When Carla took a bottle of homemade dressing to a friend’s dinner party six years ago, she had no idea that it would lead to her starting a very successful business – one that now has products stocked in over 300 stores around South Africa.
From teacher to stay-at-home mom to inspiring entrepreneur, Zululand-born Carla has always had a heart for people. This passion, she says, and her ability to formulate solid relationships, are what have guided her on her Stonelodge Foods journey.
Having spent a few years teaching at Crawford La Lucia and overseas, Carla moved back to Zululand when she got married. “
I always thought I would marry an accountant, but I ended up marrying a farmer,” she laughs. Having spent much of her childhood on farms, Carla says farming is a big part of both her and her husband’s heritage and it was this upbringing that developed her interest in wholesome, homemade food.
When they moved back to Mtubatuba in 2001, teaching was not an option for Carla and so, inspired by her passion for women, she started offering cooking and upliftment classes to local domestic staff. She also helped run a small farm small community project, called Canerats, and was part of the catering team at the local club. Carla’s two daughters, Paige and Anna were born in 2002 and 2005 respectively.
A few years later an opportunity arose for the family to move to the North Coast. They bought a farm just outside Ballito and their daughters started school at Umhlali Preparatory School. “I was planning to lay low for a while, but ended up running the mother’s committee at UPS for four years. It was wonderful and really helped give the stay-at-home moms a sense of worth. I love being a part of and giving back to my community.” It was around this time, Carla says, that she and her husband went to a dinner party with friends. “I made a simple herb dressing to take as a thank you gift and, after trying it, our friend asked if I was interested in starting a brand. I had never, ever thought I would end up on this journey.”
A success story
Now, six years later, Stonelodge Foods has gone from being a small, side line business for Carla to a highly successful, elegant, wholesome food brand, which is stocked in no less than 300 stores (including 30 Spars), around the country.
“We started out using a distribution agency, but that just didn’t work for our brand. My goal has always been to be authentic, open and in touch with my stores and customers. So instead I did it all myself in the beginning, taking orders, loading the car, dropping the kids off at school and then delivering . . .” This, Carla says, was an invaluable part of the journey. “It’s so important for business owners to know every aspect of their business. Standing in the receiving queues and being hands-on and on the ground helped me understand the intricacies of my business.”
It also helped build the relationships that Carla says have made Stonelodge Foods the success it is today. “I’ve been so lucky to have formed such wonderful relationships. I’ve also had amazing mentors and I’m so grateful for the advice and patience they’ve had for me over the years.”
The Stonelodge Foods range of products are all gluten free, healthy and great tasting. It includes a selection of homemade granolas and dressings as well as wonderful honey and honey products. Everything is sourced and overseen by Carla, who prides herself on her trusted suppliers. The honey side of the business, she says, has been very exciting. “Honey is a bit like wine in that different flavours suit different palates. It’s been a really interesting journey and we have wonderful suppliers. The honey literally goes from their beautiful hives straight to us where we bottle it in lovely jars.” She also makes peanut butter and a popular peanut butter and raw honey product.
“We have been very lucky along this path. People have embraced our brand and we have formed incredible relationships with our suppliers, stores, customers and staff. We are always refining and improving, especially on the online side,” says Carla. “If I had to do it all again, I definitely would.”
Carla’s business tips:
Relationships are key to a successful business.
It’s important to know how every part of your business works, from the ground up.
Learn to be good at time management. Clear your emails and to-do lists every day.
Be on top of your cashflow. Know the numbers and be target driven.
Balance and family support are very important.
Details: www.stonelodge.co.za / [email protected] / 0828756384
Text: Leah Shone