He was right. Today, ten years after he and his brother Emile started Rain Productions in a tiny 300 square metre premises, many of their original competitors have gone out of business, while Rain Productions has steadily grown to occupy their current 1300 square metre warehouse in Booysens, Johannesburg.
The innovations that the brothers brought to the market were simple. They made sure their furniture followed the latest fashions and they used computer-assisted design software to present venue-design ideas to potential clients.
It gave them an edge from the start, says Etienne, whose clients include advertising agencies, corporates, and events companies, the organisers of music and cultural festivals, wedding planners as well as families celebrating milestones.
Etienne, who grew up in Johannesburg and studied at the International Hotel School, cut his teeth in the events industry when he joined a company that took him on month-long stints to the Seychelles and Europe, where they organised parties and events for super-wealthy clients. It was gruelling work. An entire hotel would be booked out, and they would have to organise and build sets for a new event every day.
He could not ask for better training in the events industry, and after about three years working as an employee, Etienne negotiated a new deal with the events company. They partnered with Etienne in his new furniture-hire company, providing his start-up capital and his first contracts as he continued servicing their Seychelles clients.
Etienne’s aim was to establish Rain Productions in the Johannesburg events industry and slowly but surely he won over local clients, mostly through word-of-mouth and building on a track record of good service.
He may have been highly trained and knowledgeable in the events industry by the time he started his own business, but he found himself on a steep learning curve when it came to business administration. “It was obviously difficult in the beginning. I was young and didn’t have much experience (in business administration). But you learn as you go along - it was sink or swim,” he says.
Etienne reckons the steady, incremental growth of his client base allowed him to learn on the job, and to keep any mistakes to a minimum. It also allowed Rain Productions to finance their acquisition of new furniture stock from their cash flow.
After a few years of a growing their Johannesburg client base and the tapering off of the Seychelles contracts, the partnership with Etienne’s former employer no longer made sense. The Erasmus brothers started looking for finance to buy out the other shareholders, who agreed to sell for exactly the same amount as they put in.
The banks turned down their applications finance because they did not have enough collateral to cover the loan in full. But Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), who considers not only the available collateral but also the viability of the business as well as the character of the entrepreneurs, agreed to finance the buyout.
Next year, the BUSINESS/PARTNERS loan will be paid off and Etienne foresees more growth ahead. Given the excellent year that they have had so far, he can easily imagine doubling the size of the company and taking on some overseas work as well.
With their warehouse bursting at the seams, they will soon be looking for new premises and the expansion of their staff, who currently stand at ten.
Etienne, who keeps up with the trends in the industry by regularly attending a leading trade show in China, is grooming his assistant general manager to take over the management of the business in a few years’ time. If there is one thing he has learned from his entrepreneurial, it is the importance of a fresh and youthful approach to the business.