Next year Block & Chisel will enjoy its 30th birthday, and while many great local interior names have folded over time, this family-grown business continues to grow from strength to strength.
From what was previously a collection of small boutique stores, Block & Chisel now has a Cape Town flagship store of 1000 sq.metres, a Johannesburg store of 2000 sq.metres in Illovo, and their long-standing original Wynberg Village store. They have expanded to fill a vast new warehouse in Philippi, and have just opened a new 1500 sq.metre energy efficient factory next door. The plant handles the manufacture of its own designs – known as the Sibley collection, after the co-founder and Head of Design Sibley McAdam – producing English and French Country furniture, and now modern country furniture, from beginning to end, including the extensive paint finishing process which is handled in-house. The staff compliment of the manufacturing alone is 36 people.
Chris Stevenson, Head of Manufacturing, explains, “Ultimately we have always wanted to increase the production of our own unique range of high quality local furniture, and the timing is right for that. There is both the demand which has not waned for us in this top end, and also our local furniture is well priced despite ongoing currency fluctuations. But we are also a family business that understand the importance of investing in both this country and its people, and by doing so, we can offer both employment and skills development opportunities. Our staff are important to us, most having been with us a long time, and some for as many as 20 years. We have invested in and helped develop their skills from mere apprentice to becoming real craftsmen. Staff have been empowered – a cabinet maker has moved on to become a CAD draughtsman, an assembler is taking on the integration of our new SAP computer system on the factory floor, and one of our sanding ladies has moved on to becoming a competent paint finisher.”
“What’s of most importance is that our staff understand, and are just as passionate about, the designs and quality of our products as we are, and this two-way relationship adds to the strength of our brand.”
Chris adds, “The team were a big consideration in the factory build and we wanted to create a comfortable work space for them that now includes a new canteen, spacious changing rooms and shower facilities. We’ve noticed a marked shift in the mood and enthusiasm of our team, and one of the team’s wives now runs a shop on the premises that supplies delicious warm meals.
Energy efficiency and green consciousness is also important and, to this end, we insulated and lowered the factory roof height to control temperature and allowed for as much natural light as possible by having a third of the roof area covered with sky lights. We put in sound insulation and built an internal wall to contain the volume of noisy machinery. Low voltage lighting has been used throughout and solar geysers supply hot water. The furniture drying room is heated by re-ducting the warm exhaust air generated by our compressor. Our wooden shavings are sent to horse stables and once used is returned to the factory to be used as compost for a staff vegetable garden.”
He concludes, “Of all the things we’re so pleased about, it’s the structure we have created for the team to build our product. There’s a flow and efficiency from start to finish, and we love the mobility of all of our work stations and storage units – a fluidity and intelligence to how it plays out now. The environment is spacious and clean which has made a direct impact on our culture and morale. The end result in our first few months is an increased output of 20% and our target in the next few months is up to 35%. And most importantly the state of the art machines we have purchased have only further enhanced the fine finish of this ever-evolving collection of furniture.”