In 2001, they launched their own venture, De Fynne Nursery, in Jefthas’s backyard as a way of supplementing their income. With very little capital, they started the company with just 1 000 specimens of three plant species, using their salaries, savings and proceeds from sales to grow the business slowly and organically.
“Those were very hard and trying years,” says Goliath. “We launched the company at a time when more people were becoming aware of environmental conservation. Fynbos plants are water-wise, as they occur naturally in the Western Cape, so we used our experience and knowledge to tap into an already existing market.
Before long, the business partners found themselves battling to keep up with the demand for more indigenous and water-wise plants, so they expanded several times. In 2005, they moved the nursery to a rented 0,5ha plot of land in Kylemore in the Western Cape.
Three years later, the business expanded again to a 1,5ha rented plot in Simondium, between Paarl and Franschhoek.
“As a small-scale business made up of previously disadvantaged individuals, we had to work extra-hard to be seen and noticed by bigger companies in our industry. The consistent supply of quality products and our values of integrity and honesty helped build our brand,” explains Goliath.
Having built a reputation in the sector, the partners began pitching to larger companies and managed to secure clients such as Woolworths, Builder’s Warehouse and Spar. De Fynne also became one of the few specialist nurseries to do contract growing for both the horticultural and agricultural sectors and its diverse clientele came to include wholesalers, research institutions, commercial farms, wine estates and landscapers.
The venture ultimately moved yet again to a 22ha farm in the Paarl area, allowing it to diversify and increase its offerings. The nursery’s established itself as one of SA’s fynbos and agricultural seedling growing experts. It currently hosts 600 000 plants, including ornamental, indigenous and fruited species such as blueberries, figs, plums, olives, granadillas, apples and pears, and employs 22 permanent and 15 casual workers.
“It’s good for any business to diversify,” says Goliath. “To stay competitive, we’re forced to come up with new product offerings. The most important business lesson I’ve learnt is the importance of cash flow. You need to manage and relook at it continuously.”
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She attributes the nursery’s success to a number of factors, including having the right business partner, assistance from government organisations such as the Departments of Rural Development & Land Reform and Agriculture Western Cape, and having a committed team of skilled staff.
With more than 20 years’ experience in the sector, Goliath’s done developmental work in Africa involving the propagation, growing and marketing of natural plant products. She’s worked in Ghana, Zambia and Senegal, promoting products made from natural plants such as buchu, rooibos and honeybush tea.
In 2011, she received the title of Female Entrepreneur – both provincially and nationally – from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries. She also received the award for African Agribusiness Entrepreneur 2012 from Markets Matter Inc.
Looking ahead, she and Jefthas plan to improve their sustainable footprint by recycling all the water used on the farm and reducing its energy usage by installing solar energy panels.