From hobby to household name: Vusi Ravele gets candid about the success of Native Décor
What started as a side-hustle is now a household name when it comes to local décor and furniture. Without a doubt, the pride of Native Décor is its people and their grassroots backgrounds that breathe fresh life into this budding enterprise.
The story of Native Décor reads like one pulled straight from the pages of Entrepreneurial Fairytales: Volume 1. Beginning with a cordless drill gifted to founder Vusani Ravele and currently thriving as one of South Africa’s leading furniture and homeware wholesalers, Native Décor has managed to survive challenges, explode in the the South African e-commerce space, and grace the shelves of some of the country’s most prestigious retailers.
Beginning with a website in 2016, Native Décor needed to solve for problems that many businesses face in the initial stages of development. Vusi recalls how he had to determine who made up his customer base, how to access the market, and how to find the most direct route to serve the people interested in his products. Speaking to young South African entrepreneurs who find themselves in a similar stage with their own businesses, Vusi advises,
“There are a lot of unknowns and you’re trying to figure things out for yourself, but fear can hold you back. Fear is really a lack of information. If you want to build up your confidence – talk to friends, talk to loved ones, get some feedback. Then you can start going out to the bigger world.” He also acknowledges that the role that big business plays in strengthening SMEs cannot be overstated. “We have had a lot of benefit from being able to partner with big brands on their campaigns and seeing the results in both direct and indirect sales. I think this is a culture that needs to be nurtured and continued because it certainly has an impact on small business.”
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In 2022, Native Décor now boasts a catalogue of over 200 products stocked in a number of retailers both physical and online, an enormous trajectory from the first online sale of two floor lamps ordered by a friend. Relationships and their maintenance are certainly an aspect that has helped Native Décor achieve its meteoric success. Whether personal or professional, Vusi says that there are three aspects to which he subscribes that maintain healthy relationships:
- Always be polite. It doesn’t cost anything, and you never know when you might need their help.
- Always communicate. When things are good and when things are bad.
- Try to go the extra mile. Most of the time it’s worth it. Especially when it comes to making a customer feel special.
The growth of the customer base and the business means that the challenges grew along with them, and Vusi adds that nowadays the balancing act of managing cash flow and a large inventory tends to be the most prominent challenge. He also acknowledges the strides that South African e-commerce has made in the years since Native Décor began. Between social media platforms and website-building software, Vusi seems heartened at how the improvements in accessibility have made it easier to get more businesses online. But despite how many more operators there are competing in the online space, Vusi maintains that Native Décor is not focused on competition. “We spent a lot of time building our distribution channels. Competition does not worry us because Native Décor knows what we are. In the online space, you do open yourself up to competitors – but if your competitors are watching you then you are making waves and doing something right.”
Doing the right thing is part of Native Décor’s DNA and seeps into every aspect of the business. In terms of sustainability, their waste management solution is optimised by making its collection a community effort. Reclaimers, recyclers and local artisans are given first pick of scrap materials and offcuts in order to minimise product waste being sent to landfills. The products are designed to elevate everyday life for both customers and members of the team and Vusi prioritises hiring from the local community as much as possible. He describes how he built and maintains his team by saying. “Finding my team was challenging. It’s not always easy to find a good fit in terms of culture. You’ve got to get people who align. What has helped us has been to build a team that has been referred by people who already work here… Connecting with your staff is key… They want to see you succeed as much as they want to succeed themselves.”
Success in business is a lofty goal, and Vusi acknowledges that both he and Native Décor have had to be adaptable as goals and aspirations for the business that he built have changed and will change over time. He says that his own three pieces of advice for young South Africans building their businesses would be:
- To plan, but don’t spend all your time planning.
- To execute, but make sure that when you execute you’re doing it with intention and not excuses.
- To believe in yourself and the product or service you’re rendering to the public.
It seems poetic that Vusi’s favourite of Native Décor’s product range is their iconic African mirror. Its beauty lies both in its aesthetic and the craftsmanship required to create it. The mirror was an original design and is not touched by machinery at any stage of production, but rather hand-crafted with precision and dedication. It is an echo of its founder’s dedication and consistency in pursuit of his personal and professional aspirations. Whatever the future chapters do hold for this South African business, Vusi and Native Décor have proven that they will be ready and willing to rise to the occasion.