"It’s tough to scale an architecture business," says Design Partnership founder Callie van der Merwe. "You’re essentially always designing something new for a new client. There’s not a lot of repeat business."
Design Partnership divided the retail, hospitality and services market into three categories: Strategy, design and build. "In all these spheres, you need to offer solutions that make a real difference to the business. You want to tackle the business problem," says Van der Merwe. "If you’re not improving profitability, you’re nothing more than a decorator. With retail and hospitality you want to boost profits and with service spaces you want to improve flow and service delivery."
Now going global, the company has set up offices in both London and Sydney. "It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a while, and it’s all coming together now," says van der Merwe. The build aspects focus on the manufacture of store components locally for export.
"Ironically, the softening South African currency, the rand, has made South African companies very competitive in foreign markets over the last few months," says Richard Laws, Director for Design Partnership’s construction division, Project Partnership. "We secured a project in the UK because our quote was substantially less than that of the competition, so there are real opportunities at the moment for South African operations looking to expand to foreign markets."
The company has done work for Nando's restaurants, The Meat & Wine Co in Australia and Coricraft, a leading South African furniture and decor brand. For Design Partnership, the secret to staying small while growing big has been to structure the business in such a way that the close connection with the client has not been lost.
"Everyone in the company really strives to understand our clients," says Van der Merwe. "Moreover, we try to really understand our clients’ clients. We try to understand who they are, what they value and how they behave, which in turn allows us to understand what motivates them to purchase something.