A sawmill near Moria in South Africa’s Limpopo Province is the backbone of an extraordinary business success story that is still unfolding …
Roadside Timber Trading Sawmill is located in the sprawling suburb of Mankweng in Limpopo province of South Africa, not far from Mount Moria, home to one of Africa’s largest churches, the Zion Christian Church (ZCC). Moria takes its name from a hill outside Jerusalem where Solomon’s temple once stood.
David and Rosalina Letsoalo, the founders of Roadside Timbers, also seem to be blessed by their close proximity to this holy place. 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 a long way.
Back in 2011, David and Rosalina were pondering their future as they needed to support their growing family. David’s career in hairdressing was slow. Rosalina’s career in furniture retail was solid.
Between these two options, Rosalina’s timber background seemed to be a safer bet.
So David started selling poles bought from wholesalers that his customers then used for building. But business 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 the rapid development of formal housing that was taking place in Mankweng created a big demand for sawn timber, and David and Rosalina knew they needed a new business model to take advantage of this opportunity.
The answer came in the shape of a used Wood-Mizer LT30 that they bought in 2016.
Producing accurately sawn timber that was required by the new home builders around Mankweng was an immediate winner. They also cut on-site which made their sawn timber cheaper than the timber being sold at the local hardware stores, and sales boomed.
Roadside Timber Trading was no longer a struggling roadside stall. Three months later they bought a second Wood-Mizer, an LT15.
The Wood-Mizer staff guided and supported the Roadside Timbers’ sawmilling team during those early days, and is still helping them to grow their business today.
Roadside’s Wood-Mizer fleet continued to expand, reaching eight Wood-Mizers 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,” says David with a smile.
2018 also saw Roadside opening a second sawmill outside Tzaneen, a town near Polokwane in a tree rich area of Limpopo. From there they are now servicing customers in Giyani and Venda.
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 local hardware stores. A 4-head moulder produces components for the doors and frames. This, together with shavings and sawdust that are sold to farmers, has driven Roadside’s recovery figures to above 70%.
Roadside’s drive to increase efficiency now also includes a logistics division that adds significantly to the bottom line.
“Our own fleet 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 deliveries to customers. All of this builds our profits,” says David.
Roadside Timber Trading now has 45 full-time employees working double shifts to keep up with orders.
David and Rosalina co-manage the business with Rosalina focusing on marketing, and David on production.
While not trading during the Covid-19 lockdown, David and Rosalina still managed to pay all their employees’ salaries despite the shutdown.
“With good people on our side, and business partners like Wood-Mizer there to assist us, we are blessed,” commented David.