“The Birth of Orchard Party & Function Hire”
Whilst working as a full time employee at one of Johannesburg’s big corporate companies, Steve Orchard was roped in to helping organise an end of year Christmas Function. He had a reputation of being very resourceful, and extremely well organised. He was tasked with sourcing salad bowls, water jugs, trays, glasses, cutlery and crockery for the function. He scouted around, and eventually found a church in Parkhurst that hired out equipment for these kinds of functions. Once the function was complete, and everything returned by Steve, his mind then started ticking over as to this being a possible future business opportunity.
At this time, in 1994, his wife Debbie was a stay at home mom with his two boys, then aged 1 and 2. Whilst he was managing to pay the bills, finances were becoming tighter and tighter, and they had discussed the possibility of Debbie having to go out to work should the expenses around the house rise any further. After much thought, Steve asked Debbie if she would be prepared to run a hiring company from home, to bring in a small extra income. She agreed, and so Orchard Hiring was born. It was decided that we would buy stock to cater for the small home functions, charge a minimal rental, and thus make it affordable to most people, and save them the hassle of having to borrow from friends and family to meet their catering needs. We went out on a limb, and purchased 100 each of knives, forks, dessert spoons, plates, side plates and dessert bowls. We bought enough material, sheeting from the Oriental Plaza, to make up 20 table cloths, and 20 lace overlays. We roped Debbie’s mom in to making this table linen for us. Having put the purchases on our credit card, we were now really stretched. We had no more finance for advertising, so placed posters at schools, community centres and shopping centres. We did not get one call for an order from March 1994 to September 1994. Feeling quite desperate, Steve decided to place a small advertisement in the Randburg Sun and hope for the best. From this advert, we picked up two caterers, both working at the Pirates Sport Club. This was the beginning of the growth of the business which we ran from our home in Linden.
It soon became apparent that cutlery, crockery and white linen were not going to be enough to fulfil the orders. The caterers liked our equipment, but needed coloured linen, glasses, tables and chairs. Debbie started hiring the additional equipment in from other hiring companies in order to fulfil the customer requirements. Slowly but surely, we were forced to buy more stock, as it made sense to rather own our own than to pay the hire in charges. Also, by now, word of mouth advertising was starting to get around, and we were getting more and more referral business.
Debbie was still doing everything on her own, taking calls, delivering and collecting the orders in her red VW Combi, and washing and wrapping the orders when they were returned. Steve would work a full day and then come home in the evenings, help Debbie with whatever washing and wrapping she hadn’t got to, and go through the files for the following day’s deliveries and collections. Steve is much stronger on the logistics side than what Debbie is.
By now the children had started school, and their needs were becoming more and more demanding. Debbie was finding it difficult to accommodate her children’s needs, as well as ensure that the client’s needs were always met. When their youngest son, age 6 at the time, asked Debbie if he could please be one of her clients, Debbie’s obvious response was “why”? His answer was simple, “mom, you listen to your clients, you don’t listen to me”. Debbie phoned a business broker that very same afternoon to find out about selling the business, and informed Steve as he walked in the door that night that the business was up for sale. She could no longer juggle the two, and her children had to come first.
Steve was feeling stifled at his place of work and pleaded with Debbie to run with it until the end of April 2000. Steve then resigned from his permanent position, and joined Debbie in May 2000. This was a giant leap, as Debbie was not earning enough from the business to support the family. Steve sold a few assets in order to get a cash injection, as he was determined that we would not borrow money from the bank. The idea was for Steve to come in and grown the business, hopefully with more corporate accounts. After 3 weeks of working at home with barking dogs, playing children, domestic workers and a wife, he decided he could no longer work in this environment. He had been in a very structured corporate environment his whole working life, and this was all just too much for him. He went out and found premises. Again, Debbie thought he was crazy, but this proved to be another really good move for the business.
We now had exposure, and we were visible to the passing trade. The business went through a massive and very quick growth spurt, and we were now able to start employing staff to help us with the deliveries, as well as the washing and ironing of the equipment. We were also able to slowly introduce more variety in to our stock. We rented for 1 year, and then bought the premises on the corner of Beyers Naude and Mendelssohn Drive, where we are still operating from today.