During lockdown Scotsman Arran Bastable raised just over R300 000 through a crowd funding campaign to save Barrydale Hand Weavers from going under.
Arran had barely taken over as the new owner of the second largest job provider in town when the national state of emergency was declared.
Having poured the last of his savings into this new business venture and just starting to gain some momentum, everything came to an abrupt halt.
He described his situation as “all-in” financially, with his only backup being a UK credit card that was used to pay some of the last wages and bills.
However, in a typical Braveheart show of strength, the plucky Scot refused to surrender and worked day and night to ensure that the families that became his responsibility six months prior to lockdown, did not go hungry.
Like all business owners he looked to the government for help, but his situation was uniquely complicated.
“When I looked into the various relief options government had to offer, they all said that you have to be a South African citizen, which I’m not: I’m a permanent resident,” said the 37-year-old engineer turned entrepreneur.
For some of the other relief funds businesses had to prove that the business had been running for at least two years.
“I set up the Barrydale Hand Weavers as a new business when I took over from Carol Morris, so the business was only six months old – even though the original business had been in existence for 13 years.”
He still applied to the various relief funds – to no avail – and after what he described as “an initial week of absolute panic”, he informed the staff that he would be protecting jobs above anything else.
“We could have done what many businesses did and go straight into retrenchment. We could have down-sized, letting half the staff go, and then build it back up again once things improve, but that was not the goal.
“With all that in mind, I had the idea to do the crowd-funding.”
His Scottish pride would, however, not allow him to accept hand-outs and therefore he structured his funding campaign in such a way that each of his donors would receive something in return for their help.
“We need the cash to get started again, so we decided that a third of what people donated or pledged would go towards orders, and the other two thirds was to create an employees’ benefit trust in which the employees would own a 25% share of the business.”
His plan worked. In fact, it worked so well that instead of shedding jobs, Barrydale Hand Weavers recently employed two more staff members.
Reflecting on the turbulent times during hard lockdown, Arran admits that it gave him time to rethink his business strategy, since he was effectively given a clean slate.
He decided to start implementing a rebranding strategy and created a new website to boost online sales. He was able to spend more time investigating where the company’s growth potential lies, while also seeking out new and exciting retail partners that share the company’s values.
He added that he would also like to boost sales in America and Europe.
Prior to lockdown, Barrydale Hand Weavers opened a retail outlet at the Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre in White River, Mpumalanga and today their exquisite products can be found at premier outlets like Poetry and Boschendal while negotiations with Woolworths is in an advanced stage.
Arran, his wife Kate, and their three children (aged 7, 4 and 2) arrived in South Africa in November 2018 from Aberdeen, Scotland, where he had been working as an engineer.
Initially they stayed at Kate’s parents – Les and Jean Minter – while they were on the lookout for business opportunities.
The ginger-bearded Scotsman quipped that part of his wedding agreement with Kate was that they would one day relocate to South Africa..
Just weeks after establishing his own engineering consultancy business, the opportunity to buy Barrydale Hand Weavers from Carol Morris came up randomly at a birthday party.
He said it was the perfect fit.
“We have been visiting Barrydale at least every two years, since Kate’s folks moved here 11-years ago. I’d probably been here six or seven times before we moved here.”
“Every time we come here, I’d buy products and my house in Scotland was full of showermats, bathmats and placemats which I’ve had for about six years.”
“The first blanket my eldest son was wrapped in when he came out of the hospital was a Barrydale Hand Weavers baby blanket, so it was weird that we already loved the product for so long before buying the business.”
Arran as the new businessman in town
During this interview he laughed as he had to admit that his first year as a new business owner is turning out to be far tougher than he could have ever imagined.
Who would have predicted a global pandemic?
Yet Arran takes it all in his stride and has implemented a few systems to an already flourishing business, that is sure to be of great benefit to not only the employees, but also the town at large.
“If people come here they see the process, the people and the product, and then they want to buy something,” he noted.
Visiting the weavery in De Kock Street is a great experience for visitors as those three Ps (people, process, product) create a nostalgic feeling, complimented by an uplifting atmosphere of productivity.
Arran also has a very optimistic outlook on business in South Africa and feels that a certain amount of hope had been restored since lockdown restrictions were relaxed and people were allowed more freedom to move around.
“There is money to be spent in South Africa. People are not necessarily travelling abroad. People are also spending more on their homes and decorating their homes.”
His short-term plan is to maximize production at the weavery by implementing systems that will increase the efficiency. Over the next few years he hopes to purchase more looms, employ more staff, and ultimately ensure that every inch of his weavery is used to its full potential.
Coming from an engineering background, the implementation of new systems is what gets him out of bed in the mornings.
Managing a South African workforce is another challenge that he has taken in his stride. He should be fluent in Afrikaans within the next six months.
“I’ve been in engineering management for the last 10 years so managing people is something I quite enjoy.”
“There are cultural differences and societal differences but in the end we are all human and we are all driven by similar things in the work environment.”
Arran feels that recognition is vital, as most people go to work to do a good job and need to be recognized and incentivized when they achieve that.
He also decided to break the traditional chains of command and encourages openness, understanding and talking about problems.
“As an Engineer I love problems, because I love coming up with solutions.”
“There are no closed doors here – I need to learn. Being involved in the process – it took some time, but if you genuinely listen to people, if you are open and calm and fair, and if you recognize them and explain what the progression is and what your intentions are – that’s communication.”
Barrydale and the future
Arran loves the small town vibe and is steadily gearing up to become more involved in community projects.
His company has donated to the Barrydale Prayer Flags of Hope initiative and as his business grows, so will his involvement.
“As a town in general there is a great opportunity for Barrydale to be an even greater destination for visitors – whether local or international.”
“We have obviously had some good exposure through the Route 62 as the alternative to the Garden Route, or en route to the Garden Route. Barrydale is full of creative talent, it is very diverse for such a small village and there is a really good mix of people and there is a good community spirit as well.”
“We want to become more of a social enterprise, one which brings benefits to our employees and the community at large.
In the meantime, Arran has dusted off his bass guitar and might be part of a new wave of local music. More on this at a later stage…