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150 Days of Pain – The True Cost of Doing Business in SA

What new businesses need is a leap of faith. We need people who are willing to invest in something that means so much to us, and would mean as much to them when the finished product comes off the factory floor. The last 150 days of our start-up has taught us that people love to talk the talk, but when it comes to the first step of walking the walk, that leap of faith is a step too far.

The furniture market in South Africa is an interesting mix. Big local producers who account for most of the furniture made; mass importers of furniture from the emerging markets and China; and small local manufacturers. Within this mix 3 facts really stood out for us: –

1.       South Africa imports almost R7bn worth of furniture, flooding the retail market with cheaper and often poorly made goods. 

2.       The big local producers employ only about 10% of the manufacturing labour force, which means,

3.       90% of workers employed in the furniture sector are employed by small businesses.

On the back of the news within South Africa that we have reached record unemployment figures, it makes sense then that there should be a move to support small local manufacturers. This support should be coming from government in terms of inducements and bureaucratic easing, big business in the form of easier access to loans, bank accounts and investment, and from the citizens of our country as a whole. Those everyday people that make the buying decisions and who should be making more informed choices about where their goods come from, and what benefits they provide. After all, lowering unemployment has a direct benefit on our collective quality of life.

Small businesses are uniquely able to make direct and lasting impacts on the economy and the people directly and indirectly involved in the business. We create employment, we don’t just move the employed around. We can quickly upskill staff and can help build an entrepreneurial skills base in those we bring into our businesses.

Small businesses also tend to be better for the environment, in that we only procure material for order, we don’t stockpile excess natural resources, waste scarce energy resources or create waste unnecessarily.

It all makes sense then that we should give serious consideration to starting a small business and getting to work! That said, starting a new business from scratch (which is where the employment gains are really made) is hard work. The hard work is not an issue to those that are passionate about creating and building, and even the business side of things is not that daunting, thanks to years in a corporate environment, or thanks to the bountiful free resources that can be found online to assist.

The biggest hurdle we found in our first 150 days, is that we are new. Being new means that we don’t have a massive portfolio of our own products and photographs to send to potential clients which would somehow validate our skills. We need that leap of faith.

We are all too aware of the risks that consumers face when dealing with small start-up businesses (we are after all, consumers too), and fully understand that there are many people posing as legitimate businesses, using the same channels to market as the rest of us, with no intention of delivering a finished product, and this is a risk to all of us.

The beauty, however, of using a local, small manufacturing firm to create that piece of furniture you are looking for (to exactly your requirements!) is that they are just that – local. Come through and meet the guys.

We started our business not with the goal of making millions, but to make sure that we could make a difference in our lives, the lives of our team and hopefully to the greater society.

Let’s hope for the sake of all small businesses out there that the consumers value some of these things ahead of the relentless drive to deliver massive shareholder values to companies that do not adequately support a local labour force and suppliers at large.

 

Small businesses, a great way to ensure growth and a better outcome for all.

Melding The Tech With The Craft

Nobody told me how much technology is involved in creating a final beautiful piece of furniture. I though you cut up some wood, glued and nailed it together and hey presto – a functional table is in use. The rise of pallet furniture ideas and designs has also given people the idea that making furniture is easy. Those that have actually tried to use a hammer and crowbar to pry some flimsy pieces of wood lengths off of a pallet frame will know, this is most definitely not the case.

To create a truly beautiful, and long lasting, furniture element requires engineering, maths and computer design knowledge. You need to conceive the design, transfer that picture in your head to a 3D computer model and work out if it will still be standing after you and your closest friends load it with wine bottles and burgers on a Friday night. You need to figure out in cubic meters (yes that is a thing) how much wood that design will use and you need to cost it so that your bookkeeper stops raising their eyebrows at the marginal (read negative) profit margins you achieve. Once the rough cuts of wood arrive, you assess for cracks and where needed, fill in the knots and holes with resin (which requires a science degree to perfect) in order to ensure absolute strength and integrity of each length of wood used. Only then does the manufacturing process begin.

Mostly though you need time. Time to work out that organic material is constantly changing and flexing, suprising you with unexpected twists and turns so that construction becomes likes a puzzle.  You must consider where expansion is likely to happen, allow for differences in patterns between corresponding grains and evaluate how each individual plank will best complement the one next to it. You need time for the glue to hold, for the clamps to do their work. You need time to achieve perfect symmetry, to know where to reinforce the weak points; where to highlight the beauty of the finish and how to disguise the flaws.

 

We could all learn a few lessons from this it seems.

The True Cost of Importing Furniture into South Africa

Moving into a new apartment or house is an expensive exercise and always requires more furniture than you originally think. So where better to get those space fillers and tables than from discount and budget stores that sell cute put-it-together-yourself options. However there is a cost to buying this furniture beyond the limited lifespan they offer.

In 2009 the local furniture sector supported over 50,000 skilled and unskilled workers. By 2018 this number fell to 26,400 workers as big companies felt the pressure of cheap, imported furniture. We import around R6,9billion worth of furniture (mostly from China), all at the cost of local businesses. The most astounding statistic though is that of the 26,000 workers currently employed in the sector, 90% are employed by SMME’s. These are small businesses trying to restore the art of hand made wooden furniture and to provide clients with well made, custom designed pieces that have a story, a history, and a road map to supporting the economy of South Africa.

These statistics emboldened Ant and myself. We believe in this country and would love for it to be our home for us and our son, for many years to come. To be a part of the solution we need to encourage a move away from mass produced imported goods and provide excellent local alternatives to solve local problems.

 

And we plan on having fun while doing it.

How Hard Can It Be?

When you hit your forties you are deemed to be at the prime of your working life. You have put in the years, paid your dues and are now reaping the rewards. So why, when sitting around the dining room table fighting with the threenager, did chucking it all in and starting our own thing sound so appealing? How hard could it be?

Taking the decision to follow a dream is not an easy one and so many things need to be considered. And we will only know if we made the right decision in a few years if we manage to get it to work, but we at least took the first step, made the hard decisions, and have had some of the best weeks getting it started.

 

So welcome to the Jackal Tree journey, and we look forward to taking you along for the ride.