The salvaging of a century-old, big, red hay barn is an unusual starting point for a business.
The Sunlawns Estate in Olifantsfontein belongs to the Cullinan family, who undertook a restoration project that has led them on an enterprising journey. The family business, The Big Red Barn, stands proudly on Sunlawns Farm, looking out over an expansive horizon of grasslands, forest and the Kaal River.
The Sunlawns Estate has been in the Cullinan family since 1906, when it was first purchased by Sir Thomas Cullinan. If the name rings a bell, that’s because Sir Thomas lent his name to the nearby town, diamond mine and one of the world’s biggest diamonds. Almost a century later, the family retains the same entrepreneurial spirit that had turned their famous ancestor into a world-renowned diamond magnate.
The Big Red Barn, as a business, is built around the idea of selling a lifestyle. Situated in Olifantsfontein, near Centurion, it’s the perfect place for busy city-dwellers to escape to on the weekend for some family fun. From a restaurant to mountain bike tracks, and even a kids’ obstacle course stationed in the forest, The Big Red Barn is a thriving concept.
The Big Red Barn was the brainchild of Pamela Cullinan, and her dream was brought to life by the tireless efforts of her family. Pamela and her oldest son Dominic, a farmer, salvaged the huge old hay barn from a neighbouring farm and transported it to Sunlawns piece by piece, using a tractor and trailer. ‘Guys were cutting it down for scrap metal, we had a bit of a war over this stuff,’ says Dominic, ‘it took us two years, and was a huge project, but we did it.’
A team of architects was brought in to transform the barn into an open and awe-inspiring space, while still preserving its integrity. Now a busy, bustling restaurant, the barn can also be hired out for weddings and functions. The outside seating area looks out over an impressive playground and the eucalyptus forest in which a number of different mountain bike tracks are hidden. The trees also play host to an Acrobranch facility; including a number of obstacle courses and zip lines, that can be hired out by schools and for team-building events. Recently opened at Sunlawns is Clay Café, where children can paint their own clay objects (from mugs to Minions) and have them set in the kiln.
‘The concept of this place came from visiting ski resorts; I realised people spend a fortune on lifestyle, and that’s where the idea to build something like this came from,’ explains Dominic. ‘In the South African context, it’s mountain biking rather than skiing, so let’s create a place that caters for it, and a whole lot more.’ He stresses that for a place like this, transacting in lifestyle, it’s all about the vibe. ‘We’re selling the atmosphere and the buzz, it’s all about people,’ says Dominic.
‘As different ideas come, we run with them,’ says Dominic. As the businesses grows, there will always remain an emphasis on families. ‘Outdoor family time, space to run and room to get dirty, that’s what we’re all about.’ Dominic’s business advice reflects his roots; he believes that starting and growing your own business is an organic process. ‘You have to keep developing,’ he insists.
The latest boost to The Big Red Barn has been hosting the Irene Village Market at Sunlawns twice a month. The Market sees between 4000 and 6000 people visiting over 200 market stalls over a weekend, and the spill-over to The Big Red Barn helps amplify the all-important buzz. Dominic is also in the process of building a structure to house a few shops. His next venture is into retail; a small farm stall stocked with vegetables and organic micro herbs from Dominic’s farm, as well as preserves and other farm produce. ‘The ultimate goal is to create an “old village” fresh produce shopping experience by bringing in other tenants; I want the guy who makes his own cheeses from the stuff he’s farmed to come and set up his retail shop here.’ ‘We’ll get there,’ he smiles.
On what brought him to humble Till, Dominic says it was the ease and simplicity of the whole humble experience. ‘It’s affordable, it’s linked to Sage One Accounting and I could get the whole package, all the hardware, through humble,’ Dominic explains. The Till currently processes the ticket sales of the mountain bike track rides, and his farm stall will be next to run off humble.
humble Till is designed as a tool to help businesses grow, and as Dominic’s business branches off in a new direction, he knows he’ll be able to fully benefit from humble’s retail management capabilities. ‘I’ve never run a retail shop before, but I know that the inventory and stock control features of the Till are going to be very helpful.’
The Big Red Barn uses humble Till as a tool to help run and grow the business. If you have a small business, try our 14 free trial to find out how we make running and managing your store simpler and easier than ever before.
Updated: June 26, 2017