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The King Brands story: deep roots and flourishing branches

Every business begins with a seed.

This is the King Brands story – from seed to tree; from garage to kingdom.

“Growing up, I always had a dream of owning my own business.”

Keith Wittstock

Keith started out as a tool jig and die maker. After three years of studies, he took on a three-year contract at GEC Alstom where he quickly grew from toolmaker to counter sales assistant specialising in force ventilated motor sales to external sales. He eventually ran their entire electric motor spares department, which is where he got his real business education. He looked at the business model, implemented and adjusted a business plan and, within one year, doubled the department’s turnover. When he resigned, they offered him triple his salary to try to keep him on. But Keith wanted to pursue his dream.

“With no car, no capital, a wish and a dream, I started CKG Solutions as a sole proprietor.”

Keith Wittstock

The early days, as a one-man operation doing engineering work out of his parents’ garage with limited machinery, were difficult. There was only so much he could do – he needed to expand. Keith bought a Nissan 1400 bakkie for R7000 and hired his parents’ domestic worker’s son. He was unemployed and knew how to weld, so they started welding security gates. Keith soon realised that security gates are a lot more complex to manufacture than originally anticipated. But when burglars easily broke into Keith’s brother’s house, with competitor security gates installed, he was encouraged to develop a product that was well made and not overpriced. He was also determined to offer better service. Keith started looking at ways to solve all the little problems they encountered and, with his engineering background, developed the King Trellis security gate.

“My brother and parents needed security gates, so we practised and perfected our art in their houses. My Dad eventually told me that we needed to get outside jobs because he was running out of door and window openings. That was when we started making our products available to the public.”

Keith Wittstock

The first years in the King Brands story were tough. Keith remembers having to park on hills when visiting clients so that he could push-start the bakkie, as he couldn’t afford a new starter motor. If he hadn’t had such low costs living with his parents and working out of their garage, King Trellis probably would never have taken off. Over time, CKG Solutions morphed into King Trellis, All Seasons and Dura Racking, which now all fall under the King Brands umbrella.

As the business grew, Keith struggled to be everywhere and run a factory at the same time. His brother, Gary, had just finished studying industrial engineering and did his practicals through the company. He helped out wherever he could, which became a full-time job. Gary was so efficient in running the business that it freed Keith up to invest in research and development. Keith gave Gary shares in the business and they became business partners.

“We are a great team! We have managed to grow the business through good times and bad times.”

Keith Wittstock

Property in the King Brands story

Keith’s wife, Nicole, remembers the first time she went to look at the property, which now belongs to King Brands.

“I went to see it on a Sunday afternoon and immediately fell in love. I took the FOR SALE sign out of the ground and flung it into the bushes. I contacted the agent first thing on the Monday morning and we made an offer, which was accepted. And as they say, the rest is history.”

Nicole Wittstock

Developing the property was a mammoth project, but Keith and Nicole were young and free-spirited and believed they could conquer the world. The land had absolutely nothing on it – not even a tree! But it was a diamond in the rough; a portion of God’s beautiful earth that could be developed as desired. The factory was built with a cottage above it where Keith and Nicole lived for many years until they were able to build their family home.

Keith and Nicole physically planted each and every tree on the property and slowly built up the property and business together. As the trees grew, so did the business. Some trees died as did some avenues of the business and some ideas that they originally had along the way. The trees now have solid roots and stand tall and proud.

Each autumn the trees bring vivid hues of reds and orange to the property. Their leaves then fall, and in spring they blossom again into a mass of vibrant green energy. Likewise, things continue to change and grow in the business. At times, the old falls away to give a new fresh start to greater things. The wayward branches need to be pruned to help the tree focus its energy on growth, as does a business need to be fine-tuned to make it operate optimally.

The trees have weathered many storms and strong winds, yet stand strong and continue to flourish – as have the branches or companies under the King Brands banner.

“I am so proud of Keith and Gary. The early days were very difficult and Keith worked really hard seeing people and physically making security gates, wrought iron furniture or anything else someone asked for. Keith is an intelligent, talented and driven man who achieves everything he sets his mind to. He finds things he believes is good, makes it better and brings it to life. His networking skills and managerial ways have brought the right people to him when he has needed them. Thank you to Gary for backing, believing and trusting in Keith. There have been moments of frustration as ideas clashed and changes were implemented. As a tree is a living, growing and constantly changing object, so too has this business been constantly growing and changing. Keith and Gary make a formidable team with their different strengths feeding into different needs within the company.”

Nicole Wittstock

Keith and Gary, and the business, have been through a lot together. And they’ve worked on big jobs for the government, embassies, hospitals, corporates, movie stars, sports stars, insurance companies, building developments, food franchises and even banks. At this pivotal point in King Brands’ inception, the business is about to explode and fully bloom. With the right people in key positions, a shake-up of space and thinking and the backing of a newly energised and motivated team, King Brands is going to touch the sky!

The King Brands colours of green and yellow (gold) echo South Africa’s national tree – the yellowwood – which stands tall and proud. It is known for its diverse uses within all ethnic groups. King Brands echoes this sentiment with its diversity and various product offerings servicing the unique needs of the South African population. As needs change, so too will the business, as the King Brands story continues.

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