Building success in a family business | Fin24
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Building success in a family business

Nov 29 2013 18:15
In a family business the biggest challenge for an entrepreneur of the next generation, is to get into the driver’s seat, says Daleen Mulder, executive director of Bedmat.

She also believes in giving value for money instead of merely cutting prices. Fin24 asked her about what it means to be an entrepreneur.

Tell us something about youself and your background.

I am 58 years old, have a drama degree from the University of Pretoria, worked in public and private enterprise and ended up as a journalist with Nasionale Pers from 1981 to 1988.

I became an entrepreneur when my late husband and I started a family. I was 33 years old.

At the birth of our last child, we decided to move away from Pretoria and give our three sons the opportunity to grow up in the country side.

We moved to White River, Mpumalanga, where I grew up. My parents were looking for assistance with the business they had started in 1961, the business which I now own.

How did your business start and how has it grown?

The business literally started under a tree when my entrepreneur dad made his first bed in 1961.

When they moved here in 1957, he realised there was a need for beds as many rural people still slept on mats on the floor.

Over the years there were many changes: From steel beds to wooden beds, from choir mattresses to foam and inner spring.

Today we run quite an extensive operation adding luxury beds and linen, upholstery, various products to the hospitality market and steel furniture for the hostel industry, we do medical products including hospital mattresses, the list goes on.

Five women and two men are employed and our turnover has doubled over the past two years. We make use of various sub-contractors as well.

What are the challenges for entrepreneurs and how do you handle these?

Well, since it is a family owned business, let me address that first.

The biggest challenge for an entrepreneur of the next generation, is to get into the driver’s seat. Change is not easy for most and becomes quite an issue when the next generation takes over.
Currently I employ people of the generation after me, to keep up with changing trends. Even to me it is already a challenge, but I feel it a necessity.

There is also the question of temperament: In my case my father was the risk taker, always taking the business forward.

My mother is the steady one, making sure that there is cash flow, she keeps her hand on following up orders, timeous payment of creditors and all the general administration of the business - along with sales.

When my father passed away, the business became rather stagnant and so did my enthusiasm.

Three years ago I was introduced to a coach, David Wilkinson. After consultations, training and groups sessions with other entrepreneurs, the business turned around within a few months.

Your advice for entrepreneurs?

Have policies in place to protect your business and your customer (and you from your customer), such as having deposits in place before you start the work.

In earlier years, your word was you honor. Today things have changed and you have to specify where you draw the line.

Consumer rights were always protected by our company (hence the 52 years in business), but lately strict laws are necessary to protect both consumer and supplier.

Be in line with the law when it comes to the outlay of your documents, your terms and conditions and regarding staff, get the right professionals to get contracts in place.

Cash flow is king. Always calculate, be aware of buying too  much stock, or trying to go too low in mark ups.

Give value for money instead of cutting your prices to the bone.

When you try to be the cheapest, there is no buffer, no extra for advertising and more. Know your personal strengths.

A sales person is people driven, a manager is results driven. A bookkeeper is cost driven and a supportive person is valuable in running the consumer satisfaction department.

What makes you a successful entrepreneur?

The customer is the most important and I try my best to understand their specific needs.

Apart from that, the value of building momentum in the business, the value of networking, using the services of professionals in other fields of expertise to enhance my services and lastly my personnel work with me, not for me.

They each have their own personalities which is optimized for the betterment of the company.

I also give customers the opportunity to guide me into new needs and horizons.

For instance, our non-iron pure cotton linen and products against mosquitoes,  products against mould growth in showers and elsewhere, products to prevent odors are all state of the art newcomers to the market.

I also have a clear vision of who my ideal customers are: People whom I can build a long term trust relationship with.
Are you involved with the community?

Recently we got involved with a local community, which is struggling to make ends meet, by starting the Bedmat Pumpkin Project with White River Child Welfare and the Rotary Club of Nelspruit.

Children from this extremely poor community, are taught to plant a pumpkin seed in an empty toilet roll. The idea of the roll is to keep the seed protected against pests while it germinates and to stop the compost from draining away.

It will naturally disintegrate with time. The idea is to teach the kids  they can do something for themselves, where they are, with what they have.

The humble pumpkin expands and grows over a stretched-out area, making new branches as it goes along and can feed a family.

The leaves, stems and flowers can be used in stews. The pumpkins (even the seeds) can be eaten, sold and, for the entrepreneur, later lead to the introduction of new recipes, maybe even a restaurant.

The three pupils who grow the biggest pumpkins will win a prize.
Everything in life starts with baby steps…we just need to take that first step.

entrepreneurs  |  manufacturing


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