Running for cover in Booysens


There is a drought. We fear the rain.

Not that we don’t like farmers or enjoy rising food prises.

It is because our factory’s roof leaks like a sieve.

In fact, calling it a roof is quite generous. Its certainly made of corrugated iron and it goes over your head. But, alas it is only a roof in name.

Cherryhill Woodcraft spent the first 18 years of its life in the same factory. In the beginning, owner David Meyerowitz, shared the space with other start-up manufacturers. As the business grew, he took over their corners of the workshop. The space worked for him.

That is, until a nasty strike in the factory above two years ago lead to several hundred kilolitres of water flooding the place (blocked drain, burst pipe… Don’t ask).

So, Cherryhill moved seeking better cover.

The new landlord looked like a decent guy. He was open to negotiation and the new factory seemed like a great deal.

Until the first Highveld thunderstorm hit.

For the last two summers we have been playing a bizarre game of cat and mouse with the roof. Storms from unexpected directions bring new leaks. So, we move furniture and materials around the factory hoping to avoid the downpour and just to find a dry spot.

The current landlord – who now resides in Canada – has been directing his minions from a casual distance. His communication on our concerns has become remote and random. The matter has lost urgency, grown distant. Every now and then one of his maintenance guys climbs onto the roof and patches a hole or two.

But it’s too little and far too late. Cherryhill will have to move.

But, it takes time and money and it is not something you want to do too often. The entire operation has to be uprooted and it means manufacturing comes to a standstill while money is being spent.

However, a good business premises can make a business and a bad property can easily break it.

In the retail world, you need access to feet.

In the manufacturing game, you need easy access to suppliers, good transport routes for staff and a space that conforms to your product lines.

It is a big decision and if you do not own the property, your landlord becomes an incredibly important part of your business strategy.

This time around, the new factory is owned by a massive, listed property fund. Their property manager is a large organisation as well, filled with bureaucracy. It is a far cry from a friendly handshake and a gentleman’s agreement. They are also far less open to negotiation; the factory is but one property in a fund worth billions.

But, we hope that where friendliness is replaced by professionalism, the roof won’t leak and our furniture won’t be destroyed.

Nevertheless, it is a faceless organisation with no human emotion. This makes the decision more difficult as there is not a single person on the other side of the phone who you can call on when the roof start leaking, for example.

That being said, our current landlord simply does not pick up the phone.

A crucial factor in choosing a new site is the view to foster future growth. It’s an important element in the mix. The business is in an upward phase and the new factory has more room under one (dry) roof.

This also brings an element of uncertainty. While enterprise is filled with calculated risks and difficult decisions, the landlord will expect his pound of flesh each month. The fund manager will not care much if we overextend or miss our growth forecasts.

This means the pressure is on. To continue growing in the short to medium term, we will have to maximise the new space to work in our favour.

Wish us luck!