LEARNING CURVE | Eastern Cape business steeled for success
Pipes and fittings enterprise has grown from small family concern into leading merchant employing 120 staff
Family-run Eastern Cape business Steel Pipes and Fittings was started in 1993 by Jeff Furniss.
Jeff’s son, Warren, 39, has been running the business for the past 10 years as branch manager.
Warren, who was born in Gqeberha and matriculated in 2000 at Theodor Herzl High School, studied at Nelson Mandela University and graduated with a BCom degree.
After his studies, he spent two years in the UK, returning to SA to join Steel Pipes and Fittings.
Warren started at the bottom, loading bakkies, and slowly worked his way through all the departments.
An avid mountain biker, he is a family man and is proud of his wife, Carey, and their two children, Chloe, 8, and Tyler, 6.
He describes himself as a “positive, driven professional who prides myself in growing a positive, inclusive workplace for customers and staff alike”.
Please share some background on yourself and how the business began?
Steel Pipes and Fittings was started by my dad, Jeff Furniss, in 1993.
I joined the company in 2006, shortly after I returned from the UK.
We have grown from strength to strength to become one of the leading steel merchants in the Eastern Cape, with whom both customers and staff are proud to be associated.
What are your core services?
We are a steel merchant, and our product range includes square, round and rectangular tubing, all light steel sections, mild steel and galvanised sheets, flat and chequered plates, walkway gratings and expanded metal, as well as uncoated, galvanised and steam pipes and fittings, special steels and hollow bar.
Our hardware range includes welding rods and related products, security gate locks, fastening equipment, hinges, drill bits, abrasive discs, paints, primers and thinners, sliding security gate wheels, door hanging systems, palisade fencing, security spikes, electric gate motors, industrial and domestic hand tools, and various DIY tools and equipment.
We also have a service centre that offers laser, plasma and guillotine cutting, as well as CNC [computer numerically controlled] bending.
Steel Pipes and Fittings provides an efficient, free delivery service throughout Nelson Mandela Bay and the outlying Eastern Cape region.
What is your target market?
Steel Pipes and Fittings is able to service the entire spectrum of steel and pipe needs, ranging from the domestic sector to general engineering in the tyre, construction, automotive, hospitality and agricultural industries.
What is your company’s vision?
Our vision is to be the best steel merchant in the Eastern Cape by providing our customers with outstanding customer service.
Do you have any plans for expanding the business and how would you go about this?
We are constantly trying to be better by investing in our people and our infrastructure.
We recently finished building our new 2,000m² warehouse and are busy installing our new 8KW fibre laser.
We believe in reinvesting in and growing our business.
How many people do you employ?
We employ 120 people.
What kind of advertising do you do?
We are on the radio and multiple social media platforms.
How important is social media and an online presence for your business?
I believe social media is an important part of advertising, and a very good way for customers to understand our core values and company culture.
What makes your business different?
Our people, our service, and our attitude towards our customers and suppliers.
What in your view are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?
Work ethic, passion and the ability to self-motivate.
What are the key traits of a successful employer?
I believe you need to create a unique company culture where employees strive to do their best. You need to be fair, respectful, supportive and lead by example.
What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like Gqeberha?
We live in SA where we all face daily challenges regarding service delivery, power outages, restrictive labour regulations and inefficient government systems.
But when you look past all the negatives, we still live in a great city full of great people and full of opportunities.
How do you measure or define success in your business?
The heartbeat of our business is sales.
My key measurement of business success is customer satisfaction.
If our customers are happy that’s means we are doing something right.
What is the best advice anyone gave you on success?
“If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.”
What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?
Customer service and customer experience have always been a priority, but as important are our staff.
Richard Branson said: “Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business” — it’s as simple as that.
What have been some of the highlights in running your business?
My biggest highlight has to be all the relationships I have built with customers and staff members over the last 16 years.
We have more than 650 years of combined service, which I’m extremely proud of.
My second highlight is being able to see the business grow in front of me.
So much has changed over the years, but I’m proud of where we have gone and to have kept our small family business mentality.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?
The biggest lesson I have learnt is that there is no such thing as an easy business.
Without hard work and dedication towards what you are doing, you will not succeed.
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