Brothers Kevin and Ricky Frankental bring walls to life. They launched their business, Lemon Décor, which supplies interior designers and architects with printing products and services as well as their extensive experience in canvas manufacturing and media in June 2007. Each invested the grand sum of R10 000 to get it going.
The brothers started running the business from Ricky’s study, initially outsourcing the printing and installation of wall coverings to other companies in the field. Within six months, however, they knew they did not want to be another ‘me too’ business offering the standard catalogue material. In addition to that, large wall coverings need to be installed professionally.
“The canvas installation industry is dominated by ‘men with bakkies’, which often results in poor work and leaves clients feeling disappointed with the product,” says Ricky. “The first big step we took was to employ our own installation team who were trained to do the job properly and be answerable to clients on site. That means that clients have one company to deal with and the responsibility lies with us to get it right.”
At the source
Six months later, they brought the production process in-house, sourcing the right large format printers and creating an infrastructure that would enable them to meet unique client needs. That meant they could provide a turnkey service to make the lives of designers and architects easier. It’s that level of service and reliability that their clients are willing to pay extra for.
“We source the artwork and design, manufacture the product and take care of the installation,” Ricky explains. “That sets our product and service offering apart. Although we charge more in what is a very price-competitive and highly commoditised industry, we offer added value that is distinctive.”
At the heart of Lemon Décor is the concept of customisation. “Designers and architects come to us with their client’s brief, detailing their taste and style, and we source the right images and graphics for them. Clients can even add their own creativity to the wall covering, which is not an option with conventional solutions.”
The business has also expanded its product range significantly. “Lemon Décor started with stretched canvases, but we now also have other products suited to a variety of interiors, such as customised wallpaper, vinyl, perspex art and fabric art,” says Kevin.
The brothers often source designs and images from local designers, artists and photographers, which gives South Africans great exposure in a market often dominated by imported material. It also helps to ensure that Lemon Décor clients get installations that are either exclusive or limited edition. This sense of exclusivity is important for a niche business and enables the brothers to further differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
Another recent addition to the business is the concept of vertical gardening, one of the latest trends in contemporary design, enabling plants to grow on vertical surfaces in residential, corporate and hospitality environments.
Finding a niche market
Ricky notes that they knew they were onto a good thing from the start. “We had little to invest in the business and no external funding, but we grew the business slowly and organically. In the first three years we achieved 100% growth year-on-year. Last year, the business stabilised and we grew by about 70%, which is what we expect for 2012 too.”
Lemon Décor was not affected by the recession, or the general slowdown in spending on what are perceived to be luxury items. “When times are hard, beautiful design and décor can turn the workplace into a far more productive and inspiring environment. Our corporate and hospitality clients often comment on how much happier employees are when they work in a space that is stylish and attractive.”
Kevin says they have both learnt how important it is to have systems in place to ensure excellence, and to pave the way for product innovation. The company now employs 30 staff members, all of whom adhere to strict quality controls. “That means our clients can hand over elements of their projects and be completely assured that their needs will be met.”
Initially, with no budget available for marketing, Lemon Décor secured clients through word of mouth. “Thanks to our knowledge of the media industry we were also able to arrange barter deals with magazines in the décor and design sector, which our target market likes, rather than in the consumer space,” says Ricky. “Today we continue to advertise in specialist publications, but we also have a large number of repeat clients. We have proven that price is not an obstacle for clients looking for quality.”
Learning to let go
Several years down the line, Ricky and Kevin Frankental are ready to do what many entrepreneurs fear the most – let go. Not of the business, but of the day-to-day tasks that typically consume the energy of the founders of a successful business. One of the ways they’re doing that is to appoint an MD, which will free up their own time to focus on what they are really good at – finance, marketing and developing creative new solutions for their clients.
They both admit to being hesitant to delegate. “There is no doubt that we often feel that no one can do what we do as well as we can,” says Kevin. “And our reputation is tied to the success of the business, but we have to acknowledge that at some point, to enable growth, the business cannot be solely reliant on us.”
The solution they’ve opted for is to seek out an MD with the requisite skills, experience and industry knowledge. They also provide proper training for all employees, and give clear expectations for performance. Developing a clear and detailed plan that includes what needs to be delegated, who should be assigned the task and what needs to be done to ready employees for their responsibilities are key tasks for every entrepreneur.
“At some point you have to learn to let go and delegate so that the business itself can move into the next stage of development,” says Ricky.
Players: Kevin and Ricky Frankental
Company: Lemon Décor
Contact: + 27 (0)11 540 0177; lemondecor.co.za