Timber Warehouse started in East London, in 1993 by Brian Louw under the name of BKL Agencies. The primary goal of the business was to buy and sell Poplar timber in his spare time from his garage. The first sale was the princely sum of R36.00 and within a year new premises were rented at the Small Business Development corporation in Commercial Road as the annual turnover had now grown to R 136 000.00. Now pine, poplar and meranti timber was sold with some value added products.
Soon saligna was added and then an importer of American and European timber heard about this fledgling timber business and asked Brian to partner him to open up a broader hardwood market in East London. Bkl Agencies became The Timber Warehouse CC and soon stocked 19 different Timber types from all over the world. A year later Brian acquired 100% ownership of the CC and East London had its own home grown dedicated timber merchant with one bakkie and one cross cut saw.
Requests were always being made for wood to be cut and planed and so in time a Robland combination machine was purchased and suitably trained staff taken on and in time planeing and laminating services were offered. This later grew to a full machining service and some additional value added products being made.
Brian sold the business to Rob Chub in 1999 who grew the business into a formidable supplier of timber and when he decided to relocate to JHB 7 years later, Brian purchased the business again.
The timing of the purchase was not great as the building boom was over and the collapse of America’s banks plunged the industry into a slump. To survive, The Timber Warehouse branched out into additional product lines and purchased more machines to achieve this strategy. In addition, Brian employed a qualified artisan, Armand Fitchett to assist him and due to his exceptional skill it became clear that there was a future in combining timber sales with manufacturing.
Space soon became an issue and in 2008 the Warehouse was relocated to a 1000m2 facility within the SBDC complex and with additional machines and lots of space manufacturing was pursued as a major component of its core business.
The arrival of two very big Timber importers in PE was once again an unexpected curved ball and it became clear that they were able to sell directly into the EL market at much cheaper prices and soon the business was in difficulty with it sales of raw timber reduced by 70%.
Armand became key to the survival of the business as more and more furniture was produced and bigger contractual work undertaken where specialised joinery was needed. The biggest contract to date was with Grinaker for R2.5 million where all of the woodwork, joinery and cabinets were installed in a 5 story building for University of Fort Hare. Armand’s technical ability with hands on skill made him irreplaceable and he was taken on as a business partner with Brian.
Today the business is primarily a manufacturer that sells small quantities of timber. However, the 23 years of experience and the network of suppliers that Timber Warehouse has acquired places them in a strong position to source timber, kiln dry it and sell it. In addition, a large range of timber can be purchased from international importers and sold or processed. The mix of sales and manufacturing has combined to produce an annual turn-over of R6 million – this from its humble beginnings of R36.00.