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All Office – three generations of business success

In this interview, we find out more about Sean Gotkin, his business journey and why he believes South Africa should support small business.

All Office was established in 1978 operating in the office furniture space, completing projects in over 25 countries across the continent. Sean says that they have continued to fulfil their promise of improving the wellbeing of their clients through the use of ergonomic office furniture to create harmonious workspaces. With work and home life becoming more and more intertwined, they are proud to have expanded their offer to benefit the general lifestyle and overall wellbeing of every client.

Sean goes on to say that they have the capabilities to manufacture and source locally as well as internationally through longstanding partnerships – from ideation and space planning to installation. He believes that there is no aspect of life which cannot be improved upon by sound office and home ergonomics and attention to detail. He says that’s they have expanded their established range to not only bring you premium-quality office furniture, but a selection of gorgeous household furnishings, accessories, homeware and appliances designed with ergonomics and luxury in mind.

Why did you start your business?

Not many people are able to say something such as this, but I never founded All Office, rather, my grandfather did 44 years ago! My father has been at All Office for 40 years and has been a driving force for so many aspects of what we have so far accomplished as the Managing Director. The link with family does not stop there, as my uncle, who has been with All Office almost as long, has laid down routes across the continent as the Financial & Export Director.

Our name is All Office, yet we have expanded beyond “office”, particularly in the hospitality sector. We noticed there has been the need with various voids occurring in the market during the pandemic, we felt it was our duty on behalf of our clients to ensure we can assist them in their goals of becoming operational – whether this is through a furnishing project or a refurbishment one. We have been able to assist with hospitality, apartment blocks (even student accommodation) as the offering we can assist with is turnkey, ranging from fixed furniture customization, movable furniture, carpets, lights, curtains, paintings, ornaments, flooring, bathroom products, mattresses and fabrics

What do you love the most about running your business?

I would say it is two part, firstly, the people! We have people who have been with the company for 10 years, 20 years, 30 years and more! We also have people who have recently joined the company and it feels like they have been at All Office for just as long! People settling in quickly is testament to every single person at All Office making the environment feel welcoming to ensure everyone can play their part for collective success. I believe through the pandemic we have come out stronger, as there is a greater sense of trust when looking around you and knowing all the personal and professional challenges we have gone through in these uncertain times.

Secondly, it is the balance of All Office, rooted in the tradition of the past 40 years that a family business gives you, but agile enough to be adaptable to expand into verticals that a feasibility study may have suggested otherwise due to the time and resources required!

What is one of the biggest lessons you have learnt on your business journey?

Embrace the non-linear! Those who have followed my business journey so far would understand this, but for those who have not, allow me to elaborate further. Many who grow up with a family run business, tend to gravitate to the business as a logical next step. However, I followed my own path and am fortunate to share I have founded several profitable companies along the way across various sectors.

A start-up I was a part of, had raised a $6 million funding round and it was the time to build on the hard work put in to get us to that point, but I decided to leave tech to join an industry that was heavily hit during the pandemic. Many had asked me why did I do so, it did not make sense to them, but to me it did and I embraced the challenge.

Be bold and don’t be afraid to take a risk. Realise that there are going to be ups and downs along the way but knowing why you are doing something can “fuel the fire” during those tough times. I can tell you that the successes and triumphs we have had at All Office to date, has felt far more meaningful than with companies I have founded or owned 100% of, due to the legacy attached and the many people associated with us, beyond just my family but my colleagues’ families too!

What is your why? Why do you do what you do and what do you focus on to help you persevere and get through tough times?

Making a difference! As I eluded to earlier – having a sense of purpose really helps push through the tough times. Personally, I like to be solution oriented and to ensure I am adding value to those around me – I would highly recommend to find your “why” and be in an environment that can cultivate it! I feel very lucky to be a part of All Office, as there is a rich history of going the extra mile for the client, this is illustrated by the high customer satisfaction, repeat business and organic referrals that have come due to so many of our client facing (and non-client facing) team members going the extra mile.

Another aspect that helps through the tough times is looking forward – I know we have had some fantastic years in the past, but I have a belief that the best years for us as a company are still to come. This view is not just about the company, but also everyone who is a part of it, as I look forward to playing my part to ensure colleagues of mine reach personal and professional goals of theirs as we go forward.

Why should South Africa support small businesses now and beyond?

Anecdotally, I have always believed that small businesses are the future of South Africa, a 2020 article of McKinsey illustrates this, with 98.5% of total businesses in South Africa fall into the category of an SME. If we are able to increase the GDP contribution of this space, there can be a significant uplift in job creation and revenue generated for the country. Government policies and intervention can accelerate this, but those in the private sector can start to find ways to boost the space. Campaigns such as #SmallBizFriday, an incredible initiative to support local SMEs by the NSBC provide opportunities in the space to gain greater exposure.

Additionally, Business owners and executives can make a conscious effort to share their knowledge and insight to grow the space with those who are not as experienced. Personally I prefer contributing in private, but I do acknowledge that putting information in the public domain has the upside of potentially helping others.

An example is discussing crunch culture more – a lot of business owners subscribe to the “grind” to become profitable, thinking that when one reaches this point, the sacrifices will lessen. From my experience, I do not believe it does, if anything the sacrifices required often increase. Previously, I have often worked 100+ hours a week. Thankfully I have not succumbed to burnout, but it is a slippery slope and have seen many business owners succumb to it – seek help if need be, and revaluate your routine! A tip I would like to share is that I used to think sitting on an ergonomically certified chair with optimal desk height and distance, meant I had a healthy workspace, but if you are not mobile in some way for 16-18 hours a day, your physical and mental health will suffer.

All Office was one of the 2021 Top 20 Award Winners at the South African Small Business Awards.

All Office is a proud Member of the NSBC.