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 Twelve years of growth, and no end in sight for branding company

 

 So unstoppable has the growth of Basically Branding been over the last twelve years that it has had to move no fewer than seven times, each time with a bigger collection of machines that can print a logo on almost anything. Last year, the Johannesburg-based branding company moved for the first time out of rented premises into its own building, but not with any sense of settling down, it seems.

Already co-owners Barry and Kerry Stuart are occupying the building next door, and the husband-and-wife team has embarked on a major formal restructuring process to deliberately take their R15m-a-year company into the realm of medium-sized businesses.

Twelve years ago, they started the business in a spare room of a small cottage in Johannesburg with nothing but a single car between the two of them. Barry had just walked out of a job at a similar branding company when his promised pay package failed to materialize.

Kerry, a junior lawyer at the time, decided to help Barry out for six months with the fledgling business before returning to the legal profession. But then the business took off so fast that she never looked back.

A lot of Basically Branding’s explosive start in 2007 was due to Barry’s extensive experience in the branding and printing trade and a lifetime’s worth of business ups and downs, even though he was only 29 at the time.

Barry says he grew up with ink under his fingernails in his father’s printing business in Linden, operating the forklift and doing graphics work at home for pocket money. He lived through the disruption of the printing industry’s change to digital, as well as the huge business opportunities that it opened up. He also learned that he was a talented salesman and enjoyed interacting with the clients at his father’s business.

Six months into studying towards a BCom degree after school, he started working for the family business in between classes, and, as a broker, picked up the many orders for branded goods that the family business turned away. This led to the start of his own cinema advertising business which grew so busy that Barry decided to drop his studies in favour of building the business.

When the ban on tobacco advertising loomed over the industry, Barry sold it, travelled a while overseas, and turned around a failing print and copy shop which he bought on his return. It all came crashing down in 2003 when his father’s business failed due to ill health, and the sureties that Barry had signed for the family business over the years were called up. 

He lost everything, including his highly successful print shop. 

It was a blow that would floor most people, but Barry took a philosophical approach. “My outlook was that it happens to some of the biggest players in the business, and I was only 24, so I had a head start,” he says.

Given his sales talent and industry expertise, Barry quickly found a job at one of his print shop suppliers, which took him into the signage and branding industry. Today his former employer is one of his clients. Soon he was headhunted by a larger group for whom he set up a signage division. It was the pay dispute with that business that led to the start of Basically Branding. 
Barry clearly had enough expertise and connections in the industry that he and Kerry could get Basically Branding off to a flying start as a brokerage. Soon they moved the business out of the cottage and into offices in Randburg.

They were happy to remain brokers only, placing orders on behalf of clients at various producers of branded materials, but Barry says the idea of not having to rely on a third party to fulfil an order in time was compelling, and they bought their first machine in 2009.

A year later, for the 2010 World Cup, they won their biggest contract ever, doing their previous year’s turnover in six weeks. The World Cup lifted the business into a new orbit, where corporates were willing to give them ever larger orders.

Over the years, Basically Branding has acquired dozens of machines, from wide-format printers, dye-sublimation printers, cutters and presses through a combination of asset finance and leases.
A business such as Basically Branding can only move so many times with all their equipment in tow before the idea of owning their own building also becomes compelling.

Barry and Kerry identified a converted house in Northcliff, Johannesburg, but none of the banks were keen to finance it without a sizeable deposit. But Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) was willing to waive the requirement of a deposit. Instead, they took a minority share in the building which Barry and Kerry will be able to buy over time. 

Basically Branding has also applied for assistance from the BUSINESS/PARTNERS Technical Assistance Programme, which is co-funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), to finance their restructuring plan through an intervention by a well-known local consultancy to owner-managed businesses. The Technical Assistance Programme makes available interest-free loans to BUSINESS/PARTNERS’ clients to finance interventions to improve their businesses using a panel of experts on the company’s database. 

Barry says they have embarked on the first phase of the restructuring project, which included a detailed analysis of all the systems in the business, and already they have gained new insights that will help them in the many years of growth that lie ahead.
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