We caught up with Leon Roodt, Owner and Creative Director of Ergoform, an award-winning enterprise and one the most progressive manufacturers of office furniture in the country. Ergoform has been designing and manufacturing premium quality, functional-yet-beautiful pieces of furniture since 1994. With showrooms in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, as well as a fully equipped manufacturing premises in the Western Cape, the company’s success is due to owners Leon and Alice Roodt’s ability to understand the needs of the modern professional and to adapt to an ever-changing landscape, where office furniture and office interior design have become an essential part of what organisations have to rely on to optimise employee performance.
After studying business at the University of Stellenbosch, I began working as a management and training consultant. I sat at my desk one day and thought surely it can’t be too difficult to manufacture the designs that I’d always dreamt of. Wanting to have my own business for a long time, at the end of that month I decided to resign and start up on my own.
How did you come up with the name Ergoform?
The name Ergoform combines ergonomics with form (as in shape) – the two basic ingredients in each of our pieces. We design beautiful pieces which work with the body to ensure comfort and functionality.
Walk us through your journey with Ergoform from the beginning up until now?
I started in my garage and made a large Imbuia desk for a friend from varsity. It was a disaster, as I hadn’t quite got a handle on the manufacturing process just yet. I was politely asked by the friend to collect the desk and improve on the finish quality. I picked it up one Saturday and transported it back home on the roof of my Volkswagen Jetta. A few minutes away from home it started to rain and I drove a little faster so that the desk would not get wet. On the last corner before home, the whole load slipped off the roof racks and fell onto the tar road! Not all was lost however; I definitely learnt from the experience and here we are 25 years later. From the outset, I wanted to design and manufacture my own ideas. I pride myself on the fact that even today, should I have to, I can make any one of our products myself. This is probably the most important skill to have as a designer: from the outset, you know how and what is possible. This enables Ergoform to produce a range of world-class furniture that caters to the South African market.
We design and manufacture our own products and this means that we are able to swiftly develop new product ranges in response to market trends and requirements.
We also continually develop our business strategy and have achieved major success for the size of our business. In 2011, we were chosen as the TT100 winner in the business systems category with Altec Netstar as the runner up.
Thirdly, we are a results-driven company with an active productivity improvement system. In 2014, we received Productivity SA’s National Productivity Award and have since achieved even better results.
Lastly, we have an enormously upbeat and positive team who consistently demonstrate their skill and dedication. I do not believe there are any employers out there with a more passionate and hardworking team.
What do you see for the future of Ergoform?
Our mission is to become one of the best furniture manufacturers in the world, irrespective of geographical location or local business conditions. I wish my fellow South African entrepreneurs would also believe that our local craftsmen have as much potential and skill as those elsewhere in the world. We passionately believe that we have a responsibility to convert our workforce from task workers to knowledge workers. Nowadays, machines or computers can perform most tasks and it is of utmost importance to utilise the unique experience, product and manufacturing knowledge that mature staff have. Combine this with the technological abilities of the younger generation and the results are awesome and an exciting development to witness. We envisage Ergoform as a strong and sustainable brand on the local and international stage.
In total, how many people does Ergoform employ today?
We employee 48 people.
Your brand is associated with bright, vibrant pieces. What is the concept behind this?
We love clean lines and relatively minimalist designs. The concept of less is more underpins our design philosophy, however this also complicates things for us. The more minimalist a design becomes, often the more difficult it is to manufacture. This means that the design relies heavily on exceptional product and material finishes in order to be successful. We are never scared to take a risk in terms of innovative product design, in fact we thrive on it, and it is a fundamental part of Ergoform’s DNA.
From where do you draw your design inspiration?
We draw our inspiration mostly from European design trends, changes in the traditional organisational structure and changes in the world of technology. The possibility of wireless power for all office equipment from laptops to screens, to all personal devices, is currently being realised. We are right in the middle of this and have already started building and testing desks that charge such devices. Wireless connectivity is an important part of the modern world and will be a defining influence on design in the years to come.
What advice can you give to young emerging designers in South Africa?
Don’t be afraid to try things, work flipping hard, and believe that in South Africa anything is possible. Make time to learn about all aspects of the manufacturing process as well as developing a comprehensive understanding of business and marketing. It is essential to have knowledge of these things in order to succeed, many good products and designs die due to bad marketing or manufacturing.
YES, YES, YES!
What are some of the challenges our local industry faces, and what solutions do you see?
The biggest challenge in South African manufacturing is financial backing. The funding offered by the DTI does not fully cover the substantial costs involved in furniture design. For example, a chair mould may cost up to R 1million to produce, however should your personal assets not be able to cover this, the design is never produced. It is always a risk, but financial backers have yet to realise the investment value and highly probable return on investment that solid product design and excellent craftsmanship bring with them.
What pieces/range can we expect to see next from Ergoform?
An ergonomically sound and affordable plug and play workstation that comes complete with built in lights, a computer, and supplies wireless (invisible) power to all the user’s devices.
What are your values as a company?
One thing only: we change people’s lives for the better.