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happen M A K I N G


Some of the greatest companies sprang from the combination of an idea and a passion - Gauteng’s leading building materials and services business, K Carrim group, has plenty of both. 2

K Carrim Group FEATURE


here are serial entrepreneurs and then there are family businesses; it’s hard to say which category K Carrim Group should be placed in. Certainly E Carrim belongs to the former: the founder of the construction materials dynasty set an outstanding example to his children, the youngest of whom -AB (Aby) Carrim - had not even been born when he opened the original hardware store, KE Bazaar, in the old Marabastad Area of Pretoria in 1964. Aby Carrim recalls that his father came from a highly disadvantaged background and was brought up in poverty and without the benefit of a father to guide him. “He worked for various different people before he eventually started buying paint in small quantities, selling it at a profit.” Following those early success, and a loan from a relative, E Carrim was able to “take on a small shop, and he built the entire business from that,” Aby says. Sadly E Carrim passed away in December 2010, at the age of 70. But, he has left a remarkable legacy: the truly entrepreneurial spirit he demonstrated has been passed onto his sons. Just as impressively, the 50-square metre shop he started has since grown into a diverse building materials group with more than 60,000 square metres of premises in the Gauteng area. Hardware is still the core business though. K Carrim Builders Mecca and K Carrim Wholesale Hardware, which has superseded the original shop, has grown into a comprehensive distributor of building materials serving both the trade and the DIY market and supplying other hardware stores within South Africa and abroad.

“The founding principle, to serve customers with the goods and services they really need, has shaped the business through its growth period,” says Aby Carrim. “K Carrim was built simply on the basis of serving whatever the customers who walked in asked for. For example when they needed roof trusses we eventually bought a business that made roof trusses. There was a shortage of supply at one time so we looked into setting up various other industries that complements the business in order to serve the clientele.” The diversity of the group is one of its characteristics these days. Among the businesses that have been added along the way are Tile Mecca, which imports and distributes tiles and bathroom equipment, supports a design service and has installed tiling in a number of exclusive locations in South Africa and abroad. “Ultimately we grew into the property and real estate business because that added value to the retail and wholesale operations,” says Aby. “We became our own best customer! We put our resources into our own property business and one thing fed off another.” The property business started 1980 with residential housing units, and then moved up to commercial property. More recently Carrim went into the hospitality business though at arm’s length - acquiring a luxury hotel in Cape Town: the Icon hotel, close to the V&A waterfront and International Convention Centre. “It has a roof top swimming pool with amazing views over the city, Management, however, is outsourced to Living Hotels, which markets the up-market concept,” says Aby.

K Carrim was built simply on the basis of serving whatever the customers who walked in asked for


K Carrim Group FEATURE

So today’s K Carrim group, though it is still focused on retail, has branched out into manufacturing, wholesale, property development – and logistics, trading out its 40,000 square metres distribution centre. Growth has taken place at opportune moments from the point of view of the economy and market conditions, Aby says. In more straitened times the job gets harder. “It is a challenge to grow now, and the risk factor is high. But there is room for growth in our market and we are making efforts to capture it”. He stressed that rewards are also greater to expand in this economical climate.


We are a family business and we like to uphold what is moral and ethical, what is good for the country

These days that will do nicely, and in any case, the greenshoots of recovery can be seen. “In my opinion and that of my colleagues we have passed through the hardest times. The company has reached critical mass, the big risks are behind us, and things can only get better. While growth is restricted for a while we just had to work very hard to capture what business there was, and we have succeeded thank God. We are on the up!” While investment in new housing dried up and the building materials side of the business fell, people spent more on home improvement. Now the banks are starting to lend again, mortgages are coming though faster than a year ago. And any increase in

trade sales brings growth in hardware too. As Aby Carrim puts it, “If you are buying timber for your roof you need hammer and nails to knock it together!” The latest new venture is a new nail and roof screw factory set up from scratch just a few months ago. At first glance this looks rather counterintuitive – why make commodity fastenings like this when they are easy to import? The decision sprang from a combination of commercial sense and the ethos of the company he explains. “We had been importing nails and screws but we believed that we could do it profitably in South Africa and at the

same time bring some new skills to our local employees. We brought in some people from overseas to help us set up the operation then transfer their skills to our staff.” This desire to do the right thing by the employees, as well as what is good for business, reflects the principles of the late Chairman of the Group, E Carrim. “We are a family business and we like to uphold what is moral and ethical, what is good for the country, and what enhances our good name as we go along! Now the way forward is to live everything he taught us and remember every little thing he said even more than before.” END

I truly believe that we are still able to grow our total business at perhaps five percent per annum


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