When Chris Weylandt first envisioned the Weylandts Homestore concept, it was with the dream of creating a high-end retail experience that focused on quality products, an attention to detail and a strong customer focus.
He wanted to create more than a store – he wanted a well-known brand, synonymous with style and exclusivity. Brand growth on that scale doesn’t happen by accident, or overnight. It takes careful planning.
Having spent most of his life exposed to his father’s retail furniture business and then joining the company after he qualified as a CA, he was well versed in what the industry did (and didn’t offer), and had a firm grip on finances.
Years spent discussing business around the breakfast, lunch and dinner table also gave him a firm entrepreneurial background, and an eye for what the market wanted.
None of which helped him secure finance when he decided to realise his dream in 1999. “I spent three years sourcing the right products, ensuring we would have an exclusive, high-end product range,” he says.
“I found the perfect location, and I had been saving from the profit share I held from my dad’s business. But I didn’t have any assets or surety, which is vital if you want to secure finance.”
Making the money work
The idea behind the homestore concept was that it was a free-standing destination building. Weylandt found a site to purchase, and secured a loan for the property side of the business. The rest he would have to bootstrap.
With some savings in place, he got to work. “First impressions are vital,” he says. “It was more important for me to open the way I wanted the store to look than to take short cuts.
This meant the project took longer as I continued to save up, but so be it. I was earning a salary and profit share. It was only time I was losing – and the investment was more than worth it.”
The planning and patience paid off, as well as a careful consideration of what the market wanted, and what price it would be prepared to pay for unique, trendy and above all high-quality items.
Select and source the right, unique product; create your own space instead of facing your competitors head on; and ensure your quality and service levels match the expectations linked to your brand and you will be able to set your own prices.
Which is exactly what Weylandts did, making a profit from the minute the doors opened.
Sourcing growth funding
For the first five years, every cent earned was ploughed back into the business. “The fact that retail is a cash business helped – we weren’t waiting for clients to pay us, so we could immediately reinvest the cash.”
Once Weylandt had a track record (and as a CA, this was a well documented track record), it was much easier to secure additional funding from banks to open new destination stores, although he has continued to rely on his own positive cash flow to support most of the business’s growth organically.
“Remember that banks are conservative. They focus on collateral and assets. The trick is that even once you have those things, they will also want to see a track record. This includes demonstrating real discipline when it comes to cash flow, margins, logistics, operations and budgetary controls. Start your business on the right foot and it will continue that way. Our focus on running a tight ship is what has really allowed us to grow, not bank finance. We are always in control of the business. We have grown organically, we haven’t over-extended, and we’ve made sure we were ready for each new step.”