Three Brothers, Three Fortresses
The title, a Portuguese proverb, tells of three brothers uniting against the world. The Three Brothers Business Group is an equally inspiring story of three Mozambican immigrant brothers seeking a better life in SA and uniting to build an amazing timber business success story.
Phineas Sitoe, together with his two brother’s Simon and Matteus arrived in South Africa from Mozambique in 1996.
“We were looking for a life after the devastation of Mozambique,” Phineas says. “It was difficult living there. It continues to be difficult for many who remained behind.”
Phineas and his brothers settled in Soshanguve, an acronym for the Sotho, Shangaan, Nguni and Venda that are spoken on its streets. This multi-lingual and cultural melting pot offered a friendly home for the three immigrant brothers.
The industrious brothers first built houses for an income until 1999. But a R900-00 business loan from an Indian businessman gave them the initial wings to start Three Brothers Hardware.
Their experience building homes showed them that there were opportunities aplenty in the fast-growing community where new homes shot up by the day and supplying the market could be lucrative.
Their instincts proved correct with timber sales into the market soon doubling until truckloads were sold each month. A business trip by the business-savvy trio to Swaziland then showed they could double their margins if they excluded middlemen from the timber supply chain.
Their instincts buying directly from Swaziland again proved true with profits doubling as a result.
Diversify brother, diversify.
The added income provided room for an investment in Three Brother’s first Wood-Mizer, a HR200 resaw.
The ability to buy in cants instead of ready sawn timber cut transport costs. To then cut and supply custom sizes gave them further flexibility to increase their sawn product range, and also recover the costs that previously went to ready-sawn timber suppliers.
But this also planted the seed for the next phase of the group’s expansion – Three Brothers Sawmill.
The idea was simple – mill timber closer to the source to shorten and simplify the logistical lines and and by doing so stripping out more costs that could be recouped later for own profit.
A land-grant from Kgosi Dikgale, the head of the Dikgale Traditional Council in Madiga near Mankweng in the Limpopo was the site for Three Brothers Sawmill that officially launched in 2022.
The sawmill’s start also worked in tandem with a parallel Three Brothers expansion programme – the launch of its own factory in Soshanguve. The factory now produces a full range of custom-designed doors, door-lintels, window frames and ready-made timber house components together with ready-sawn timber sold direct to the public.
In addition to serving as a welcome source of employment for the community in the area with 15 full-time employees, the exploits of the three brothers also serves to inspire aspirant entrepreneurs in the area to dream beyond obstacles and aspire to more.
Sawmilling – The start and heart of value addition
The sawmill started small with a first Wood-Mizer LT20 producing the timber that was then air-dried before shipment to Soshanguve. But increased demand saw another Wood-Mizer, a LT70 WIDE being roped in next to assist with production.
The next step by Three Brother Sawmill to optimize production came in the shape of a Wood-Mizer EG800 Multirip/Edger.
The EG800’s purchase illustrates the three brothers’ perspicuity and business savvy perfectly.
Instead of producing ready sawn timber on the LT20 and LT70 than can be done but requires more machine phases and labour to accomplish, they’re now aiming for a far simpler, streamlined process that sees cants and flitches exiting both sawmill with those then processed through the EG800 into the sizes needed.
The motive is clear – optimize production to save money for investment elsewhere.
The next Three Brothers investment came in the shape of its own logistical fleet that it now uses to bring logs from in-forest to the sawmill and for sawn timber to then go to the factory in Soshanguve.
Stripping out costs for application elsewhere is what it’s all about.
A final word
Three Brothers, Three Fortresses!
Strange how these three brothers also built three fortresses – sawmilling, manufacturing and retail.
It came at a price, but it now serves as a fortress for many. Phineas, Simon and Matteus now have better lives, so too their families, with Phineas’ Son-in-Law, Sibusiso now his right-hand man. But it goes wider.
The people of Soshanguve can now be employed and inspired to be more, to now buy directly from a home-grown business instead of needing to travel for the same product.
But it goes even further. It reveals the redemptive power of hard work, of never giving up, of doggedly pursuing excellence despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Here’s to Three Brothers!
Since 1982, Wood-Mizer has earned the reputation as a leading wood processing equipment manufacturer with a strong legacy from its innovative sawmilling products. From forest to final form, Wood-Mizer offers an extensive line of equipment including narrowband portable and industrial sawmills, wideband sawmilling equipment, resaws, board edgers, wood kilns, moulders/planers, firewood processing equipment, pallet recycling equipment, material handling equipment, bandsaw blades, and blade maintenance equipment for woodworking and forestry hobbyists and professionals all over the world.
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