Family ties that bind businesses

Tamsyn Ferreira, 2015 Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® entrant and owner of Alifurn Outdoor Living – a family owned and run outdoor furniture business – started her business five years ago from humble beginnings in a garage. Since then Alifurn Outdoor Living has grown leaps and bounds, and has firmly established itself as an innovative and reliable partner in the leisure furniture sector.

Tamsyn qualified as a Financial Manager in 2004, and followed the trend of the time by travelling to the UK with her then boyfriend (now husband), Wayne, after successfully applying for a two year work/travel visa. “After a six month contract at Shell Oil’s Treasury Centre, I was offered a permanent position, which extended our stay in the UK for four years. Despite the amazing experience that the position offered, I knew that South Africa was where our hearts were, and having both grown up in Ballito, we wanted our children to have similar happy childhoods that we were afforded,” says Tamsyn.

Three years later Tamsyn was married, working at a large corporate in South Africa and starting her own family. It was during this time that she realised that she craved independence and the freedom to raise her children on her own terms whilst still forging a career for herself. Her father, Gary, then offered her the ‘terrifying’ opportunity of being her own boss after spotting an opportunity in the form of a struggling furniture manufacturing business that was being operated from a garage.

“I had no manufacturing, nor furniture-making experience, but with my business background, and my father’s vast clothing manufacturing knowledge, we decided to purchase the business. I wanted to support my family, but also wanted to create opportunities for those in our community who had no access to training and give them the same opportunity I was looking for – the opportunity to give their children a brighter future,” says Tamsyn.

Since 2011 Tamsyn has poured her heart, mind and soul into building Alifurn, with the continued support and input from her father. “We have grown from five employees in a tiny garage to a large factory run business which employs 20 people.”

Tamsyn says that she wears many hats in the business as she juggles the sales, human resources, marketing, accounting, as well as the administrative functions. She is quick to add that whilst this has been a huge undertaking, she has enjoyed putting into practice what she learnt from her B.Com (Financial Management) degree, as well as learning about manufacturing and running a business.

Alifurn is committed to being proudly South African and therefore only makes use of locally produced materials to create quality products. “My aim is to meet the needs of my customers in ways that are economically, socially and environmentally viable. Job-creation and community development are also top of our priority list, and we strive to develop employee skills through training programmes so that they are equipped for other opportunities that arise.”

When asked how she succeeded in growing the business, Tamsyn says that the task wasn’t easy, as the business hasn’t always had the positive reputation it has now, and therefore relied heavily on word of mouth marketing tactics and client referrals. “Excellent customer service and astounding quality will result in a favourable reputation with your clients. The time, effort and pride that each employee puts into every aspect of Alifurn shines through to the customer with every interaction.”

Tamsyn explains that the greatest challenge the business faces is seasonality, due to the nature of the products at Alifurn. “Such products are subject to inconsistent trade during the winter months, forcing us to re-strategise and look to other markets where seasonality isn’t such an impact, such as interior decorators the hospitality sector.

“Growing a business in a global recession, amongst industrial strikes and national electricity shortages has also forced us to be strategic. Although the recession meant tighter budgets for everyone, homeowners and the hospitality industry alike, I refused to compromise on quality or my core values in a bid to cut prices.”

Tamsyn advises that business owners should seek advice from a mentor at the beginning of any venture as the journey can be a rollercoaster of emotions. “Networking with like-minded people and taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge that people around you possess will ultimately lead to success.”

Looking to the future, Tamsyn hopes to grow her business’ knowledge by being exposed to like-minded entrepreneurs, such as past winners of the Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition. She also wishes to use the competition as a platform in which to grow Alifurn further, which will enable her to employ more staff.