Canvas and Tent is a living example of the benefits of producing quality goods in a market niche. In a sector that could be highly commoditised and open to competition from cheaper manufacturers, this Ladysmith-based business has never taken its eye off high quality, luxury tents and outdoor-living products.
Established in 1968, the company has experienced the highs and lows of local and global economic swings, and emerged the stronger for needing to optimise its manufacturing processes.
Despite its niche, a wide product range and relatively strong export markets, Canvas and Tent has not been immune to the local textile industry’s downturn that decimated the sector starting in the 1990s.
By the company MD’s own admission, its processes and systems were not geared to remaining internationally competitive. This was in spite of a long history of operating a factory employing around 180 people.
It was really only in response to the pressure on the industry and thanks to the CTFLGP incentive programmes, administered by the IDC, that Louw Becker and his team started investing in improving their systems and equipment.
Making use of the funds available through these funds, Canvas and Tent invested in new technology systems, production and cutting machines, and state-of-the-art design equipment. The company has also continued to invest in upgrading the skills of its employees to operate the newly-acquired machinery.
Becker says productivity has almost doubled since the introduction of the new equipment and systems.
“It is measurable, and you can actually show people how we’ve improved,” he says. “That obviously comes with the training of your people, and they’re gaining expertise and becoming brilliant in their job.
“By having state-of-the-art equipment, we have increased productivity, improved quality and delivery times so that we have become an international player.”
This is a huge turnaround for the business that had been manufacturing basic safari tents into a global business supplying everything from luxury tents to rugged tents used in the military, as well as in humanitarian applications.
“I think we’ve certainly become a market leader when it comes to manufacturing and supply of tents. In certain areas like the military and the mining we have lot of local and international competition. Going into the luxury safari side, I believe, we are probably a world leader,” Becker adds.
With the company exporting its products to 60% of countries around the world, this claim is certainly justified.
Having made significant investments in new equipment over the past 15 years, Canvas and Tent continues to spend money on training of its staff. This includes an annual internship programme whereby 25 people receive a salary and training that prepares them to work in the industry.
This focus on continuing to grow the business’s capacity and capabilities are key to its ongoing development. Becker says this focus on quality and higher standards is also in response to the IDC’s insistence on continual improvement.
“The IDC will not supply funding unless you meet certain requirements,” he says. “And because of that we have been trying to improve, not on a year-to-year basis but on a monthly basis. And we really believe that our company is an example of what can be done if you utilise the money properly.”
If it wasn’t for the improvements the company has made in its people, processes and machinery, it would not have been able to grow its markets around the globe. Canvas and Tent has, for instance, established a direct marketing presence in Europe and the United States to drive its brand in those markets, while increasing its reach into the rest of Africa.