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 Family business hits on recipe for success

 

 A few years back, while most of the business world was cutting back and retrenching in the aftermath of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, a small family business in Stellenbosch, Beertjie Beskuit, was grappling with the opposite – explosive growth.

Their traditional rusks which started as a hobby in the family kitchen are not exactly recession-proof products. Yet the growth was so dramatic that Anita de Beer and her husband Cornie still blink every now and then, wondering what happened.

Before 2004, the couple each ran their own business: Cornie, an urban-planning consultancy and Anita two pharmacies in Stellenbosch. Then Anita grew tired of starting early every morning and getting home after her four children had already gone to bed, so she decided to sell her pharmacies.

By that time, the owner of a next-door coffee shop somehow got a taste of the rusks that Anita baked for her own consumption, and asked if she wouldn’t mind baking a regular supply for the coffee shop. “I thought: ‘All right, that’s something I could do in the mornings while the kids are at school’,” says Anita.

What she didn’t expect, however, is that her rusks would consistently produce the same reaction in people – as soon as they’ve tasted it, they want more. At first she happily supplied some more shops, but soon she was back at working long hours again and getting grumpy with the kids.

The turning point was a call, out of the blue, from retail legend Whitey Basson asking: “Is it you who make those nice rusks?” He too had somehow got a taste of them. She thought it was a prank call, but soon her rusks were on the shelves of a number of Checkers stores.

But not before she got a commitment from Cornie that he would join her in the venture. The timing was good, because the recession had knocked the bottom out of the urban-planning industry and besides, he was tired of the rusk business taking precedence over warm family meals in the kitchen.

With the two of them concentrating on the new business, there was no stopping the growth of Beertjie Beskuit which at one stage showed a 60% year-on-year sales expansion. Production moved out of the kitchen into a refurbished store on the family small-holding outside Stellenbosch.

In search of expansion finance, Cornie soon learned that the banks were too shell shocked by the recession to finance such dramatic expansion, but he found a willing financier in Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), which provided equipment finance, working capital and money for the conversion of a larger building in production facilities.

They signed up one retailer after another and today have close on 200 retail clients, mostly independent stores, which they service with a fortnightly delivery round throughout the Western Cape and into the Eastern Cape. Their range has expanded to seven types of rusk and four types of cookies, all in home-baked style.

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