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Updated 30 Sep 2020

Design Partnership is growing big by acting small

Design Partnership has managed to just about double its turnover in two years, yet it operates like a much smaller firm. 

GG van Rooyen, 07 May 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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According to Design Partnership CEO Callie van der Merwe, small design firms have one big advantage over larger, more established operations: They can offer clients a bespoke service that big firms with lots of clients and lots of projects struggle to provide.

Related: Financial solutions for growing your business 


Growth is great, but it can also be risky. What impact is your growth having on your clients? Are you still offering the same level of service? You need to be able to grow while still acting small.

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Despite boasting an impressive assortment of blue-chip clients and an annual turnover of R108 million, Design Partnership still aims to offer a service where employees are all intimately familiar with the needs of clients. And how it achieves this is very interesting.

Different pillars

Design Partnership helps companies in the retail/services market to create spaces that are not only modern and inviting for customers, but also make a real difference to the bottom line. Its clients include Nando’s, Coricraft, Toyota, Incredible Connection and Standard Bank.

“If you’re not making a difference to a company’s profitability, you’re just a decorator,” says Van der Merwe.

In order to really understand what clients need, Design Partnership has divided the organisation into four pillars, each focusing on one specific area: Retail (stores), hospitality (restaurants), service (banking) and construction (which supports the other pillars by assisting in the physical construction of retail spaces).

Similarly, Design Partnership’s physical offices consist of four massive tables where all employees associated with one pillar sit together.

“By having everyone sit together, we can make sure that all involved are always on the same page,” says Van der Merwe. “Designers, project managers and account managers are always in contact and never need to wonder what’s going on.”

The company has essentially been split into four smaller ‘firms’ that know their focus areas very well and can offer that coveted bespoke service.

It is a strategy that clearly works, since Design Partnership is growing at a rapid rate and will soon be opening an office in Australia as well.

Related: Expand your business view by stepping into your competitor’s shoes


  • Aim to get a deep understanding of your client’s business and what its needs are.
  • Think big, but act small. Aim to always provide an intimate and bespoke service.
  • Structure the business in such a way that employees are always on the same page.
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GG van Rooyen

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