Branching out!

Lowvelders Kim Springorum and Priscille Pepworth chat to us about their fabulous venture.

Kim and Priscille, owners of Branch at Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre in White River, have been friends for many years. When Kim and her husband, Brian, moved to the Lowveld from KwaZulu-Natal, the Pepworths were one of the first families to welcome them to the area. “Priscille arrived with a gorgeous bottle of French champagne and I knew instantly we would be friends!” says Kim.

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It all began a few years ago as a pop-up project by three friends – Priscille, Heather Granat and Vanessa Wright – in White River and Mbombela. When they were approached by Hugo Stroud, the owner of KMI Airport, to run a shop called Branch at the airport, they jumped at the chance. With their combined expertise, contacts and great sense of style, Branch was transformed into a very successful business with tourists flocking to buy its stunning range of homeware and accessories.

Towards the end of 2019, Priscille asked Kim if she would consider joining her as a Branch partner. Both Heather and Vanessa had decided to sell their business shares for personal reasons, and Priscille thought Kim would be an ideal fit. “I didn’t hesitate to become a part of Branch and knew that besides being lots of fun, it had potential to grow into a thriving business. With two young boys to take care of I was looking for something that would keep me busy, but still allow me the flexibility to be at home with my kids.”

When the Covid pandemic hit South Africa and everyone went into lockdown, it was a very uncertain time for them. Branch at KMI Airport closed and the stock was packed away until they decided to ask Dana McFarlane, who owns the White River Gallery at Casterbridge, if they could have a pop-up Branch shop in her gallery space. “It was only meant to run for three days, but was such a success that we carried on for another week,” says Priscille.

She and Kim decided then that they needed to keep their shop going, and Louis van der Merwe of Hans van der Merwe & Sons offered them a temporary space in one half of his furniture showroom. “Louis has been incredibly kind to us. We were only meant to stay a few months, but we have just never left!”

Branch decided to look at the pandemic as an opportunity to grow its business and expand its product range. “We are enjoying getting to know our local customers and are now able to stock things that wouldn’t normally work at the airport, such as basketware from KZN and a glass range from Ngwenya Glass in eSwatini. Our mission is to be the first place that comes to mind when you want to treat yourself to something beautiful or to spoil a loved one with a special gift,” says Kim.

Branch stocks local homeware by designers such as Isobel Sippel and Ardmore, including tablecloths, cushions and bed throws. It keeps a stunning range of cashmere shawls and ponchos, which are perfect for the Lowveld winter or game drives in the bush.
One of the best aspects of running this business has to be sourcing new and exciting products, which they both agree is the fun part, as South Africa has an incredible wealth of talent and craftsmanship.

The girls make a great team and both bring different strengths to the shop. Priscille has a great eye for what will sell, having been involved in the business for some time. She is also meticulous with administration. Kim has a background in marketing and a passion for decor and design, so is left to merchandise the shop. “What works well is that we are close friends and can be honest with each other when it comes to business decisions. We love what we do and we believe if you have a passion for your work, you will make a success of it.”

Priscille and her husband, Darryl, farm near Malalane. When not running Branch, they go down to the Cape to visit their daughters. Sarah (24) works for a top marketing firm in Cape Town and Catherine (22) studies at Stellenbosch University. They love to spend time with their girls, soaking up the food and wine culture in the Cape. Kim and Brian farm macadamias just outside White River. They have two boys, James (10) and Nicholas (9), who both attend Uplands Preparatory. In her spare time, Kim loves to write, is an avid reader and is always the fielder in the family games of cricket. “I can’t bowl or bat, so I end up having to run around the garden fetching all the balls.”

Plans for the future?
These dynamic partners hope to make their space at Casterbridge a permanent one as well as to reopen Branch at the airport when tourists start coming back to South Africa. And when they do, their business will be ready to welcome them with its stunning range of locally designed and made products.

Details: Kim on 083-574-6279, Priscille on 083-626-4438, Branch Lifestyle & Gifts on Facebook, and @branch_lifestyle_gifts on Instagram

Photographer: Belinda Erasmus, Belle Grace Photography

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