Building a business
He would drive out to the prospective client in a clapped-out car and park a discreet distance from the house. Hermanus remembers the look of dismay on the face of many clients when they saw him drive away with their deposit in a haze of diesel smoke, convinced that they would never see their money again. The hidden advantage, jokes Van Niekerk, was that the clients were so happy when he returned to install the motor that it made for instant, double client satisfaction.
The Van Niekerks lived on “bread and beans” for three years while Hermanus built a client base and a reputation for good service. Painstakingly, he paid off his debt. He says his strategy was to pay off the smallest of the 86 accounts first so that he would gain a much-needed sense of progress as dark thoughts constantly threatened to overwhelm him.
Soon Hermanus started making custom gates using a small arc welder at home. One day a regular client insisted that he build him a canopy. Initially reluctant and prone to “melancholy and self-criticism”, Hermanus obsessed over the job which took him three days. “I didn’t make anything on that job, except for a pack of biltong that the grateful client threw into the deal,” he said.
But today, canopies and car ports account for no less than 60% of the company’s business.