By Dineo Phoshoko
For the past 26 years Klaus Körber has been a master craftsman in the timber industry. Timber iQ sat down with him to find out the secret of his continued success in the industry.
At the tender age of 17, Körber started out in the industry doing an apprenticeship over three years. After the apprenticeship he qualified as a roof carpenter, an occupation he held for five years before returning to school to obtain his Master’s degree in roofing from the Chamber of Handicrafts in Flensburg, Germany. Of the 26 years he’s been in the industry, Körber has spent half of those years in Somerset West in Cape Town, South Africa.
Successful establishments in South Africa
During his time in South Africa, Körber started four successful businesses in the roofing and construction industry.
Körber came to South Africa on a working holiday to consult for a local roofing company in 2002. He immediately fell in love with the country, but was disappointed with the quality of timber roofing he saw. It didn’t have the beauty and finesse that he was accustomed to in Germany, where he held a degree in carpentry and had 15 years’ experience.
With his personal motto, ‘making it possible,’ he relocated to South Africa and, in 2007, launched Pitch45 – a company passionate about creating living spaces that are beautiful, innovative and practical through exposed timber roofing.
Pitch45 was one of the first companies to specialise in exposed roofing and quickly became a pioneer in the industry. One of the first projects completed was House Viking Trust, for which Körber won an ITC-SA Gold Design Award in 2016.
In 2013 Körber launched KDF Construction to complement the existing Pitch45 focusing on roofing systems. In 2017 he was joined by Peter Plumb to extend and specialise his services; KDF now offers a complete package through wall plate-up, design, manufacture and application of all items including complex roof structures and coverings.
Since inception, Pitch45 had been importing fasteners from Europe to achieve the German quality Klaus believes in. But after numerous requests from third parties to buy his fasteners, at the end of 2017 Körber founded Screw Pro. Importing directly from Eurotec Germany, Klaus could offer the local market superb fasteners at reduced rates. Screw Pro became the only licensed distributor for Eurotec in South Africa and now competes on the same level as Spax. Screw Pro immediately entered the market with an already large client base.
In partnership with Martin Truter, August 2018 saw the start of Apex Roof trusses. To date, Apex has already landed four major projects. Now dominating the roofing industry, Körber’s dream has taken a huge part of the local market and all the companies combined have a staff complement of about 75 people. Körber proudly adds that some of his ground staff have been with him for more than 10 years.
Challenges facing the industry
Körber strongly believes that being a roofing carpenter comes with a lot of responsibility and therefore adequate education and training is needed to produce work of the highest quality. In Körber’s circumstance, finding an institution that offered adequate training was a major challenge. “The biggest challenge I had was to train my guys to a certain level, to get the German quality out of them,” he comments.
“Don’t be scared of working. You need to use your hands.”
Another challenge for Körber, particularly in South Africa, is that there is a large unskilled labour force in the country. With a shortage of specialised training institutions for the timber industry, an unskilled labour force does not make the situation any better.
To get around the challenges, Körber believes that more education and training is needed for the industry. “We need to educate because the potential is there, but we need to train the people.” He trained one of his team members who is now a project manager and has been with Körber for 10 years. “I trained him to a very good standard of doing roofs.”
It’s all about pride and fulfilment
Being a master craftsman and a successful business man does not happen by accident. Körber’s secret is simple: he takes pride in the work that he does.
He explains that when he sees a roof or a house that his team has worked on, they must have a sense of gratification for having been part of the team that worked on it. According to Körber, taking pride in one’s work makes a huge difference. “It helps quite a lot in quality,” he adds.
Hard work and determination is also important in becoming successful in the industry. “People must be willing to learn.” He explains that working on a building site is not a walk in the park, especially in South Africa where the hot weather can sometimes be unforgiving. “You must be hardworking,” he adds.
Having multiple businesses means that Körber has little free time but he doesn’t mind. “To be honest it makes me very happy, its fulfilling.”
Words of wisdom and the ultimate goal
Körber finds the South African market exciting because of all the new ideas that are coming through the industry. He emphasises that there is no need to reinvent the wheel, especially regarding principles for exposed roofs, timber frame roofs and timber frame walls. The only requirement is a slight adjustment to adapt to South Africa’s climate and building regulations, among others.
His advice to anyone wanting to get involved in the timber industry, “Don’t be scared of working. You need to use your hands.” He adds that listening and learning from experienced people in the industry will assist to progress the industry. One of his team members had no prior knowledge or experience but is a successful foreman today. Körber attributes this to a willingness to learn.
Another important piece of advice is that people should always think about what they would like to achieve in the future and actively work towards their goals.
Körber’s ultimate goal is to open a training facility for the timber industry.
“One day I would love to have a training facility for South Africa, at European standards. That would be the ultimate goal.”
But for now, he continues to focus on his philosophy of improvement through training and continuous learning. This has made his company stand out from competitors by trying different things and not being afraid of doing so. As a result, Pitch45 has managed to create a solid client base which has landed the company major projects in the industry.