Laying It Down- Top Carpets

Top Carpets: Laying It Down – April Issue


Written by Chris Farnell

As a force
to be reckoned with in the South African flooring market, Top Carpets has shown
time and time again that it understands the industry. But this is one company
that won’t be resting on its laurels. Top Carpets has consistently adapted to
match the fluid nature of the market, and it’s not done yet!


Top Carpets
is a major presence in the South African flooring market. With representation
at 125 different locations, placing it within a 50km radius of any potential
buyer in the country, there isn’t a group like it anywhere else in South
Africa. Yet it comes from relatively humble origins.


Bryan Hoyle
tells the story: “It was set up 25 years when six disillusioned flooring contractors,
worried about the state of the market, set up a small buying group. That group
had the romantic name of ‘Carpet Purchases’. Their thoughts were that, by being
combined together they should be able to provide some protection against the
problems of the day.”


As time
went on more members joined, and eventually they reached the conclusion that
‘Carpet Purchases’ wasn’t the snappy, memorable name they needed. The problem
was that nobody could agree what they should call it instead.


“So we put
it to a design college in London,” Hoyle explains. “They ran a competition,
there was a prize winner and they came up with the name Top Carpets.”


Despite the
name change, the company hasn’t changed much, aside from in one respect: It’s
growth. From six people the company now has more than 125 members using Top
Carpets buying power. As it’s grown the company has also broadened its cover,
providing full marketing and management assistance to its members and expanding
from carpets into other flooring markets.


Changing Markets

expansion has proven to be crucial for the company, as over the last 20 years
the market has been going through some tremendous changes.


has declined by 50% in value in the last 20 years,” Hoyle admits. “There are
several reasons for that. Firstly, here in Durban there’s no such thing as
winter. Winter is 12-14 degrees Celsius through the night, rising to 20-22 degrees
during the day. The climate’s like that across the country. So we’ve seen a lot
of strong growth in ceramics. They’ve probably been expanding between 15 and 20%
year on year. Meanwhile, unlike other parts of the world, here we’ve seen the
laminate wood market remain strong because we’re an agricultural country and
there’s a strong liking for natural materials. You’ve got cultural issues too. Since
1994 when the country started off on its new path there’s been a lot of
emphasis on homes for everyone, and the vast majority of those are affordable
entry-level homes, which use ceramics because there’s a perception that they
will last longer. So laminate wooden flooring has been showing continued growth
at quite a pace and so have ceramics, which means carpets have suffered.”


Top Carpets has been able to move with the times.


“When we
started this was very much a carpet company,” Hoyle says. “Most of our people
came from manufacturing, most of their businesses were centred around carpeting.
So to adapt we’ve had to show some strong horizontal diversification. We’ve moved
into other types of floor, naturally, but we’re also expanding into blinds and


New Blood

the changing markets aren’t the only challenge Top Carpets faces. While the
last few years have been hard on everyone financial, one of Hoyle’s major
concerns is that there will be enough skilled labour to meet demand once the
economy improves.


“We need to
make sure we have enough skilled labour at every level to cope with the growth
and demand that will certainly come once this current crisis has died down,”
Hoyle says. “Here in South Africa it’s a particularly pressing issue because
we’re expecting huge growth in the floor coverings industry. With so much of
infrastructure being replaced we’re going to see a lot of both commercial and
housing projects. We’re blessed with a fantastic opportunity for growth.”


While Top
Carpets itself has only a small team of 35 people at its head office, every one
of its outlets is individually owned, so it’s important that a new generation
is trained up to meet growing demand. It’s a responsibility that’s been spread
across the entire South African flooring industry.


“We’ve got
involved in sponsorship and training at a post school level at several places
around the country,” Hoyle explains. “Our local manufacturers have also put a
lot of money and effort into training programmes so that these staff are ready
for the future. There’s also credit to go to firms like Floor Works. The industry
itself has a body that looks after wood and laminates, South African Wood &
Laminate Flooring Association, who have also put a lot of effort into training


despite all the effort that’s going into training this new generation, Hoyle
still believes more can be done.


“I honestly
can’t tell you where we’re replacing people fast enough,” he admits. “I have a
suspicion we’re not and once the market picks up again we’ll struggle to get
trained people.”


But Top
Carpets isn’t sitting on its laurels. Right now the company is undergoing a
major overhaul to bring new blood into the firm.


“Looking at
the advantages of bringing in some younger minds this makes sense,” Hoyle says.
“We’re also looking at different groups. For instance, gender is currently an
issue we’re working hard to address, and we’re consulting with a female
economic empowerment group to find out how we can improve things there. We’re
getting new blood into the company at every level, every day.”


confident about the future of the flooring industry in South Africa. With the
market on the up, and the increase in global communications, Hoyle is convinced
that South Africa’s industry is a match for any in the world.


“If you
take our largest carpet manufacturing company, Belgotex, it’s a world class
production facility. So to the surprise of many our product offering is just as
advanced as it is in, for instance, the UK. If you were to look at ceramics a
simple investigation would demonstrate our ceramics industry is a world leader
in affordable ceramic tiles,” Hoyle says, justifiably proud. “There’s a strong
European influence but the quality of our product is very good. What’s more, we
still have this spirit of adventure. We’re always open to new ideas, and that’s
one thing that’s allowed us to keep up with Europe and the States. We’ve
realised we can be as good as anyone so long as we look, listen and apply.”

Daemon Sands is the chief editor for the benchmark publication of Littlegate Publishing, Endeavour Magazine. He has written for best selling magazines and newspapers and is a keynote speaker at business conferences around the globe.