Carpenter gained skills by helping his father and brother

Bongane Hlongwane, owner of HBA Kitchen Designs.
Bongane Hlongwane, owner of HBA Kitchen Designs.
Image: Fetola

Childhood holiday activities that are often taken for granted can lead to a successful business venture.

Growing up, Bongane Hlongwane used to help his father and brother with their carpentry duties; he never thought that this would one day inspire him to start a business.

Today he is the owner of HBA Kitchen Designs, a seven-year-old Free State based business that designs and manufactures modern built-in furniture across the country for homes and retail outlets.

“When I was a child, I didn’t know that I was gaining skills and experience to become a carpenter,” he says. After matric, he studied electrical engineering but due to financial difficulty he had to drop out and find ways to make money.

Starting a carpentry business was an obvious choice for him because he already had the skills and experience. He also knew that his services are in demand because people prefer custom and fitted furniture.

“New housing developments that need built in cupboards and wardrobes are built every day,” he adds. Bongani’s clients either ask him to design and install fitted cupboards and wardrobes for their new homes or they want to upgrade to new furniture fittings.

During COVID19 lockdown restrictions, the demand for custom furniture declined rapidly because there was a lot of uncertainty and clients were not spending money on luxury items.

There were months when he had no clients and was not allowed to operate because his business did not fall under essential services. This was a very tough time for the business, and it was on the verge of closure.

To save his business, he used left-over material from his workshop to build headboards and chest of drawers.

“I sold these on the side of the road near residential apartments,” he says. This helped him gain working capital and pay his staff members. He later applied for a permit to operate during lockdown which also helped the business get back on its feet.

Carpentry is a highly detail orientated job that needs creativity, physical strength, and excellent customer service skills.

“Most of my clients are from referrals because my work speaks for itself,” he says.

Keeping clients happy is a difficult part of his job because some don’t understand that the size and design of their home dictates the type of fitted furniture that will complement their home.

Some of his clients demand custom fitted furniture that looks exactly like designs on the internet and décor magazines without considering their budget, available materials, and overall design of their home. He is always under pressure to meet and exceed expectations because one bad customer review can lead to loss of revenue.

Travelling is a hobby that Bongani uses to grow his business because he networks and gets inspired by décor trends in hotels.

“I have clients across the country because when I visit a province, I research if there is a market for my business and make connections,” he says. Running his own business gives him the freedom to manage his time. “I love being my own boss, “he says.

Carpentry skills he learnt when he was in primary school helped him start a business. When he started, he installed basic kitchen cupboards and wardrobes but today he offers modern, and trendy fitted furniture across the country.

Business is booming and expansion plans to offer marble and caesarstone fittings are well underway. “I’m grateful to be operating again because I overcame challenges that nearly led to the closure of my business,” he concludes.