Do you have an idea for a small manufacturing business?

Eric Fredericks demonstrates the simplicity of Bigstep. Photo credit: The Editor, KZN Industrial & Business News and Eastern Cape Industrial Business News
Eric Fredericks demonstrates the simplicity of Bigstep. Photo credit: The Editor, KZN Industrial & Business News and Eastern Cape Industrial Business News

I was surprised to see almost no small manufacturers in a small business competition being run by a radio station in Johannesburg. Where are all the small manufacturing businesses? Why don’t small manufacturers enter these competitions?

Look, I’m not saying the entrants aren’t innovative but they mainly comprise service businesses. A household cleaning firm, gas servicing company, holistic massage salon, restaurant and financial adviser business all have their merit but what about the “real” economy of manufactured products?

No doubt we are in a service economy but without small manufacturing you don’t have the opportunity for exports and higher levels of job creation. How far do we want to go down the road of deindustrialisation? A developing country can’t go as far down that road as the UK has done.

What do I mean by small manufacturing? A small manufacturer could even be a business owner making a line of jams. In my experience making a vinaigrette on a larger scale than one bottle for your kitchen requires buying raw materials, a process to manufacture, careful ingredient experimentation, application of food law, labelling, distribution, selling and marketing.

Even Mrs Balls chutney was once a small business that started on a kitchen table and became a manufacturing business.

Manufacturing for a start-up or small business owner can include anything from aluminium or stainless steel doors and railings for decks, magazine racks, handbags, outdoor bicycle racks, packaging crates, picnic tables, patio furniture to juice production. This is just a tiny sample of small-scale manufacturing business ideas.

I wonder why we don’t see more of these business owners appearing on radio and TV small business shows? Are they not glamorous enough?

Could it be that we lack apprenticeship training, craft occupation and trades? A highly successful exporting country such as Germany with hundreds of “Mittlestand” (small– and medium–size enterprises) companies has a strong apprentice dual education system. In Germany there are 342 recognised trades (Ausbildungsberufe). It is for from these craft and trades people that new ideas for manufacturing products arise.

I did some local research to prove this concept and came across Eric Fredericks from Eric Fredericks Engineering who has invented “Bigstep”, a collapsible ladder which can be mounted on the tailgate of bakkies and 4x4s. “Bigstep is targeted at mining companies, quarries, the construction industry and the leisure market – all areas where people frequently use the bins of bakkies and trucks.

This innovation has not got any radio or TV air time that I know of but it should because it is an inspiration for small-scale manufacturers. It highlights the opportunities waiting for crafts and trades people.

Rattle-free, Bigstep is tidily folded into place. Photo credit: The Editor, KZN Industrial & Business News and Eastern Cape Industrial Business News
Rattle-free, Bigstep is tidily folded into place. Photo credit: The Editor, KZN Industrial & Business News and Eastern Cape Industrial Business News
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