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Latest News

Roadside trader becomes inspired sawmiller

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Roadside trader becomes inspired sawmiller

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.

Roadside’s expansive operation under African skies


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.

 

Starting small 

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.

 

Sales boomed.

 

Roadside Timber Trading was no longer a struggling roadside stall.

 

 

Business explodes

 

Proof of the boom was a second Wood-Mizer, an LT15 that arrived only three months after the LT30.

The original Wood-Mizer LT30 still working.


“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!

Wood-Mizer’s line up at Roadside Timber Traders.


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.

A new era of increased productivity sees three Wood-Mizer TITAN EG800’s now ripping cants from the sawmills into boards.

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 proudly.

 

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%.

Offcuts from Roadside’s structural timber production process made into doors to boost recovery and drive sales.
 

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 says.

One of Roadside’s nine,truck fleet to slash timber logistics costs and ensure deliveries to customers.


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.

Intrepid business pioneers - David and Rosalina Letsoalo.


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 shutdown.

 

“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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Etienne Nagel Wood-Mizer PR journalist Africa Asia
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