DIY: Tell us about your background.
GA: I was raised and schooled in Durban, where I attended Brettonwood High School. After finishing my Matric I attended Durban Technical College for a year where wasted my parents’ money. So, I stopped and opted to rather complete my National Service, which at the time was two years. It was terrible and fun at the same time – you certainly do grow up quickly when you are in the army. On some level I wish they had a similar institution today to help young people bridge the gap between youth and maturity.
My first job in this industry was as a paint salesperson for the then Servistar in Pinetown. It was great fun and I really enjoyed helping customers. Understanding the requirements of the consumer still guides me today. After that I worked for a hardware wholesale company, Greatrex. Here I worked for Case van Hattem.
He was a tough but fair boss and I really did learn a lot from him. Later I moved on to work for a further two companies in the industry – Hardware Distributors in Pinetown and Stevens & Co. Eventually I left to start my own agency business in Durban.
One of my suppliers at my own agency was Tile Doctor, and with my paint background the agency worked well with chemicals and flourished. Eventually, on request from Tile Doctor, I moved to Johannesburg. When Tile Doctor was eventually sold, too many things changed and I decided to launch my own brand. Looking back, it looks like it was a smart move.
DIY: When was the company started?
GA: I started the company in 2000 and 2010 means that we have been a decade in business. Interestingly enough, I have always advertised in DIY Trade News… maybe its time for a few free adverts?!
DIY: Tell us a little more about how the business was started.
GA: Well, back then my back was against the wall. With some sureties and support from my in-laws (also partners) and a head full of ideas, I developed the logo, marketing, systems and products that started Tile & Floor Care. Everything was aimed at making things easier for the consumer and easier for the retailer. It’s a concept of simplifying as much as possible – and it works.
DIY: What are some of the unique challenges that TFC face?
GA: We are in an industry where there are a lot of misconceptions about product performance. If the client knows and accepts what they are going to get then they are satisfied. And with natural stone and floors any mistake is an expensive one, so it is high risk. Also, when we started out, most hardware stores did not have a tile care category in their shop. And when we introduced ourselves as being from Tile & Floor Care we used to get the response: “I don’t sell tiles”. We had to delicately point out that nearly all customers had tiles and therein lies the opportunity.
DIY: What opportunities do you see for retailers building a relationship with TFC?
GA: I am glad you use the word “relationship”, because relationships are a two-way thing. We believe we truly have two-way relationships with our customers. We are beyond just TFC at the moment. We also distribute the Genesis range of floor edge trim and finishing profiles and we distribute the well-known Rust-Oleum brand now too. So every hardware store can select a range and make a profit from dealing with us.
DIY: Who is your core market?
GA: It used to be tile merchants, but we made a conscious effort to change that several years ago. Now, due to our three ranges we have a nice 50-50 split between hardware merchants and tile merchants.
DIY: You have a strong team working with you, and does this help ease some pressure off you?
GA: I am pleased that you have identified that. I get that comment often. Man, I tell you, I couldn’t have been blessed with a better team. There is a powerful dynamic in this team. Not only are they intelligent, but they have the right attitude and moral fibre.
Our sales people are respected, no matter where you go – Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, PE, East London and Bloemfontein. Our professional admin team, headed by Vanessa Jelliman, runs things smoothly. The admin is an often overlooked and underrated department, yet they play a vital role in the smooth running of the business. And our warehouse, headed by Darrin Fleming and Ezekiel Nqumana, distributes product speedily. Ezekiel has been with us for ten years now! I cannot say enough about the team behind the business and how proud I am of them.
DIY: What can we expect from TFC over the next two years?
GA: Same old, same old. Good service, best in category product and innovation.
DIY: What are the challenges to achieve these goals?
GA: There is something that I believe in which keeps driving us forward – “you are never as good as you think you are!” The first time I heard it said was from the late Roger Howes of Tile Doctor. I had learnt this playing football all my life and understood it, but had never heard it so well put. This means that just when you think things are good enough, it is time to start improving. Don’t expect much rest living with this culture.
DIY: How do you keep your sales force motivated in tough economic times?
GA: I don’t have to. As mentioned earlier they are all self motivated and inspirational people in their own right.
DIY: What inspires you?
GA: My late parents and my wife and kids.
DIY: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
GA: I don’t know. Maybe a meddling old man interfering with the real work of my team.
Names: Graham Ashley
DOB: 20 March 1965
Designation: Managing Director
Family: Wife Kim, and two kids – Nathan (8) and Tatum (6).
Favourite food: Anything from Schwaben in Meadowdale.
Favourtie drink: It changes – probably a red blend Cabernet/Shiraz from Hartenburg winery at the moment.
Favourite restaurant: Grill House, Rosebank
First car: Fiat 125S. Man did I have some good times in that car. It was one that you could fix yourself if you had to, not like the cars today.
Star sign: Pisces
Music: All types, but particularly U2, Depeche Mode, Prefab Sprout and the Black Eyed Peas.
Super 14 team? Love them or fear them, the Sharks!
Favourite golf course: What’s that? Didn’t you get the work culture part?
Favourite colour: Black and gold
Favourite hardware tool: Oh man – that’s a difficult one!
Best place for a holiday: Anywhere with my family
Can you play an instrument? Air guitar!
Person you would like to share an island with: DSTV sport channel
Role model: My father, Norman
Favourite quote: Everything comes to he who hustles while he waits.