Right now, trestle tables are on trend in interior design circles, providing an exciting opportunity for Durban entrepreneur Caron van Wyk, to not only manufacture and sell the originals, but actually reinvent them.
In her small Umbilo workshop, she works alongside a carpenter to both manufacture and spray a wide range of trestle creations. These include everything from glass trestle tables to tables with trestles made from copper pipes. Two tone trestle tables, tables with non-folding trestles and even tables crafted from beautiful birch wood are all in a day’s work for this busy business woman.
“I build relationships with people and get to know what they want. I think I’ve created a niche for myself by custom making items to suit my clients’ requirements. That’s where I’ve seen a great deal of growth,” she says.
In addition to home furnishings, she has also found a ready market in office furniture. “A lot of people are moving out of rented spaces and setting up home offices. Many have added small offices to their homes and want bespoke office furniture.. I can supply whatever they want and they are paying a good price.”
Caron named her business TRESTLE SOUTH AFRICA because all the products are sourced and made locally. Nothing is imported and she uses sustainable wood. In addition to her manufacturing partner, she also works closely with a retired carpenter who adds the intricate designs and finishes required for her more top end products.
Although she started out selling from a flea market, she now counts architects, agencies and interior designers among her clients.
But overall, says Caron, the majority of her business is somewhere in the middle. “It’s a nice way to decorate on a budget. In tough economic times you have to be sensitive to price. But I believe that I am doing well because my products are affordable and I take pride in my personal service. It’s about providing value. My greatest joy is when I can help someone create a lovely space.”
Actually watching her business develop and grow has been an exciting journey, she smiles. But it has also been about hard work and learning hard lessons along the way.
Caron has been in business most of her life. Although she graduated with a social science degree and wanted to work with people and be a psychologist, she says eventually found herself joining her father in the small printing and design business that he bought 14 years ago. She eventually took it over and ran it successfully for 11 years.
It grew as she included services such as printing large architectural designs, graphic design and printing on canvas. By the time she sold it three years ago, it had two branches – one in Glenwood and one in Kloof.
This proved an extremely stressful combination as, she says, it was much like having two different businesses with different needs and challenges. She found herself “running ragged” between the two. Buckling under the strain, she decided to sell, hoping to settle down in a less stressful salaried job.
But jobs were in short supply and, as a single mother of three, she spent a difficult two years trying to keep her head above water.
Resourceful and the sort of person who comes up with new ideas almost on a daily basis, Caron soon found herself looking at making and selling a few trestle tables similar to the ones that she had made for her printing business. Customers had asked where she had got them, so she reasoned that there should be a demand.
“I made a few and then went to the Wonder Market at Chris Saunders Park, put my tables on the grass and I’ve been busy ever since,” she smiles.
That was a year ago. The calls started coming in almost immediately and grew to the point where she was receiving a call a day.
The logical next step was to create an online presence. Still strapped for cash, she created her own website to showcase her growing range of products. This has recently been upgraded and she is on the brink of launching a fully-fledged online shop.
Although Caron started out with simple rustic trestle tables, she soon began improving them and found the growing demand to supply a more upmarket product. She began spraying instead of hand painting her tables and added a different selection of woods. She then branched out into other bespoke items.
Surprisingly, she says the majority of her sales now come from outside Durban – as far afield as Cape Town and Johannesburg and even the Karoo.
Caron says many people want their orders filled immediately. Now that her business has grown to this point, she says she realises that she needs to relook at how she is operating and build up stock to be able to supply on demand.
Right now though, she admits , she has had to take a step back and make sure that she does not fall into the same stressful lifestyle that almost saw her burn out whilst running her printing business.
Her family raised the alarm when they realised that she was again working round the clock, every day of the week. Her home was filled with tables and her partner was often roped in to help out in the evenings.
Now, she has begun to find a work home balance. “ I also realised that I couldn’t always assist with every order that came my way. Not everyone was going to buy from me and that’s okay. I’ve learnt to set limits and to keep within those. ”
She says that one of the biggest challenges when she was in the printing business was that a large portion of her business was on account and she lost large sums when people did not pay. Nowadays, orders come in by phone or online and she requests a 50 percent deposit and then couriers the tables to the required destination. People then pay over the balance when they receive them. So far, she says, she has not had a single problem.
At this point, Caron is at peace in the knowledge that she has grown her business within a very small amount of time. She is also extremely thrilled that her son, Ross, has joined her in the business and together they have a wonderful vision and plan for its future. In July they will open their first showroom in the new Morrison Street development.. an exciting space for Durban’s creatives, a development they are so proud to be a part of.