Thursday, October 22, 2020
The road from Polokwane to Roadside Timber Trading
Sawmill is hot and busy.
A wide plain with Mount Moria at the end and scattered granite
hilltops in between leads visitors to the sprawling suburbs of Mankweng where
Roadside Timber Trading is based.
God also smiles on Mankweng where it rubs shoulders with
adjacent Moria, home to one of Africa’s largest churches, the ZCC. Moria or Chosen
by God in Hebrew, takes its name from a hill outside Jerusalem where Solomon’s
temple once stood.
That David and Rosalina Letsoalo, the founders of
Roadside Timbers are also favoured like Solomon is clear. As members of the
ZCC, they know where their strength comes from.
This, together with sharp thinking and hard work has
already brought this formidable husband and wife team far. By how much this
success story will expand into the future is hard to predict?
But that it deserves to be replicated across Africa to
deliver the same benefits that Roadside has unlocked for itself and the
community in which it trades in goes without saying.
Concerns about supporting a growing family saw David and
Rosalina planning their future in 2011. David’s career in hairdressing was
slow. Rosalina’s career in furniture retail was solid.
Between these two options, Rosalina’s timber background
was a safe bet.
David started selling poles bought from wholesalers that
his customers then used to build houses with. But the money was slow. To
increase profits, he started buying poles directly from farmers. A pole
harvesting team that he started pushed weekly sales to 250 poles.
But poles have limitations.
Mankweng’s fast expansion with modern housing needing
accurately sawn timber for roofing made round poles a bad seller. Competitor
pole sellers from Polokwane to Mankweng also ate into David’s market share.
The team knew they needed a new business model that would
disrupt the timber scene in Mankweng completely.
The answer came in the shape of a used Wood-Mizer LT30
that they bought in 2016.
Producing accurately sawn timber that new home builders
preferred was an immediate winner. That they cut on-site also made their sawn
timber cheaper than the hardware’s in the area.
Roadside Timber Trading was no longer a struggling
Proof of the boom was a second Wood-Mizer, an LT15 that
arrived only three months after the LT30.
“We did not really know Wood-Mizer before then,” David
and Rosalina say while smiling.
“Robert helped us a lot,” they continue, referring to
Wood-Mizer’s former Area Manager for the Lowveld, Rob Moxham.
They nod in agreement when they think back. “Rob guided
us during those early days, and even now Wood-Mizer is helping us to grow.
Teaching us how to maintain sawmills, to resharpen blades, how to run a
business, we can only thank Wood-Mizer.”
Roadside’s Wood-Mizer fleet expanded even faster after
that, reaching eight Wood-Mizer’s in 2018 and ten in 2020!
As part of Roadside’s productivity improvement drive,
three Wood-Mizer TITAN Multirip / Edgers also came on stream in 2020 to rip
cants that are produced on the sawmills into boards. “We now understand how to
work cleverly to produce more,” David smiles.
2018 also saw Roadside opening a second sawmill outside
Tzaneen, a town near Polokwane in a tree rich area of the Limpopo Province.
“From there we’re now servicing customers in Giyani and Venda,” Rosalina says
Current production figures of wet-off-saw structural
timber exiting Roadside’s Polokwane division stands at +90m³/day for a weekly
average of some 450 cubic meters that includes 38x38, 70x76, 38x114, 38x152 and
338x 228 sizes.
The drymill that kicked off in 2018 processes Roadside’s
offcuts into doors and frames with roughly 200 to 250 units sold per week to
the hardware’s in the area. A 4-head moulder produces components for the doors
and frames. This, together with shaving and sawdust that are sold to farmers
and sawmill crews that hunt for zero waste, have driven Roadside’s recovery
figures to above 70%.
Roadside’s drive to increased efficiency also includes a
logistics division that adds to the bottom line.
“Sawmilling is basically about moving timber,” David and
Rosaline smile knowingly.
“Our own fleet consisting of nine trucks now ensures a
constant flow of between 250 and 450 pine logs into the mill per month. We also
do all our own delivers to customers. All of this builds our profits,” David
With 45 full-time employees working double shifts to
remain ahead on orders, the knock-on effect of these incomes supporting
families in an area where unemployment is a problem is difficult to quantify.
That it is significant is without a doubt.
Another satisfied customer.
David and Rosalina can testify how the business has
changed their lives.
A better future
“When I was at school, I woke up at 4 AM to run to a
nearby dairy farm where I milked cows before going to school. I supported my
mother who raised five children single-handily.
“When the business took off, I could build her a house
that she can now be proud of as an old lady. My siblings and our children also
work with us to support their families. We have built something that now
protects many,” David and Rosalina say.
“When I was retrenched from the listed furniture company
that I had worked for, Roadside was also my sanctuary. David and I now
co-manage the company with my marketing skills an important reason for our
success,” Rosalina says.
But wisdom also ensured this better future.
While not trading during the Covid-19 lockdown, David and
Rosalina had saved enough money to pay all employee salaries despite the
“With good people on our side, and business partners like
Wood-Mizer there to assist us, we are blessed,” David and Rosalina end.
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