The Covid -19 pandemic had a negative effect on the Namibian economy but the Slowtown Coffee, as the homegrown Namibian company emerged stronger from the crisis.
“We have been very fortunate to have always been supported by our locals. The Lord has blessed us with His favor. Therefore, even during the pandemic, we had great support and once all restrictions were lifted, we could see the joy of people just being able to get back to their favorite neighborhood coffee shops. Now that the tourism sector is going at full blast, we are also very fortunate to be supplying several hotels and lodges with wholesale coffee,” Dennis de Wet, founder and CEO of Slowtown Coffee tells Observer Money.
De Wet says from the start, his company approached the pandemic as a crisis that it needed to learn from.
“The Bible says that we should consider it pure joy whenever we face trials and tribulations, it produced character and patience. So, our eyes were always on things we can improve and areas in the business we need to strengthen so that the ‘boat’ gets through the storm. So, in many ways, we walked away with more positives than negatives, obviously, it was very stressful, we have over 60 employees that we need to look after, and no one knew just how long the restrictions would last. Ultimately our trust is in the Lord, as long as we are faithful, He will be faithful,” de Wet said.
De Wet was working in the corporate world in the Isle of Man, where he realized that the office job was not for him.
“I was never happy with the restricted life as an employee having to conform to office hours. It just felt like a form of slavery having someone dictate your time in that way. I was also in a line of work that gave me no joy. There had to be more to life. We have all been created for a purpose. We have all received special talents to pursue life to the fullest,” he explained.
He says he went on a search to find his passion and looked at all possible market opportunities within those areas that excited him. Coffee, he adds was one of them and due to the gap in the Namibian market, he chose to pursue it.
Slow things down
The name, Slowtown in essence means to slow things down to the point where you can appreciate life again, he points out.
“We live in such a fast-paced take-away on demand world that many times we don’t take the time to stop and think and just enjoy the simple quality parts of the world around us. Having a coffee with someone, this should be a moment in time where you focus on only that person,” he said.
De Wet says he has always focused on building a brand rather than a coffee business with decision-making always based on what is good for the brand vs what will hurt the brand.
“Money will always blur the lines. My focus is never to make money; it is to be excellent as a brand. The principal of being faithful with the little, you will be rewarded with much. We have an obligation to look after the business and not be sidetracked by money,” he reiterated.
He believes that by focusing on creating the brand, success and the money will follow if brand creation is done well.
“My mission is to build a brand that Namibians can be proud of and one that never has to stand back for an international brand. We as Namibians should be proud of who we are, and I believe we can compete on a world stage.”
Building a strong company
De Wet declares that he is building a company that will be taken over by his five children and is planning to be on the market in a 100 years.
“So if I lay a great foundation, they can build on that. I have always believed that we can do well outside of Namibia. It comes down to timing as soon as we feel the Lord direct us in that way we will move.”
Slowtown currently has six branches employing around 60 people. One of the recipes of its success is that the coffee is sourced from all over the coffee growing world.
“We never compromise on quality and our roasting process is done in the highest-grade equipment. Again, we are always looking after the brand and therefore will not compromise on quality.”
Slowtown has over 200 wholesale customers ranging from hotel, lodges to office buildings and retailers.
De Wet states that his company supply wholesale coffee, coffee equipment and espresso machines as well as Barista training.
“We have honed our service over the past 12 years, and we pride ourselves in our long term relationships we have with our customers.”
He says the company face the general challenges as all other businesses do. “Inflation is tough as the cost just keeps on going up, we try to absorb most but eventually the product gets more expensive. We also always look to build a team here and getting the right fit in not always easy.”
De Wet says if the government acted on what they say, to encourage and support local manufacturing companies, his company should be celebrated by the government and should be encouraged.
“This however becomes difficult, if they had better incentives and they worked on tax structures that encourage the development and success of local companies they would reap the reward of import substitution and local employment. It irks me to see how much product we import from South Africa and abroad. Product that could and should be made and developed locally. The focus is just not right from government in that respect. Perhaps the people that have built and had success in business should be the ones to make the decisions for the government.”