They say if you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. After more than 50 years in the bed industry, Hugh Mathie is as excited by the challenges of business as he was when he started Mathie Brothers in the ‘70s – and he never misses the chance to make a joke.
The Mathie name is well-known in the Upper Highway and wherever you find a Mathie, you are likely to find an interesting backstory. Hard work and entrepreneurialism run through this family’s veins, but nowhere more clearly than in Hugh himself. His first business deal was at the age of just eight, when he swapped an abandoned guitar for a broken bicycle that he repaired himself and then rode for years.
In 1972, after a successful stint in the army and time spent managing a citrus farm near Hoedspruit, Hugh signed a lease on a small shop in Hillary, with just R36 to his name. He borrowed money to buy second-hand furniture and channelled his drive and determination into creating a profitable business for himself.
That he did and Hugh was soon joined by his brothers, Mike and Bruce, and then by cousins from the UK, Ian and John. In less than 10 years, Mathie Brothers had grown to 36 stores around what was then Natal and the Transvaal, with an annual turnover of over R15-million. Hard work, highly competitive pricing and extensive marketing saw the company become the place for families to buy everything from lounge suites to beds, curtains and appliances. The company was first to introduce a number of products to the local market, with the team working hard to live up to the slogan “Don’t even try to beat our prices”.
Hugh was named Marketing Man of the Year by the Institute of Marketing Management in 1981 for the success of Mathie Brothers, which, at that point, was making national retail chains take notice.
Beyond work, laughter, music and sport have always been what holds this family together.
From early on, the Mathie brothers supported their local community, sponsoring sports clubs (including bowls, soccer and motorsport) as well as saving numerous dogs through the SPCA.
The brothers faced numerous setbacks over the years, but they always seemed to come out fighting, with a new strategy and renewed energy. Sadly, Mathie Brothers took one knock too many in the late 1980s and was cut back to one shop in Hillcrest – on the site of what is now Lillies Quarter. From there, Mike and Bruce served a loyal client base, who knew they would always receive a warm welcome and the very best service from the charismatic brothers. Sadly, Mike passed away in 2017.
In the early 2000s, Hugh returned to the bed game after a successful foray into insurance, opening stores in Durban, Durban North and Ballito. Today, Hugh Mathie Beds in Kloof provides a carefully selected range of own-brand mattresses and bases, designed for quality, comfort and durability. “It’s common for us to have young families come into the showroom and say that their grandparents and parents bought all their furniture from us,” says Hugh. “That’s not something we take lightly. Thank you to everyone who has supported us over the years!”
“We’ve survived recessions, riots, uncertainty and stiff competition, and we’ll survive whatever else comes our way.”
Hugh’s advice for young entrepreneurs:
- You have to speculate to accumulate. Nothing worthwhile was ever achieved without some risk.
- The road to success is always under construction – don’t give up!
- Marketing is vital. Alternate methods (social media, print, street poles, flyers), but never stop.
- In a family business, roles and responsibilities must be clear, including who is the boss. Each person must become an expert in a specific area (e.g. accounts, distribution, marketing).
FOR MORE INFO:
- 25 Village Road, Kloof
- 031 764 2665