Celebrating 50 years of trading is a significant landmark for any business, but when that business has been through the trials and tribulations to befall the Selati Group, that achievement is even further embellished.
The family-run company started out in life as a small hardware store in Limpopo Province but has grown and evolved into a saw mill and manufacturer and installer of roof trusses, with a roof truss factory and branches in Tzaneen, Pretoria, Lydenburg and Magoebaskloof, where De Hoek Sawmill is situated.
Pieter Kotzé is one of the directors and has been with the business for the past 7 years and takes up the story:
“The Selati Group began as a small hardware store in 1963 and by the late Seventies or early Eighties it began to manufacture roof trusses. Eventually the hardware store was closed and the business concentrated on its roof truss interests.”
“In December 2000 we purchased the Mondi De Hoek Saw mill in Magoebaskloof, located roughly 23 kilometres from Tzaneen. This was a strategic move to compliment the roof truss factory and to ensure that there is a consistent supply of high quality SABS graded structural timber.”
“However, disaster struck and we suffered a big fire in 2007 and the entire wet mill area of the saw mill was destroyed. It took us 7 months to rebuild and in the interim we had to rely on fixed contracts with another saw mill to ensure that we could deliver for our customers. We kept going though and during that 7 month period we did not lose any staff.”
Such adversity often brings a fresh focus to a business and Selati Group had to rebuild the saw mill and purchase new equipment. Then, just as the business was getting back on its feet, the economic downturn struck another blow.
“We used our own resources to rebuild and replace everything and then in 2008 the economy came to a standstill and during the next 2-3 years we had to overcome economic challenges by cutting down on our costs.”
“During that time we started to export to Botswana. It was the recession that really made us start to explore opportunities further afield.”
Today Selati Group has turned the corner and typically employs around 300 people.
“We put the roofs up ourselves and for the design stage we have to rely on skilled workers as there are a number of industry standards and regulations that we have to comply with. In addition, the workers have to be trained to use machinery and 3 years ago we bought a new line of machines from a Brazilian company by which we increased our recovery rate by about 8%.
“This particular machinery users laser technology to look at the optimal cuts on each piece of timber. We purchased these machines to give us a better recovery rate than before – that kept us from closing down as the labour costs over the same period of time increased so much.”
Kotzé says that labour costs and unrest continue to be a threat to businesses the length and breadth of the country and have sharpened the need to consider more automation at Selati Group’s sites:
“We accept that we are going to have to work more with automation – the labour rights issues can severely impact on production and I feel that labour unrest in the country is getting out of hand. It requires a large capital investment to automate the whole saw mill but that is something we need to seriously look at in the near future.”
Another challenge that the company has faced has been transformation – which is never a straight-forward process for a family-owned business.
“At the moment we are operating as a Level 8 BB-BEE compliant company. The BEE codes keep changing and it becomes expensive to maintain compliance and eventually a lot of companies are concluding that it is not worth it!”
Despite these challenges, Kotzé says that the business is enjoying growth at present, with 30 per cent of the saw mill production used at their own roof truss factory and the rest sold to other roof truss factories, hardware stores and informal builders.
The roof truss business is predominately focussed on supplying property developers and private individuals that build houses.
Timber is purchased from the log yards and Kotzé says that generally if there are any problems with the wood it can be identified at this early stage.
“Once in the process it takes 2 days to go through the drying process once the wood has been sawn and any timber coming out of the saw mill has to have a unique stamp with our logo on it, which indicates the grade of timber.”
As we speak, Kotzé says that Selati Group is now in its busy period, which typically runs from August to the end of November, as people rush to get jobs completed before year end. The company then shuts down from mid-December until early January – but before then there is a very special function this year:
“We have a big function planned for our employees, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Selati Group. At the end of November we will be taking staff to a holiday resort for the weekend and the activities will include a formal dinner on the Saturday evening. Our workers have been with us through the bad times and the good times so this is recognition of their loyalty and hard work.
The future is hopefully going to be much smoother for Selati Group which has demonstrated an ability to handle just about anything thrown at it.
“We have recently received an order for a project in the Orange Free State and in time I hope that we will increase our footprint across the country. There is less risk in opening a marketing office than a factory elsewhere, that you can’t oversee every day, so we will tread with cautious optimism. We just want to do what we do best for the customer – just as we have done for the last 50 years,” Kotzé