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Weylandt: Chris Weylandt

Managing growth and knowing when to let go have been important success factors forChris Weylandt in taking his namesake store from family-owned outlet to national homeware leader.

Juliet Pitman

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Chris Weylandt of Weylandts

If gaining access to funding is the biggest initial stumbling block for small businesses, managing growth is certainly the most significant second-stage challenge. Countless businesses, in spite of showing early promise have failed for one of many growth-related reasons, from lack of cash flow and skills to poor management expertise or insufficient infrastructure. But perhaps the biggest culprit is an unwillingness or inability on the part of the business owner to relinquish the iron-fist control that they grew used to exercising (and which was essential) when the business was growing. Unable to spread themselves across all areas of the business but unwilling to delegate tasks to others, such entrepreneurs doom their businesses to failure. Either that, or they end up selling to someone who can run a growing operation.

Chris Weylandt, founder of Weylandts furniture and lifestyle stores, is one of a rare breed of entrepreneurs who manage to grow with their business. The most successful among them are the Raymond Ackermans of the world – the people who manage to make the leap from profitable family-run or one-man businesses to major national operations. They know how to balance their entrepreneur’s ego with the cold hard fact that they can not conquer the world alone. Although he lists expansion as the biggest challenge he’s faced thus far, Weylandt quickly learned how to delegate to a hand-selected management team – and to put forward-looking systems and structures in place that could support the growth trajectory he had planned for his company. And while he might still describe himself as ‘hands-on’, he’s the first to admit that being hands-on when you have one store is very different from being hands-on when you’re running multiple stores in locations across the country.

But his success has not only been about managing growth. It’s also been about vision and setting new trends, about leading and finding new ways of doing things instead of following and copying what others are doing. Weylandt is lucky by his own admission to have a head for numbers as well as a feel for creativity, a combination that, unsurprisingly, has been a winning combination in his line of business. His eye for design has been invaluable in achieving his vision of creating a new kind of homestore retail space.

Weylandt grew up with the furniture business (his father owned a small family furniture store in Namibia) and although he studied to be a CA, he returned to his roots. During the five years in which he worked in the family business, he took over the manufacturing plant and started supplying South African furniture stores. “By 1996 I had grown frustrated with simply supplying the retailers – I wanted to get involved in merchandising. I understood the product and wanted to show it to clients in a different way. I wanted to bring a new kind of furniture retailing to the market. At that time, the homeware sector was just taking off and I realised there was a gap,” he relates.

Weylandt’s vision was to tap into the holistic focus on lifestyle that was emerging in the furniture and homeware markets. “What I had in mind was to sell a whole concept, a way of life, a lifestyle. It’s not about selling a sofa or a table –  it’s about creating a space where customers can experience different looks and see a whole mix of products working together to form a living space,” he explains.

The first store was an instant success with the Cape Town public, but looking back on those early days, Weylandt admits that times were frequently tough. “Because I was a Namibian citizen, I really struggled to get permanent residence in South Africa, even though I had established a factory and was providing employment in the area. For similar reasons, it was also difficult to get finance for our first building. In the end, we funded things internally from the Namibian operation but there was only so much ready cash available. I had to juggle it very carefully between getting the building up and running, paying in advance for imports and running a new business. It was exciting but frequently challenging,” he relates. Soaring interest rates didn’t help matters, which makes Weylandt all the more proud that the first store was profitable almost from day one.

The look and feel of the Durbanville store came to characterise the unique Weylandts signature. “I wanted a destination store, which meant that location and the type of building were all-important. The multi-levelled building in Durbanville was perfect because it meant that customers could experience different displays and move through different areas on different levels. We put a crèche and a coffee shop in it so that people could come and enjoy the different lifestyle spaces. This was very important if we were to differentiate ourselves from other furniture stores.”

“But we also differentiated ourselves in what we put inside our stores,” he continues, “and part of developing the Weylandt’s handwriting was about creating a certain style that people couldn’t get anywhere else. Our products are both locally manufactured and imported but the distinctiveness arises out of how we mix them together to create a unique look. It’s quite European – clean and uncluttered – but at the same time it’s not like anything else. I believe that creating your own identity is vital – you can’t simply copy someone else – and that’s a principle that we’ve always stuck to. Our drive has always been to innovate and bring new things to the market.”

Getting this right means investing a great deal of time sourcing just the right mix of products. “Obviously your starting point is knowing what the market wants and this requires a fine understanding of current lifestyle trends. But at the same time, if you want to push the envelope it also involves educating the market about new trends and directions,” he says, adding that regular international travel has been invaluable in helping the company stay ahead of the curve. “However, you can’t simply copy what’s happening internationally – you need to add local flavour as each country’s market is quite specific. I get inspiration from Europe or Scandinavia but I apply it to our context here. The end result is something new and I always find that exciting,” he adds.

The Greenpoint store followed closely on the heels of the pilot outlet in Durbanville and Weylandt then turned his attention to Knysna, where he opened on the exclusive Thesen Island, a move prompted by Weylandt’s growing reputation. “We were approached by the developer of Thesen Island who wanted to get a shopping node going,” he explains. Knysna was still fairly close to home, however, and the company’s biggest learning curve came with the establishment of its first Johannesburg store in Fourways.

“It was our biggest challenge, without a doubt,” relates Weylandt, “In Cape Town we were starting a business, building a culture and sharing a vision with staff who were growing with us. Suddenly you open a store 2 000 kilometres away and it all changes. Bear in mind that we were still a young company with limited resources in terms of HR and training systems and I couldn’t be there all the time.” As so many other entrepreneurs have discovered before him, one of the biggest difficulties lay in ensuring that the company’s unique culture and brand integrity were not diluted by its growth. “We quickly realised that we needed to put a lot of emphasis on training. Fortunately for me, being so hands-on and close to the staff and operations in the beginning meant that I was totally familiar with all aspects of the business – from how to make the furniture, to assembling, marketing and selling it – so I could pass this knowledge on to new staff,” he says.

Logistics proved another significant challenge. “We’d always had a competitive advantage because we held a large amount of stock and could deliver items quickly, which meant customers didn’t have a long wait between choosing their furniture and taking delivery of it. But when we opened in Johannesburg we didn’t have a distribution centre to start off with. We’d deliver from Cape Town to a transit distribution centre and then on to the client but that had a lot of time implications. So we knew we needed to establish a mirror image in Johannesburg of what we had in Cape Town and that solved the problem,” he says.

But perhaps his biggest advantage lay in the fact that Weylandt recognised his own limitations. “When you can’t be in all places at once you have to ask where your back-up is. I knew that I needed people I could rely on to make decisions when I wasn’t there so three years ago I started to build a management team,” he explains. In doing so, he has focused on internal recruitment. “You can’t underestimate the value that experienced employees can bring to the company,” he says. And unlike many entrepreneurs who try to handle staff issues themselves, Weylandt has established an HR department to deal with personnel. “As the business grows, you realise that you are spending 90% of your time on people issues and this means that valuable time is not being spent on creative or strategic issues, the things that will take the business to the next level. Being able to hand these things over to HR has freed me up to focus on the business and where it’s going,” he explains.

Perhaps the reason so many entrepreneurs are reluctant to give up control of various aspects of their businesses is the fear that implementing hierarchical structures will remove them from the coalface and slow down decision-making processes. It’s not an entirely unjustified concern. Small businesses have a competitive advantage over their larger peers because they can make decisions quickly and react to market changes first. Weylandt is well aware of the need for the business to remain nimble and as he points out, “I may have put various structures in place to improve how the business operates but we don’t have a board of directors. One of our enduring strengths has been our ability to identify market trends and changes and respond to them quickly, and I believe we have retained that edge even as we’ve grown. The industry that we operate in undergoes constant change and evolution and we’ve managed to adapt and evolve with it.”

He’s also been able to balance the business growth with a period of consolidation. “In the past two years we haven’t expanded as it was important to have a period of consolidation after bringing in a management team. You’ll really kill a business if you don’t allow it time to absorb the changes that growth brings. So we’ve been concentrating on getting our house in order and now we’re starting to look to what the future holds for us in relation to our next growth phase,” Weylandt explains.

It’s a future that will see expansion not only in South but also in Southern Africa. “We’ve built a very strong infrastructure and we can now look at servicing more outlets – we’re looking at Durban and perhaps another store in Johannesburg,” he explains. But he’s quick to point out that the business is not interested in growth for growth’s sake. “I don’t ever want to be a mass retailer – it’s not our business model. We’re niche and specialised and that’s where we want to stay. This limits our local market to a certain extent which is why we’ve also turned our attention to expansion into Southern Africa where I believe many opportunities still exist,” he adds.

Chris Weylandt’s Advice to Aspirant Entrepreneurs

  • Start off with a clear vision of what you want the business to be. You must have thought through the concept thoroughly and have a very clear understanding of what you want to achieve.
  • Drive, passion and a positive attitude are invaluable in making a success of a business, particularly when you come up against challenges.
  • You have to take risks and be willing to put everything on the line. A successful business never arises out of doing things in half measures so decide what you want to do and give it everything.
  • Go with your gut!

Critical success factors

  • Not worrying about what everyone else is doing and focusing on what I want the business to achieve.
  • Building long-term relationships with suppliers all over the world – this helps to ensure that we are always able to source fresh and interesting pieces that reflect new trends.
  • Travelling around the world and visiting trade and design fairs but never copying anything anyone else does. We take inspiration from global trends but mix products together in a way that is unique and locally relevant.
  • Trusting the people I employ to make the right decisions but balancing this with leading by example, always communicating and following up to make sure that things happen as they should.
  • Developing our own handwriting and identity, which gives us a unique competitive edge.
  • It’s never my job to dictate a style – I can only offer ideas; a stitched together philosophy from my journeys around the world.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Rich List: 2019 Richest People In The World

They’re worth billions, and their wealth continues to grow each year. Here’s the top 10 richest people globally in 2019.

Catherine Bristow

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jeff-bizos 10. Jeff Bezos

Net Worth: USD 139,5 billion

Jeff Bezos founded e-commerce giant Amazon in a garage in Seattle, USA in 1994. He also purchased The Washington Post for $250 million in 2013.

Bezos believes in always taking a long-term view and living in the present moment.

“I think this is something about which there’s a lot of controversy. A lot of people — and I’m just not one of them — believe that you should live for the now.

I think what you do is think about the great expanse of time ahead of you and try to make sure that you’re planning for that in a way that’s going to leave you ultimately satisfied. This is the way it works for me. There are a lot of paths to satisfaction and you need to find one that works for you.”

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Entrepreneur Profiles

7 Self-Made Teenager Millionaire Entrepreneurs

These teenager entrepreneurs have already made their first million and more. How did they do it and what’s their secret to success?

Catherine Bristow

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1. Evan of YouTube

evan-of-youtube

Evan and his father Jarod started a youtube channel ‘Evantube’ to review kids’ toys. The channel was a resounding success with other kids – so much so that today it boasts just over 6 million subscribers.

Evantube brings in more than USD1.4 million a year from ad revenue generated on the channel.

How did it start? With a father-son fun project making Angry Birds Stop Animation videos, and morphed into doing reviews on toys and video games. But Jarod’s dad is aware of the responsibility of Evan’s sudden fame and hopes to teach Evan about the importance of being a good role model for others.

“Most recently, we had the opportunity to work with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and were able to fulfill the wish of a young boy whose dream was to meet Evan and make a video with him at Legoland,” explains Jared. “It was a really incredible experience. YouTube has definitely opened many doors, and the kids have gotten to do some pretty amazing things.”

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Expert Advice From Property Point On Taking Your Start-Up To The Next Level

Through Property Point, Shawn Theunissen and Desigan Chetty have worked with more than 170 businesses to help them scale. Here’s what your start-up should be focusing on, based on what they’ve learnt.

Nadine Todd

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shawn-theunissen-and-desigan-chetty

Vital Stats

  • Players: Shawn Theunissen and Desigan Chetty
  • Company: Property Point
  • What they do: Property Point is an enterprise development initiative created by Growthpoint Properties, and is dedicated to unlocking opportunities for SMEs operating in South Africa’s property sector.
  • Launched: 2008
  • Visit: propertypoint.org.za

Through Property Point, Shawn Theunissen and his team have spent ten years learning what makes entrepreneurs tick and what small business owners need to implement to become medium and large business owners. In that time, over 170 businesses have moved through the programme.

While Property Point is an enterprise development (ED) initiative, the lessons are universal. If you want to take your start-up to the next level, this is a good place to start.

Risk, reputation and relationships

“We believe that everything in business comes down to the 3Rs: Risk, Reputation and Relationships. If you understand these three factors and how they influence your business and its growth, your chances of success will increase exponentially,” says Shawn Theunissen, Executive Corporate Social Responsibility at Growthpoint Properties and founder of Property Point.

So, how do the 3Rs work, and what should business owners be doing based on them?

Risk: We can all agree that there will always be risks in business. It’s how you approach and mitigate those risks that counts, which means you first need to recognise and accept them.

“We always straddle the line between hardcore business fundamentals and the relational elements and people components of doing business,” says Shawn. “For example, one of the risks that everyone faces in South Africa is that we all make decisions based on unconscious biases. As a business owner, we need to recognise how this affects potential customers, employees, stakeholders and even ourselves as entrepreneurs.”

Reputation: Because Property Point is an ED initiative, its 170 alumni are black business owners, and so this is an area of bias that they focus on, but the rule holds true for all biases. “In the context of South Africa, small black businesses are seen as higher risk. To overcome this, black-owned businesses should focus on the reputational component of their companies. What’s the track record of the business?”

A business owner who approaches deals in this way can focus on building the value proposition of the business, outlining the capacity and capabilities of the business and its core team to deliver how the business is run, and specific service offerings.

“From a business development perspective, if you can provide a good track record, it diminishes the customer’s unconscious bias,” says Shawn. “Now the entrepreneur isn’t just being judged through one lens, but rather based on what they have done and delivered.”

Related: Property Point Creates R1bn In Procurement Opportunities For Small Businesses

Relationship: “We believe that fundamentally people do business with people,” says Shawn. “There needs to be culture match and fluency in terms of relations to make the job easier. As a general rule, the ease of doing business increases if there is a culture match.”

This relates to understanding what your client needs, how they want to do business, their user experience and customer experience. “We like to call it sharpening the pencil,” says Desigan Chetty, Property Point’s Head of Operations.

“In terms of value proposition, does your service offering focus on solving the client’s needs? Is there a culture match between you and your client? And if you realise there isn’t, can you walk away, or do you continue to focus time and energy on the wrong type of service offering to the wrong client? This isn’t learnt over- night. It takes time and small but constant adjustments to the direction you’re taking.”

In fact, Desigan advises walking away from the wrong business so that you can focus on your core competencies. “If you reach a space where you work well with a client and you’ve stuck to your core competencies, business is just going to be easier. It becomes easier for you to deliver. Sometimes entrepreneurs stretch themselves to try to provide a service to a client that’s not serving either of their needs. This strategy will never lead to growth — at least not sustainable growth.”

Instead, Desigan recommends choosing an entry point through a specific offering based on an explicit need. “Too often we see entrepreneurs whose offerings are so broad that they don’t focus,” he says. “Instead, understand what your client’s need is and address that need, even if it means that it’s only one out of your five offerings. Your likelihood of success if you go where the need is, is much higher.

“Once you get in, prove yourself through service delivery. It’s a lot easier to on-sell and cross sell once you have a foot in the door. You’re now building a relationship, learning the internal culture, how things work, what processes are followed and so on — the client’s landscape is easier to navigate. The challenge is to get in. Once you’re in, you can entrench yourself.”

Desigan and Shawn agree that this is one of the reasons why suppliers to large corporates become so entrenched. “Once you’re in, you can capitalise from other needs that may have emanated from your entry point and unlock opportunities,” says Shawn.

Building a sustainable start-up

While all start-ups are different, there are challenges most entrepreneurs share and key areas they should focus on.

Shawn and Desigan share the top five areas you should focus on.

1. Align and partner with the right people

This includes your staff, stakeholders, partners, suppliers and clients. Partnerships are the best thing to take you forward. The key is to collaborate and partner with the right people based on an alignment of objectives and culture. It’s when you don’t tick all the boxes that things don’t work out.

2. Make sure you get the basics right

Never neglect business fundamentals. Do you have the processes and systems in place to scale the business?

3. Understand your value proposition

Are you on a journey with your clients? Is your value proposition aligned to the need you’re trying to solve for your clients? Are you looking ahead of the curve — what’s the problem, what are your clients saying and are you being proactive in leveraging that relationship?

Related: Want To Start A Property Business That Buys Property And Rents It Out?

4. Unpack your value chain

If you want to diversify, understand your value chain. What is it, where are the opportunities both horizontally and vertically within your client base, and what other solutions can you offer based on your areas of expertise?

8. Don’t ignore technology

Be aware of what’s happening in the tech space and where you can use it to enable your business. Tech impacts everything, even more traditional industries. Businesses that embrace technology work smarter, faster and often at a lower cost base.

Ultimately, Desigan and Shawn believe that success often just comes down to attitude. “We have one entrepreneur in our programme who applied twice,” says Shawn. “When he was rejected, he listened to the feedback we gave him and instead of thinking we were wrong, went away, made changes and came back. He was willing to learn and open himself up to different ways of approaching things. That business has grown from R300 000 per annum to R20 million since joining us.

“Too many business owners aren’t willing to evaluate and adjust how they do things. It’s those who want to learn and embrace change and growth that excel.”

Networking, collaborating and mentoring

Property Point holds regular networking sessions called Entrepreneurship To The Point. They are open to the public and have two core aims. First, to provide entrepreneurs access to top speakers and entrepreneurs, and second, to give like-minded business owners an opportunity to network and possibly even collaborate.

“We believe in the power of collaboration and networking,” says Desigan.

“Most of our alumni become mentors themselves to new entrants to the programme. They want to share what they have learnt with other entrepreneurs, but they also know that they can learn from newer and younger entrepreneurs. The business landscape is always changing. Insights can come from anywhere and everywhere.”

The To The Point sessions are designed to help business owners widen their network, whether they are Property Point entrepreneurs or not.

To find out more, visit www.ettp.co.za

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