‘We want to be industry leaders’ – Chad and Erin-Lee Petersen

Updated on 25 September 2014

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'We want to be industry leaders' - Chad and Erin-Lee PetersenCompany Profile

Name of company: Research Unit

Years in existence: 2 years

Position: Owners/Directors

Can you tell us a little bit about your background – personal, educational and professional?

Chad Petersen: I grew up in Athlone, studied Industrial Design at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). I was awarded a six month scholarship in my third year to study a Masters course in Interaction Design at Malmo University in Sweden. Now I am a director, owner, production planner and research specialist.

Erin-Lee Saunders Petersen: I grew up in Northpine and Athlone in Cape Town and studied Broadcast Journalism at Varsity College. I am also a radio and TV presenter and work for Good Hope FM. At Research Unit, I am the creative and marketing director, sales and marketing specialist as well as PR manager.

Can you tell us a little bit about your company and what you do?

We design and manufacture innovative, trending luxury leather goods. Conceptualised in 2011, Research Unit started trading in the fourth quarter of 2012 with a stall at a weekly design market, and a presence in premium boutiques in Cape Town and Johannesburg. We are self-funded, and our fledgling business has been able to create regular and part-time jobs in sewing, hand-stitching, dyeing, retailing and online marketing.

“We would like to equip our employees with the skills needed to lead a fulfilling life”

How did your journey begin and how have you achieved success so far?

We started small, working from Erin’s bedroom while we were courting. After that we took the plunge and moved into a tiny studio apartment, where we lived and set up office. This was followed by another move into our current premises, a sunny and bright space with plenty of room for expansion on the outskirts of Cape Town. What has enabled us to achieve success so far is that, since these humble beginnings in 2011, we have focused all our energy on building a leather goods brand that is recognised as an example of quality, innovation, minimalism and elegance.

What were some of the obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?

We began with no capital. We used a lot of our salaries we earned from our previous jobs to buy tools and raw materials. It was a major hurdle for us because we thought that in order to make this work, we had to sacrifice our own money and time. SAB Kickstart helped us with some funding, which allowed us to grow our company. It was hard work and determination that enabled us to overcome some of those obstacles.

How many people does your company employ?

At the moment, we employ five people at our studio and will be hiring two or more for our new store opening up at the V&A Waterfront in October.

What is your overall vision for your business?

To be the brand of choice for individuals all over the world who are pushing the boundaries in the creative fields they are in. We want to be industry leaders when it comes to innovative designs –  through the fusion of ancient manufacturing techniques and cutting edge technology. Thorough research on all levels and skills development is the basis of the business, and we would like to equip our employees with the skills needed to lead a fulfilling life, whether they stay with us, or start their own businesses.

We believe that South Africa can produce quality leather goods that can compete with the rest of the world. We aim to produce products that redefine the luxury leather goods industry and to become trendsetters within the industry.

What do you think it takes to establish and run a successful business in South Africa?

Persistence  and dedication. Your goals have to be clear for them to be achievable. Know exactly what you want. Have a “never give up” attitude and definitely innovation.

How did you finance your business, how difficult or easy was the process?

We used previous salaries from our jobs, sold our phones and other goods in order to buy tools and materials, so it wasn’t easy initially and through dedication and hard work, we applied for funding with The SAB Kickstart competition.

What are the three things you attribute your business success to?

Innovation, research and good service.

“We lead by example”

When did you know that you were an entrepreneur?

We realised we were entrepreneurs when we had the ability to envision other businesses and/or ideas through Research Unit to see more opportunities in the design sector and not just leather goods

How would you describe your leadership style?

We are examples to our staff. We are constantly slaving away, even when it’s their time to go home, they see the hard work we put in. We don’t believe in reprimanding people, but rather tracing the steps back to find out what went wrong in the process so that we can assess and re-train them. Everyone has the ability to improve if they are willing to. Both our parents taught us to lead by example.

What are some of your favourite motivational books and motivational gurus that have inspired you in growing your business?

Richard Branson: Screw it, let’s do it; Tim Ferris: The Four Hour Work Week; Robin Sharma: Secret letters of the monk who sold his Ferrari; and Brian Welsh.

What three pieces of advice would you offer young entrepreneurs starting out today?

Always follow your heart, trust your instincts and be prepared to work very hard.

What’s the worst and best business advice you’ve ever received?

The Worst: “You have to have a plan B” – but if you have a plan B, you’ll always end up going back to plan B.

The Best: “Do what you love, but if you can’t, love what you do. In loving what you do, you’ll be doing what you love.” – Unknown

And finally, do you believe in luck, hard work or both?

We believe that the harder you work, the luckier you become.

Research Unit are the winners of the 2014 Cape Talk 567 Small Business Awards with Sage One.

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