedicated training arm.

While typical business principles such as focus on profits, targets, competitiveness and branding are important for sustainable business, Brad also values people – not only employees and clients, but also the people from the community in which he does business.

“We are not islands in this world. It is critical that we are interconnected and interlinked, and that we are purposeful and meaningful in helping each other and developing our communities. When we give to and help other people we are actually helping ourselves.”

This philosophy is mirrored in Brad and Lindsay’s personal as well as Oakhurst’s involvement in the community, such as working with the local Child and Family Welfare Organisation to provide food parcels to children in need, and regular involvement in local school and church projects. Oakhurst is also the official sponsor of the annual George Old Car Show, which contributes to local tourism income. An office filled with historic artefacts and antiques confirms Brad’s deep love of all things old. He enjoys sharing George’s rich history and heritage, which he strongly believes in preserving and protecting.

Oakhurst’s involvement with the George Arts Theatre is part of that thinking. The idea to renovate and upgrade the local theatre started forming in Brad’s mind when people told him they were travelling to Prince Albert to see productions there despite having a theatre in town. “It was an opportunity to keep the cultural heart of the town alive. It’s a theatre steeped in history and just needed to have some life blown into it again.”

In 2014, with Lindsay’s help and vision, Brad and Oakhurst Insurance entered into a partnership with the George Arts Theatre, in effect becoming the theatre’s patron. Lindsay worked closely with the George Society of Arts to plan a full renovation of the historic building, which was financed by Oakhurst Insurance.

The theatre is now known as the Oakhurst George Arts Theatre and renovations are ongoing.

When it came to finding office premises for Oakhurst Insurance, there was no question for Brad but to buy and renovate a few historical buildings in the George CBD, including the Hurteria building, the old Commando and the Van Kervel buildings.

Oakhurst is also starting to work with various local bodies to protect and enhance George, especially the town centre. “Decentralisation of businesses and neighbourhood shopping centres is a worldwide threat to central business areas. We all have a responsibility to keep this great historical town alive and the city centre should be a tourist attraction in its own right.”

While his business diary is filled to the brim, Brad always finds time for his family. He counts time with Lindsay, to whom he has been married for 24 years, and sons Joshua, 19, and Gabriel, 16, at their home at Leentjiesklip beach in Wilderness as especially precious.

“I have never put pressure on my boys to follow in my footsteps and prefer to leave a legacy that will make them feel they can achieve anything and that life should be faced with excitement. I am proud that we have given our sons a good, solid Christian grounding, which we believe will help them know who they are, what they are looking for and what life is really all about.”

After our interview Brad’s parting words sum up what he is all about. “Life spins by, but in the meantime you are touching people’s lives every day in so many different ways and that has got to be a positive experience. You’ve got to be leaving the world better than what you found it.”

CONTACT
Oakhurst Insurance Company Limited
086 100 1041
oakhurstins.co.za

Let’s ride

Scenic tracks, internationally recognised racing events, two bike parks and a strong local riders’ base are among the reasons the cycling economy is gaining significant momentum in the Southern Cape.

WORDS Louise F Venter PHOTOGRAPHS Lisa Leslie, Vanessa van Vreden and Desmond Scholtz

Among the believers is Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities, Alan Winde, whose ministry is behind the development of a new iconic cycling route connecting Plettenberg Bay to Cape Town. The route is part of Project Khulisa, a growth strategy aimed at promoting the province as a cycling-friendly destination.

“Our goal is to establish the Western Cape as the trail capital and the most cycle-friendly destination in Africa. We hope to foster increased tourism opportunities and significant economic benefits along the length of this route,” says Alan, who is a keen cyclist and hails from Knysna.

Intended to link the region’s most beautiful small towns, the route is meant to stimulate an extended cycling economy, which includes accommodation, bike services and restaurants.

Driven by the Western Cape’s destination marketing, investment and trade promotion agency, Wesgro, the first step was to conduct an audit of all tracks, track signage and cycle-related services in the region, which was initiated towards the end of last year.

The complete route is part of a five-year plan, with the aim of completing the first 160km phase between Plettenberg Bay and Mossel Bay in 2017.

Considering that mega cycling events occur on the South African calendar almost every week and generate more than R700 million each year, this seems to be spot-on.

Cycling has become ‘the new golf’ with corporates starting to prefer it as their chosen sport for networking while demand for corporate cycling events is increasing.

Dad-and-son team Leon and Kevin Evans opened The Bike Shop in Plettenberg Bay in 2000 to cater to an increasing need for a specialised bike shop for road and mountain bikes (MTB).

Leon is the legendary route designer of cycle races such as the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race, Knysna Oyster Festival and Dr Evil (named for the nickname he earned for designing the country’s ultimate races). Kevin is a qualified bicycle technician, perhaps better known for his prowess as multiple champion mountain biker.

The pair has seen the market grow from a few cyclists popping in for information on local tracks to a significant industry that had them running off their feet during the past holiday season. “Cycling is fast becoming the most popular sport in the world, and with that growth comes a cycling economy worth a small fortune,” says Kevin.

Greg Vogt, CEO of Knysna & Partners, says the Garden Route is creating an international marketing platform for the region to capitalise on the cycling economy. “However, we need 
to become more competitive in the cycling market to meet international expectations by 
offering the best single tracks and races with the best offering to riders.”

On the mission are people like fourth generation dairy farmer and cyclist Rob Dormehl, who designed and continues to develop the Garden Route Trail Park on sections of the family farm in Barrington outside Sedgefield – offering 28km of single mountain bike and trail running tracks with plans to expand in collaboration with other landowners.

Rob saw a gap in the market for professionally custom designed trails, which offer not only proper adrenaline kicks for beginners to professionals, but becomes a “visual experience through some of the best scenery in the world”.

“Bike parks are a relatively new idea in South Africa, but already very popular overseas and the Garden Route is slowly catching on to these trends.”

Partnering with another local MTB enthusiast, graphic artist Dave Correia, Rob markets the GR Trail Park to foreign as well as local riders.

The trail park has attracted international attention, including extreme bikers such as professional freestyle mountain biker Matt Macduff, who will be making a world record attempt on a 12m purpose-built wooden loop de loop at the park in March. It will be the Canadian’s second visit – a video of the first visit with another crew in early 2015 showcased the park and the region as a prime MTB destination.

The Garden Route Trail Park also features a pump track, bike accessories shop and a trail cafe, which together create additional job creation opportunities.

Rob is working with locals through MTB workshops like “Bokkies on Bikes”. Jacques Brink of Knysna Cycle Works has started a programme for children to get into cycling, while Garden Route Events, in collaboration with the local Knysna Sport School offers children from less advantaged communities the opportunity to take up cycling as a sport.

Cairnbrogie Mountain Bike and Trail Park opened in Harkerville in December. Geared for beginner to intermediate skill riding for young riders, the park incorporates four trails, a professionally designed pump track, café and bikewash.

Patric Mosterd is the owner of Garden Route Events, a cycling events company whose multi-day events in the GR300, RECM200 and 7 Passes MTB attract thousands of riders every year. He says the increasing number of top class events in the region offer major opportunities for marketing, job creation and boosting a town’s economy. They also benefit other sectors including accommodation, restaurants, cycling related products, tourist activities, transport and more.

Cycling events and initiatives like the Cape Town to Plett route not only place Garden Route towns and villages on the map, but also stimulate economic activity beyond events. “Events often attract riders to an area they had previously not visited, but once they have experienced the region, they often return for holidays, training or leisure cycling,” adds Patric.

“The Garden route has beautiful natural cycling areas with forested, mountainous and coastal options. It’s safe, has a mild climate and the soil is ideally suited to mountain biking. This opens up a huge market for locals. ”

Marian and Garth van Rheenen, restaurant owners and founding members of the Rheenendal Ramble, say the cycling economy is hugely benefitting as it brings a lot of feet to the area, which relies heavily on tourism and hospitality. Marian, who is married to a direct descendant of the original Van Rheenen family after whom the area is named, says local entrepreneurs on the Rheenendal Ramble want to take advantage of the cycling economy by offering more cycling friendly products 
and services along cycle routes.

“For instance, our restaurant and country store, Totties, is ideally suited to cater for cyclists’ needs as it is easily accessible from the road,” says Marian, adding they have plans to offer a cycle washing bay and a smoothie and coffee bar for cyclists’ convenience.

Another internationally recognised brand that has placed the region on the cycling map is eco-friendly chain lubricant Squirt Lube, which is made in Knysna. “Through Squirt Lube’s access to international markets we can connect to product users in Europe and the United States. By following their products to these markets we can launch marketing initiatives around the Cape Town to Plett route and the Garden Route as a cycling destination – which in turn will position the province and the region at the forefront of cycling markets in 47 countries,” says Greg.

Greg is also currently negotiating with the organisers of the National Ultimate Endurance (NUE) series to host its 15th race in Knysna. If successful, the region gains access to riders participating in 16 NUE races taking part in 16 different states in the United States.

Contact
The Bike Shop 044 533 1111
Cairnbrogie 
Trail Park 082 551 4638 cairnbrogie.co.za
Garden Route 
Trail Park 082 802 8103 gardenroutetrailpark.com
Garden Route 
Events 078 460 3383 gardenrouteevents.co.za
Totties/Rheenendal 
Ramble 044 389 0092 tottiesfarmkitchen.co.za
Knysna & Partners 044 382 5510 visitknysna.co.za

Ultimate survivors

Doing business on the Garden Route is not for sissies and few companies outlast the complications of seasonality, high transport costs and other factors that have caused thousands of businesses to fail here in the past. South talks to six local businesses that have managed to keep head above water in the Southern Cape for more than 30 years.

WORDS Yolande Stander and Athane Scholtz  PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz, Vanessa van Vreden and Jenya Zhivaleva

ROBBERG GROUP
Despite serious challenges in the fishing industry, the Robberg Group has grown from a fish shop and butchery in Plettenberg Bay’s Main Street in 1979 to a major wholesale fresh and deli food distributor employing more than 70 people. Founding partner and managing director Malcolm Craig shares how the company deals with the ups and downs.

Tell us about your business journey. I arrived in Plett in 1971, never thinking that my fishing hobby would become my profession. I worked for the Ollemans family at the original butchery and fish shop in Main Road, eventually buying it in 1979.

A partnership with the late Peter Dodds allowed us to expand into fishing, processing, retail and wholesale as well as the export of squid and line caught hake. The by-catch of our boats as well as the excess products allowed us to extend our distribution area to Knysna, George, Mossel Bay and later Port Elizabeth.

A series of challenges affected fish production, how did you overcome these issues? Permit allocations in 2000, lack of harbour facilities out of Plettenberg Bay and the world financial collapse in 2008, which resulted in a huge decrease in demand on the export market, eventually rendered the industry unviable. Robberg had by that time built up an amazing network of relationships in the fishing and frozen food industry, and we diversified into distribution of a wider range of food products.

What would you attribute to your on-going success? My job has always been to look forward to see the bumps in the road. Some people say I am negative but I believe I am a realist and my decisions affect all my staff and their families, so I would rather be aware of the problems ahead of time to better prepare for them. The advantages of looking ahead for the pitfalls are that you can also look ahead to the opportunities. It is that kind of thinking as well as seizing the opportunities at hand that have led to our success so far. It helps to have a partner like Blaine Dodds (many times SA and World Hobie champion), whose tenacity as an athlete is reflected in business – we never consider losing or giving up.

You contribute significantly to the local economy and empower locals, what role does this play in standing the test of time? Success, to me, is that you are only as good as your team. You need to have strong honest relationships with your staff as well as your trading partners. Although many jobs were lost in Plettenberg Bay due to the demise of fishing operations here, Robberg managed to maintain and even increase the number of jobs in our factory. We currently employ more than 70 people full time and take on extra staff over season.

You’ve survived one of the worst recessions this country has seen, what would you say saved you where others failed? Budget, budget, budget – you cannot spend money you have not made yet, or don’t have in reserve.
044 501 2600 www.robberg.co.za

 

FECHTERS
Established in Knysna in 1936 when indigenous timber production was booming, Fechters furniture manufacturers had to reinvent themselves many times over to survive the significant changes in their industry. Head of operations Morné Smith tells of their journey.

How has Fechters grown into the company it is today? Established by George Fechter when Knysna was the hub of woodworking and production of fine furniture, the company grew to become known countrywide for quality indigenous solid wood furniture. During a decline in demand for traditional indigenous wood furniture in the early 1990s, Fechters branched out into the manufacturing of patio furniture. By the mid-nineties, we had established a good export market for outdoor furniture, which served us well until the onset
of the global economic crisis in 2008.

With the rapid demise of the export market, and a local economic recession looming, the business went through a major strategic restructure. Our focus shifted back to the local market and increasing retail sales through our Knysna store. We also diversified our product range further by manufacturing a range of upholstered furniture. This strategy paid off and we have been experiencing constant growth since 2011.

How important is the Fechters brand reputation for producing quality products and how does that relate to surviving in business? It is very important. As a local manufacturer, we experience fierce competition from imported products and in many cases cannot compete on price. Our niche is to focus on the higher end of the market, where quality is a higher priority than just price. However, we still strive to provide our customers with well-made, value-for-money products.

How important is it to keep up with trends? The South African furniture market was seen for many years as being of more conservative taste, but with a bigger exposure to overseas trends via the Internet, South African buyers have become more trend and design conscious. We study the overseas trends regularly, and find that they are filtering into the South African market much quicker these days. Our traditional range of furniture does not enjoy the appeal of years ago, and our product ranges are now mostly contemporary.

The local timber industry has taken several knocks over the years, how has this affected business and how did you overcome these challenges? One of our biggest challenges was the fact that indigenous timber was no longer as freely available on auction as it used to be. There was also a steep increase in price. Our strategy was to reduce our dependency on only local timbers and to work with imported alternatives. Unfortunately the weak rand is not doing us any favours at the moment.

What do you believe have been the key factors to Fechters’ success? Strategic change in tough economic conditions; understanding the market and adapting to changing trends; a well-established brand that is known for quality products and finally excellent customer and after-sales service have all played a role.

Do you believe it is better to have a specialised range and focus on core products or to be “a Jack of all trades”? Focus is quite important, and something that we spent a lot of time on. As part of our restructuring, we took a critical look at everything we were producing and made a decision to specialise in the product ranges that were profitable instead of producing anything that came our way.
044 382 7294 www.fechters.co.za

 

THE POTTER
Ceramicist Rudi Botha has turned his passion for clay into a flourishing business with a wide range of functional and decorative products. From his eclectic shop on the N2 at Harkerville he supplies retailers and customers worldwide.

How have you managed to make a sustainable living from a craft for nearly 35 years? Passion helps a lot when you create something but making a living or doing business requires very hard work, long trading hours and reasonable costing.

How has seasonality affected your business and how did you overcome it? The first three years after I established The Potter in 1981, I opened doors only during the three busy months of summer, and offered pottery classes to locals three times a day during the rest of the year. The classes were popular as there was very little to do other than swimming, fishing, hiking and dodging elephants on your way to Knysna. As Plettenberg Bay grew in size, seasonality became less of an issue. I took orders during busy times and filled them in the quieter times. During the quiet times we delivered personally, and caught up with advertising and produced for season.

When and why did you start supplying other retail stores? I started wholesaling soon after I opened to soften the seasonal aspect of doing business in a holiday town. Our products and price structure were well received in the marketplace, and we have been open to different ideas and specific requests from clients. This was before faxes, cell phones and social media, and exposure to our products was either by people visiting our shop or craft markets. We had to supply other outlets to grow.

What would you say is the key to your success? One of the factors was being married to a wonderful friend, Ilza, who carried all the aches and pains of creating and selling. Another aspect was keeping an open mind to create what the public asked for and to keep on learning, as well as hard – very hard – work. Since 1996, The Potter has been open for business seven days a week. When you only have a seasonal market it is no use to complain about bad business if you go fishing or relax on the beach with your potential clients – it was always very tempting to be swept up in the holiday mood.

How important has your location next to the N2 been for business? After successfully trading in the old Keurboomstrand Post Office for several years from 1981, the new national road was built and it by-passed us. Although The Potter was already established, the effect on our trade made us realise just how important location and visibility was. That is why in 1996 we chose our current location.

Do you follow trends when you produce your goods or do you stick to a tried and tested formula? How important is following this decision business-wise? I do look at market trends and constantly renew the product range. Market trends will reflect on your sales and that gives you a clear indication. We, however, also still produce products I started making 35 years ago but sometimes it’s just a matter of evolving them as the market shifts. The bottom line is to look and learn.
044 532 7735 www.thepotter.co.za

 

PEMBREYS
Few business achievements are as admirable as managing a restaurant on the Garden Route for nearly 40 years. Viv and Peter Vadas, the owners of Pembreys outside Knysna, are legends in a region where the hospitality industry is
the first to fail when the going gets tough.

What is the secret of your longevity? Peter, a qualified chef, and I have been in this business, first at Lake Pleasant Hotel and then Pembreys, since 1977 and we have seen so many restaurants try to copy new or other successful businesses. Rather, serve what you are familiar and comfortable with and soon the business will even out. There is a place for all types of eateries.

You have made it through two recessions when luxuries like dining out were being discarded. How did you survive in the most difficult of times? It was tough but staying true to ourselves and being confident that we had a niche market that would support us, pulled us through.

How have rising food costs affected your business and how did you counter that? We cannot deny that profits have decreased significantly, but we can’t just push up our prices every time there is a rise in costs. We just work harder to compensate.

What are the most important business lessons you have learned? Every customer is important. So often a young person will come in and tell us they remembered eating at Pembreys as a small child. Plus, the locals are more important than tourists because they support us year round and recommend us wherever they go.

To what degree is your business affected by seasonality and how do you overcome it? Seasonality affects us less now than 30 years ago, when visitors came only between November and January, as season now extends from about October to around May. During the quiet months we pay special attention to guests and do not become complacent.

Do you develop your menu to keep up with trends or have you stuck to a tried and tested formula? How important is this in running a successful restaurant? We do move with the times and supplies have improved so much on the Garden Route to facilitate this, but our returning customers usually come back for a particular dish so we have to keep the popular dishes as the backbone of the menu. We have become known for making all our own ice creams, pastas, desserts and soup, in fact everything on the premises, and Peter and I will not open the restaurant if we cannot be at work ourselves.
044 386 0005 www.pembreys.co.za

 

MUNGO
Master weaver Stuart Holding and wife Janet have been part of the Garden Route craft revolution since the 1970s and are best known as the creative minds behind Old Nick Village outside Plettenberg Bay. In 1998 Stuart founded the now internationally recognised textile design company Mungo. His daughter Tessa, who heads marketing at Mungo, gives some insight into the company’s success.

How important is top quality, ethical production to business success? People are increasingly looking for ethically produced products. With a strained economy customers are looking to spend their money better and are tired of inferior quality. Often times they don’t have the choice or it is more convenient to stop at a chain store to purchase homeware, but we have found an increasing awareness and people are looking for quality goods versus cheaper imports.

Mungo has the rare ability to create fabrics from inception of design to final product. What are the benefits of doing this? We can control the whole process; make sure each step is done to our standards and quality. There is transparency in the production chain, which is important when producing an ethical product. We can also, to some degree, control the costs – although production costs are high in South Africa – as there are no third party buying, selling or importing costs that add to the end price.

Mungo has grown from only a few products made at Old Nick Village to a larger mill, more than 60 different products and retail stores in Plett and Cape Town, as well as international distribution via e-commerce. How has branching out impacted on the company’s success? Mungo has gained traction around South Africa and there is a definite market in the bigger city centres for what we are producing. We also don’t have to just rely on holiday trade and can have more consistent and sustainable year-round turnover. Mungo is a little off the beaten track in the Garden Route but e-commerce has opened avenues for worldwide export. As many overseas tourists come through the area and visit the shop and museum, we are able to service these clients once they have gone home. It has opened up our market although a challenge is the taxes, duties and shipping costs.

How did you survive the 2008 recession? Our success is due to hard work, not compromising, believing in what we do and offering a unique product and experience to our customers.

Has product refinement played a role in growing the business? Stuart Holding has worked mainly from his passion to create textiles. He does not necessarily focus on a specific product or demand, but more on how the cloth will look and feel and what makes it unique. This shines through in our product. Our range started out with quite a classical and European feel, and we are slowly adding a more ethnic branch to it. This may open our export market a little more, although we will not divert far from what has made Mungo what it is.
044 533 1395 www.mungo.co.za

 

CG TERBLANCHE AND SONS
The late Christiaan Gerber Terblanche started his lumber transporting business with one truck in 1959. Fifty-six years later his wife Marie and five sons – Anton, Christo, Marius, Deon and Stephan – continue a legacy that employs more than 130 people. CG Terblanche and Sons operates as a closed corporation with business including timber harvesting and transport, mixed farming and a general dealer in Elandskraal outside Sedgefield.

What do you think is the key to your on-going success? We are proud of our good service and all the brothers remain active and visible throughout the business. Two of us still drive trucks, and all of us are hands-on and involved in the nitty gritty of everyday operations. We have gathered around us a good and loyal team of workers, many
of whom have been with us for more than 20 years. We work very hard, and expect our employees to do the same.

How has the business survived two recessions and a two-year drought? We worked very hard at remaining competitive in the market. For instance, we have our own workshop that services 22 trucks weekly and excellent relationships with long-time suppliers of spares and support technicians. We have also invested in specialised machinery to ensure more efficient harvesting. Until 2006 we were also dairy farmers, but we realised we were not large enough to supply sustainably, and the effort that went in did not justify the return per litre. The drought was the final straw – we reduced our stock and moved our business from large-scale dairy to small-scale meat production.

While it looks like the matter will be resolved in the long-term, government instructions to withdraw forestry operations in the Western Cape is having a direct impact on your business. How are you planning to deal with its implications? As in the past when things got tough, we will look for new opportunities and diversify.

What are the greatest challenges in your business? Labour issues and related administration is very time-consuming and complicated. There are many safety concerns linked to harvesting trees, transport and farming, and all our workers are extensively trained to ensure minimum risk and injury. The increasing cost of diesel is also always a factor, and filters down to almost every aspect of our business.

How does a family business with so many members involved operate without major fall-outs? Each of the brothers is assigned a different aspect of the business and assumes full responsibility for his part. We actually get on very well, respect each other, and while we sometimes disagree, we always keep in mind that it is about CG Terblanche and Sons.

What is the most rewarding part of your work? Being able to work outdoors in beautiful natural surroundings. Knowing that while every day has its challenges, as long as everyone is happy, things will work out for the best.
044 343 1954 cgterblanche@absamail.co.za

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Life in 3D

From the small town of Sedgefield, 3D graphics creator Steve Corder designs characters that have taken the international stage. Working with, among others, American multinational technology giant Intel, this family man’s inbox will have you gaping.

WORDS Ingrid Erlank photograph Desmond Scholtz Animation Steve Corder

 The Intel contract is, however, just the latest achievement for this self-taught 3D designer whose company, 3D Graphics, was possibly one of the first in South Africa to sell online 3D characters, backgrounds and other items to a worldwide market of hobbyists, film studios, mobile and computer game developers.

Steve, a qualified electrical engineer with a longstanding fascination with animated characters, says: “I took art at school and messed around with trying to draw my own characters at one stage, but it was only when companies like Pixar started to bring out full-length 3D animations that I really became excited. I was inspired to create my own characters.”

Steve experimented with creative and animation programmes, and soon found a gap in the market. He and Hannelie, his computer programmer wife, spent every spare moment in front of their computer screens. “It was time-consuming and a huge learning curve, but we were determined and persisted.”

Initially Steve sold his work on the United States-based digital animation site Renderosity though he now sells mainly through DAZ 3D. The couple made their efforts viable by selling more for less. Getting paid in US dollars helped and soon they were able to leave their day jobs in Johannesburg.

“We had a very specific dream – we wanted quality of life at the coast, working shoulder-to-shoulder, and with a lot of time to explore nature and have fun. Sedgefield’s slow life was the perfect fit.”

Steve and Hannelie built up a portfolio of products that have been used in applications such as television advertising, children’s TV, storybook illustrations, as well as mobile and computer games.

3D Graphics did well, but a request for a Skype voice call from Los Angeles was the start of something much greater. “Although I prefer typed chat for record purposes, I agreed to take a call between 4pm and 5pm, but when a call came in at ten minutes to 5pm, I hung up the call and sent a text saying it was too late to start a chat. Our family time is important to me and I’m strict on keeping my work to working hours only,” says Steve.

The next day at exactly 4pm, Steve took the call – it was Intel Labs venturing director Thomas Sachson, who had come across Steve’s work while searching for animators online – and so began his long-term contract with Intel.

With the company’s technical team in Beijing and main team in Los Angeles, working hours are complex. “They have come to respect my working hours and will often make joking comments if they want my feedback and realise it’s out of my 8am-5pm work day!”

Intel initially planned on more than 20 3D characters per month. “We investigated sub-contracting several animation artists but soon realised the uniqueness of our characters is our winning game. Now, we do what we do with the time that we have.”

Through Intel’s smart phone chat app, voice and text are used to vividly animate some of Steve’s characters. Steve says creating them is immeasurable fun, and the Intel contract is affirmation of his 3D design style.

“The fact that Intel could have contacted anyone in the world but chose me was a huge boost. Although I’ve worked with some big worldwide brands before, this contract is by far the biggest. Through the Intel contract, I’ve also gained a ton of experience working with companies like Sony Animation, LEGO, Coca-Cola, Mars, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Football League (NFL), as well as various pop stars, actors and Hollywood personalities.

“I don’t see the Intel contract as an achieved goal but rather a step to greater things.”

Steve would like to visit Pixar and Sony Animation to experience a movie production. “These days I receive files of some of these movie characters in my inbox, which still, to this day, gives me goose bumps.”

He says his favourite character is whichever one he is working on at the time. “My characters tend to gain a life and personality of their own, and I enjoy exploring their quirks.”

He advises would-be animators to be themselves and to have fun. “Find a style you are passionate about and focus on breathing your own creativity and flair into it. Be inspired by others but don’t try to copy them.

“Animation is a big field full of wonderfully creative jobs. Keep the creative spark alive by pushing yourself and constantly experiment with new ideas.”

Steve Corder
www.3dgraphics.co.za

Time out

Recognising that an increasing number of people want to escape the rigours of the rat race, wellness coaches are flocking to the Southern Cape, where the idyllic setting provides the perfect backdrop for the business of replenishing body, mind and soul.

WORDS Yolande Stander PHOTOGRAPHS Lisa Greyling, Glen J Wray, supplied

From yoga retreats and kinesiology to animal therapies and faith-based getaways, the Garden Route and Klein Karoo offer a wide variety of spiritual and mental wellness options that attract people from all walks of life in South Africa and abroad.

While this sector has seen steady growth over the past few years, tourism experts believe there is potential for a flourishing industry.

“I strongly believe it is an industry that will blossom as executives and managers come under more and more pressure to produce enhanced returns to shareholders, and squeeze more and more out of their human resources and themselves. Time poverty is already recognised as a major problem in corporate South Africa, with less leisure time being taken and shorter holidays being a feature,” says Knysna-based tourism coach Shaun van Eck.

“The Southern Cape is perfectly positioned for this type of tourism. While the facilities at these centres are very important, it is well documented that getting out into nature unlocks the bad habits and blockages caused by corporate stress. The region has a wonderful variety of natural spots that are easily accessible, close to great resorts and with excellent practitioners available to facilitate the process,” says Shaun.

Nature’s Valley Health Retreat
Erna Fourie, who runs Nature’s Valley Health Retreat near Plettenberg Bay, opened her doors 17 years ago to offer therapies such as kinesiology, career planning, relationship counselling, Brain Gym, trauma and eating disorder counselling as well as teambuilding.

“I realised people need to get out of the over-developed big city rat race and find their own quiet centred space again. If people don’t get the opportunity to find some ‘mind space’, they could suffer a total burn out. There is definitely a growing need for spiritual growth and mental health,” says Erna.

Her passion is to “intervene as a facilitator when somebody comes to a stuck state in their life”, and the area is perfect to enhance what she offers, with its natural forests, breath-taking hiking trails, thriving birdlife and unspoiled beaches. “Here is limited development, no street lights and wild bushbuck still roam free. If one combines that with the pristine beauty and stillness, fresh air and indigenous yellowwood, stinkwood, and milkwood trees and other endemic species, it’s a real paradise for the overwhelmed tired soul,” says Erna.

Gratitude Horse Farm
Many believe in the healing power of animals, often used to help in treating a number of conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Outside Riversdale at the Gratitude Horse Farm, owner Vanessa Malvicini offers equine therapy.

“One of the two rivers running through the farm is called Wegwyzer, which means ‘showing the way’, and this is what we do here with the horses – we help people to find their own life path again,” says Vanessa.

At most retreats in the region visitors stay from a day or two, to weeks, depending on their needs. Guests vary from local and international tourists to people with high stress jobs and trauma patients as well as corporate groups.

Peace of Eden forest retreat
Over the years people from around the country have flocked to the Peace of Eden Forest Retreat in Rheenendal outside Knysna for workshops, including inspirational breath work, health and happiness retreats, Brahma Kumaris meditation weekends, story telling events, goddess workshops, crystal bowl sounds journeys and tantra yoga retreats. “We also offer silent retreats and self-styled retreats for one or more people, where you create your own programme with the therapies on offer, like massage, Reiki, specialised kinesiology, meditation, yoga, stress release breath work, soulful nature forest walks and much more,” says Jen Harvey-Butcher.

While the mind and soul take centre stage at the retreat, the team also ensures the body receives nourishment. All their retreats are fully catered for with healthy, organic, vegan meals, including raw and gluten-free options.

Iyengar Yoga Retreats
At Iyengar Yoga Retreats – which offers yoga retreats, teachers’ classes and training in Oudtshoorn – sessions are hosted over three or five-day periods.

Owner David Jacobs says retreats of this nature are slowly growing and there is definitely a need for the industry. “South Africans usually travel abroad for this kind of yoga retreat or vacation and it is centres like ours that offer a local alternative. Being in this region is an added bonus as it is a safe environment with clean air, quiet surroundings and spectacular nature.”

David says students from all over the country and abroad, including groups from the Congo and Switzerland, come to the retreats, leading to a positive knock-on effect on tourism in general. “The stay is often extended as they try to incorporate local travel in and around South Africa before or after their stay with us in Oudtshoorn.”

Benedictus Deus
The region also offers something for those who have neglected their spiritual side and seek a greater connection with this dimension of their lives. Leela Verity, spiritual director of Benedictus Deus (meaning ‘blessed be God’) in Plettenberg Bay hosts teachings, meditations, yoga and retreats for all religions to help people grow spiritually.

“As the pace of life gets faster and people become more stressed, there is a proportionate need and longing for peace, ease and harmony. Just as the body needs food and exercise, and the mind needs stimulation, the spirit needs nourishment. Modern life is out of balance and too much emphasis is placed on the material world.” Lila says it’s often only when people are in crisis that they realise their spiritual needs.

Carmel by the Sea
Carmel by the Sea, between George and Wilderness, provides similar spiritual upliftment through a variety of programmes, including entertainment coupled with meaningful ministry, rest and relaxation.

“Due to work demands, family commitments and other life pressures, a place like Carmel is a haven where one can find peace, make time to reflect, experience the presence of God and draw closer to Him,” says general manager William Horner.

Plettenberg Bay Tourism spokesman Patty Butterworth says health and wellness tourism is a rapidly growing sector in the industry. “New and emerging trends include spas, medical wellness, life-coaching, meditation, festivals, pilgrimage and yoga retreats. The natural beauty of the region allows for religious tourism or fitness of mind and wellbeing,” she says.

Shaun says the Garden Route has the potential to become a premier destination for this type of tourism, which could be a lucrative market that contributes significantly to off-season occupancies and spending in the area.

“The region can even go as far as to target a new category of tourism by combining the search for spiritual and mental wellness with innovation sessions, where executives are facilitated in thinking out of the box and coming up with new innovations and business ideas, while in the state of well-being that these resorts can bring. I’m suggesting this combined package be brought into corporate budgets, as opposed to the individual budgets that the health and wellness resorts tend to benefit from.”

Nature’s Valley Health Retreat
Erna Fourie
082 794 6207
www.naturesvalleyhealthretreat.appspot.com

Peace of Eden
Jen Harvey-Butcher
074 755 5859
www.peaceofeden.co.za

Gratitude Horse Farm
Vanessa Malvicini
073 217 5775
www.gratitudefarm.com

Iyengar Yoga Centre 
David Jacobs
082 886 7568
www.iyengaryogawithdavid.com

Benedictus Deus Spiritual Retreat Centre
Leela Verity 082 410 4916
www.benedictusdeus.com

Carmel by the Sea
044 889 0019
reservations@carmel.org.za