Making business an art form
An artistÔÇÖs mind knows no boundaries, so consider the dilemma and frustration of needing to reign in that creative spirit to accommodate the economic needs of running a viable business. That is the challenge Carrol Boyes has confronted head-on, as Andrew Pelis finds out.
Carrol Boyes is well on her way to becoming one of South AfricaÔÇÖs most prominent designers and manufacturers. When you consider the difficulties of maintaining a very niche culture of design mentality in a rapidly expanding business that started out in her basement, BoyesÔÇÖ achievements are truly remarkable.
ÔÇ£I started out in 1989 and wanted to use my sculpture and art training to earn a living from the art world,ÔÇØ explains the former teacher. ÔÇ£I started to make copper products for the home from my basement and the business was a success from day one.ÔÇØ
Boyes quickly began to use pewter and expanded her design range to include cutlery, selling to local homeware stalls. Word quickly spread concerning the quality of her work. ÔÇ£Our main product today is still our pewter range for cutlery,ÔÇØ she says. ÔÇ£Financially, it remains the department that brings in the most revenue.
ÔÇ£However, we quickly expanded into other pewter items and looked at using cast aluminiumÔÇöand people then started to ask for cutlery that could go into a dishwasher. So we started to develop new products, eventually acquiring a stainless steel cutlery company 10 years ago, which had previously manufactured items for the airline industry.ÔÇØ
Today, Boyes describes the business as a gift company, specialising in items for weddings, birthdays, engagements and a range of unique events. Overall her interests spread to roughly 2,500 different product designs encompassing not just the three metals but also a range of personal leather products such as womenÔÇÖs handbags and menÔÇÖs wallets.
Each year, the Carrol Boyes range sells over a million items through its retail division to homeware and gift stores, galleries and craft shops and increasingly to the overseas market, which now accounts for roughly 20 per cent of business.
The Group has three distinct divisions. The manufacturing division, in which BoyesÔÇÖ brother is a partner, is based at a 7,000 square metre facility located in the Limpopo region; a 14,000 square metre warehouse in Cape Town not only heads up the distribution division but is also home to the assembly of the products manufactured further north (BoyesÔÇÖ life partner Barbara Jackson is a partner in this venture); while the retail division runs dedicated stores across South Africa and beyond and is 25 per cent owned by its workforce, as part of the companyÔÇÖs adherence to the countryÔÇÖs Black Empowerment initiative.
On top of running such a large (and still growing) enterprise, Boyes is almost single-handedly responsible for designing around 100 new products every year. ÔÇ£From a creative point of view, the human body inspires me most of all; I take the human figure and look to turn it into something functional, like a clockÔÇöI get great pleasure from being able to marry the idea of a functional item with a variance on the human body.
ÔÇ£Around four or five years ago I wanted to expand our artistic input into the business and began to involve young people with our art department, nurturing and encouraging them to come up with designs so that they will eventually take over the creative side.ÔÇØ
The company has also founded an art competition, the METAL New Designer Search, which is open to any South African. The winners each year have the opportunity to have their product developed and to work within the company. ÔÇ£The thinking behind these two initiatives is to get creative people into the business and ensure our longevity,ÔÇØ explains Boyes.
The design process has much to take into consideration, from market demand, to metal prices and the complexity of each piece and its cost to make. ÔÇ£This is a process I have had to learn, coming from a sculpture background,ÔÇØ admits Boyes. ÔÇ£Sculpture work is more time-consuming but in the gift and retail market one must be sensible about what one makesÔÇöand we quickly came to understand what was easy to make and what wasnÔÇÖt.
ÔÇ£That said, there is still the undisciplined sculptor in me that needs to do something difficult from time to time! We do receive customer and store feedback on what they would like to see in the range, so I always have that in mind.ÔÇØ
The organisation has around 300 permanent members of staff, although numbers increase during the busy season from November to April. Training at Limpopo is of paramount importance and takes around three months to complete for those involved in casting, filing, grinding and fabrication processes. ÔÇ£You have to have a real feel for the three dimensional. It is essential that our staff have that feeling so as not to lose the design of each item. Skills development is something we take very seriously as it affects the quality of our productÔÇöwe want to be part of the world market and have to meet the world standard,ÔÇØ Boyes acknowledges.
And the world represents BoyesÔÇÖ next big venture, particularly since the advent of the worldwide web. ÔÇ£The internet is amazingly exciting and presents bigger opportunities for us to reach out to younger markets,ÔÇØ she enthuses. ÔÇ£It has improved our sales in the US and UK markets and we very much see this as an area of growth. Our marketing efforts next year will very much concentrate on overseas markets.ÔÇØ
Boyes is also prepared for the opportunities created by the 2010 FIFA World Cup, being held on South African soil. ÔÇ£IÔÇÖve designed a range of corporate items for visitors and we hope this will help expand the reach of our brands.ÔÇØ
The Carrol Boyes reputation is about to embark on an exciting new journey into glass and ceramicsÔÇöareas new to Boyes herself, but then so too was the leather market. ÔÇ£There are certain processes that we require outside expert help with,ÔÇØ she acknowledges. ÔÇ£When we feel other people can produce items in a more specialist or cost-effective way, we are happy to work with them. Our leather range, for example, is manufactured elsewhere and we do the design work.ÔÇØ
The company is currently looking at new factories and businesses to work with next year and already has one range signed off ready for March 2010. ÔÇ£We are working with people that know glass and understand it exactly,ÔÇØ says Boyes.
Alongside her vast product range, Carrol Boyes has created an entrepreneurial spirit that has not diminished through 20 years of evolution. No small detail is overlooked as she designs her companyÔÇÖs next step forward, promising an exciting 2010.