#LearningCurve: Giving style to security, and homes

Barry Lottering from Freedom Bars
Picture: Werner Hills

Entrepreneur’s aesthetic approach to burlgar bars and gates breaks free from the conventional caged feel

It was a frustration at the “jail bars” required for protecting his family, combined with a background in design, that led Barry Lottering to take his first steps as an entrepreneur. Today, he is the owner of award-winning company Freedom Bars, which prides itself on security solutions with aesthetic appeal.

How was the company started?

Necessity is certainly the mother of invention. When my wife and I bought our first house in 2014, we were told we needed better burglar proofing.

Neither of us could bring ourselves to live with the prescribed ‘jail bar’ type burglar proofing. We were on holiday in Cape Town and my wife pointed to an organic steel design that had been fitted to the outside of an art gallery window in Kalk Bay. She said: “Couldn’t you make something like this?”

The first bars went into our lounge and I registered my business in the same year.

What is your core service?

Supplying satisfaction and peace of mind through bespoke security solutions.

What made you venture into this industry?

I have a penchant for problem solving and a love for beautiful design. I’ve always wanted to create something that simultaneously captivates the imagination and solves a problem.

What makes your business stand out from other competitors?

The design – and not just the aesthetic attributes. Each aspect of the gates and bars has been through a rigorous process of revision. For example, I was unable to find suitable hinges that looked good, were safe and secure, and functioned the way I wanted. The only option was to design and manufacture from scratch a hinge unlike anything available.

What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced initially?

Manufacturing costs are very high and push up the cost of the product. Balancing an eight to five job, my master’s degree studies and a small business also required some creative time management.

What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations?

Keeping energised. There are many mundane and repetitive aspects to business.

I spend a fair amount of time alone at home designing and taking care of admin.

I have to find ways to keep from getting distracted and also avoid hyper-focusing on tasks I think are most important. However, you still need to be creative in the way that you manage your tasks. There’s often a smarter, faster way to do things.

What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?

Enquiry. Take your problems to people with experience. This won’t necessarily be solved instantly, but either someone will eventually have a solution or you’ll figure it out along the way. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or try something out.

What is your target market?

Homeowners in the middle to upper income sector.

What are some of your highlights in running your business?

I love hearing that clients now have a beautiful front gate that they are excited about coming home to, rather than something that makes them feel caged in. We’ve had couples drive past our home who later told us that they’d argued whether our window bars are curtains or burglar proofing. This gave me a real kick.

How important is social media and an online presence for your business?

Very important. There is just no alternative in the current landscape and it’s far more accessible, in terms of setup and management, than many people realise.

How did you acquire funding for the business?

I saved as much as I could, which wasn’t an awful lot, and used this to manufacture and install bars for my first client in Central. I kept a savings account to deposit profits from each job.

Once you had funding, what was the first step in launching the business?

I needed to get my product out in the open. I started with the burglar bars before even considering gates. I saved up enough to pay for a small stand at the 2015 Homemakers Expo and put out two bar designs, one from my lounge window and the other from the spare room. I printed some inexpensive branding material and my mother-in-law helped man the stand while I was at work.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?

To have confidence in what you are offering. People telling you what a great idea you have and that you’re going to make a success is nice, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

Commitment to providing the best product and service you are able to is what will carry you over the long haul.

What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like Port Elizabeth?

I think a challenge for most new businesses in Port Elizabeth is the mental hurdle. When you start out, you will often hear how tough it is to do business in this town. This may or may not be true.

Quitting your job and starting a business is scary – even more so when you’re constantly reminded of all the hurdles.

What is the best compliment you’ve received about your business?

I won two awards at the 2017 Homemakers Expo – the Local Excellence first prize for stand and design excellence and the silver award for stand and design excellence.

Who has been your role model in your approach to the business?

I have a very supportive family circle who have encouraged and helped me along the way.

What is your biggest goal for the business in the next five years?

I’d like to grow the brand of Freedom Bars in the Eastern Cape.

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