*As seen in The Logbook
Fifteen years and over sixty tent designs later. With celebrities, boutique resorts and government departments as their customers and friends, Exclusive Tents International has become one of the leading suppliers in the US for safari style tents, and one of the most trusted suppliers worldwide.
This wonderful family business has reached this level by the simplest approach, which we could break down in three points: style, quality and authenticity.
Paul Zway, the South African, bush-loving founder of Exclusive Tents practically grew up in the wild. In fact, prior to setting up his business he worked for 17 years as a Kruger National Park Game Ranger specializing in anti-poaching.
Taking inspiration from this period of his life, Exclusive Tents products are aesthetically bias towards the beautiful African safari style of light khaki canvas stretched over an external frame. And they make full use of innovative materials to provide the best use of interior space. They are produced and delivered quickly, and this has made the efficiency of the company as prominent and reliable as their style.
“We not only manufacture and sell tents but also offer partial or full turnkey solutions,” Paul says, “And, if requested we go out to set up tents for our clients, even if they are small projects.”
The eco-conscious designs of the tents, their authentic-safari-“bosveld” feel and their sheer luxury has made them particularly popular with the sorts of industries that require the highest and most exclusive standards. This is why they count some of the biggest glamping sites and safari operators as their regular customers.
Exclusive Tents are one of the vendors and partners of the Global Glamping Summit, and according to Paul, in the last 5 years “glamping” has blossomed up all over the world, but it all started in the safari camps of Africa.
“Currently the USA is only now starting to pick up on the glamping trend whereas places like South East Asia are pretty active and quickly expanding,” he says, adding, “China is also on the cusp of taking on glamping in a big way and we already have some tents setup and are well positioned to supply this growth.”
For Paul, quality accounts for more than just the quality of the tents and extends further to the customer service, relationship retention and aftersales. He says that they serve a wide spectrum of clients including individuals, celebrities, boutique resorts, government departments and large resort and hotel groups and many of these clients have become close personal friends.
“We are proud that this is a family run operation on both the sales and manufacturing sides,” he says, “We are not a typical corporation and we are all pretty laid back but have a passion for our work which is in itself an adventure.”
Paul’s wife Angelika and his two sons, Zane and Anders together with Brian (whom Paul raised like a son in his home whilst he was still a young lad at school) are all part of the daily operations. Paul says, “We all do sales and share work with each other when necessary but together with Johan and Louwrie we share our vison and passion.”
This family atmosphere and approach is important to Paul and is something that he stands by. After all, almost two decades as a Kruger Park Game Ranger installed within him a sense of responsibility and a need to take action.
As an example, recently one of their customers, the 4-Rivers Floating Lodge in Cambodia got washed away in a huge flood. Immediately, Exclusive Tents donated replacement parts for them and sold the rest at cost to help them open up again at the end of November.
“We are friends with the owner who almost lost his wife and children in the flood,” Paul says, “We had to do what we were able to. I don’t believe that business is always about the sale. Sales are important as is revenue. But it is more about building relationships that last a long time and being blessed to find new friends around the world.”
QUALITY IN MATERIALS, QUALITY IN PARTNERS
The team behind Exclusive tents are always looking for newer, better materials and technology for their range of products. The relationship with suppliers is such that they are always updated on innovations and new products ahead of time. This gives them a solid idea of what advances are available. Any one of these could give them the edge against their competitors and forward thinking has always proved to be a good strategy for Paul.
“There is no futureproofing better than to remain ahead and be constantly vigilant for improvements in safety and materials and to diversify tent designs to meet the growing need for uniqueness,” he says.
Understanding the importance of being up-to-date, Paul is constantly on the internet and has signed up to daily dispatches on news regarding the glamping industry and on tents in general.
He says, “Our main effort is to always be ahead in the industry by improving our product and making it even safer to use without compromising on design, structure and style. This is how we bring the best quality to the market with the most affordable price.”
This has also meant partnering with likeminded businesses. Recently Exclusive Tents became partners with a South African tent factory who will be manufacturing their tents… exclusively.
The company, Exclusive Tents Manufacturing (Pty.) Ltd., is run and operated by their partner Johan Maree who has more than 30 years of experience in tent manufacturing.
“In the new year we will be introducing our newly designed roof frame which I know is the most robust for wind and snow in the market today,” Paul says, “We will also introduce a new unique roof tensioning system, the most efficient tent insulation in the industry and importantly, from 2019 all our tents will be fire retardant.”
Paul is very excited to be working with Johan Maree, who’s tent making career started in 1984 when a college professor saw his design for an innovative rooftop tent. The professor advised him that it was a good idea and that he should manufacture and put the theme into the market.
“Rooftop tents had been around since the early 1950s and were popular in Europe, it was still a way-out idea in Africa but Johan’s dedication swayed people. He then moved onto producing safari tents for the Kruger National Park and grew his business over the next three years to be one of the leading manufacturers,” Paul says admiringly, “He refused to give up on the idea of making tents, he loves canvas, and what one could make with it, tents in particular. Today his work is very recognisable thanks to the quality and style.”
In 1988 Johan made the first safari tent for the Kruger National Park and from there on he gradually grew with the market. Paul recalls, “It was impossible for mine and Johan’s paths not to cross, even if we’re on different continents we shared the same passion for luxury tents and the same values. The same desire to produce an extraordinary world class product that we and our customers could be proud of. Amalgamating our expertise and these values was a logical and an easy decision to make. It felt right.”
Today Johan and his son Louwrie run the manufacturing side of the business and in the new year, Johan’s son-in-law, Jaun, will be joining the company and bringing his skills in wood working, including deck construction and furniture manufacturing for turnkey projects, into the mix.
Of the sixty tent designs available with Exclusive Tents, each one has a history. A story, that involves a customer requiring something different or completely unique and Exclusive Tents designing and producing it. Probably with a jovial smile and a seemingly casual effort.
The secret to being so capable, Paul reveals, is making a point of utilizing the latest technology available as quickly as possible. This also helps you dodge a number of challenges that manufacturers sometimes come across.
“On the sales side we are an internet-based company, so it makes revenue generation much simpler. What we focus on is our marketing and creating our purchasing funnels,” he says, “I used to manage and work the website but one of my sons now does that along with the marketing.”
SELL IT. LIVE IT.
According to Paul the company was designed that it could be completely mobile. Everyone travels a great deal and needs to be able to work remotely from their laptops anywhere in the world. He says that he even has a small satellite device that can be used for phone and internet in extremely remote locations.
And when it comes to unwinding, the very things that Paul and his family do are the sorts of things you would do in front of one of their tents. The typical South African, some of his favourite things are good steaks, fine biltong and drinking good beers.
“What can I say?” he exclaims, “I love my work and we live it. We live in a jungle in our tents and when we have time off, we like to relax and enjoy time with our dogs. We have five Boerboels!” (South African Bull Mastiff).
Exclusive Tents International Ltd