Love Actually: How Passion Fuelled These Businesses’ Growth Love Actually: How Passion...

Love Actually: How Passion Fuelled These Businesses’ Growth


26 Feb, 2024
An image of the inside of Hamilton Gallery

“Opening a business is by no means a smooth journey,” says Aubrey Martyn, founder of online pet store Patches and Paws, “but if you follow your plan and your heart, then you’re halfway there.”

Whether you’ve run a business for ten months or ten years, you’ll most likely agree with Aubrey’s sentiment that running a business is tough.

You’ll have days where everything is smooth sailing followed by weeks of facing challenges on repeat.

While being passionate about the work you do doesn’t make the challenges disappear, it does mean you’re more likely to find a way to make your business work.

We spoke to three business owners who are passionate about the work they do to learn about their business journey and how their passion helped them overcome challenges and grow their businesses.

Here’s what we learnt:

Patches and Paws’ customer obsession led to repeat business

An image showing the inside and exterior of online business Patches and Paws physical location.

Dogs might be man’s best friend, but if you’re the proud owner of a four-legged friend, the online pet store Patches and Paws will fill you with just as much joy.

The online pet store was founded in 2017 by Aubrey Martyn and delivers to areas in Cape Town. Aubrey’s wife had worked as a veterinary nurse for as long as he knew her, which inspired him to start a business in the same industry.

His aim? To offer customers a bespoke service where all their pet’s needs are met. The entrepreneur ensures that customers have a great experience from start to finish.

While he’s in the business of selling pet food and accessories, he’s committed to ensuring his customers purchase the right products. Uncertain customers can reach out with their queries before placing their orders. 

Aubrey then taps into his wife’s expert knowledge to help them order the right food and meds for whatever ails their pets, whether it’s dietary issues, joint problems or even weight issues. “This advice helps clients get four-legged family members over their ailments quicker and helps save (them) money in the long run,” explains Aubrey.

Along with offering expert advice, Aubrey developed a fridge magnet that contains a QR code customers can scan to easily place a repeat order. “The fridge magnet idea was a collab idea with a mate of mine and it helped customers who buy the same product frequently. They can access the online store without having to trawl all the products as it takes them directly to their previous order,” he explains.

Patches and Paws has seen considerable organic growth since they first opened their (online) doors. “I have clients who buy from me who have been around from day one, 6 and a bit years ago,” says Aubrey. 

Thanks to his commitment to providing quality service, Aubrey was able to open his first physical location in 2023 at Ferndale Nursery in Constantia.

Read more: 5 Business Lessons We Learned From These Holiday Movies

Hamilton Gallery learnt that business growth requires patience

Images of Hamilton Gallery's space at the Old Biscuit Mill

Katherine Hamilton has always had a keen interest in visual arts and in sourcing art for clients’ personal tastes and interior spaces. 

It’s this passion that led her to open the Hamilton Gallery. “I love meeting new artists,” she says. “I love being surrounded by beautiful artworks. It is inspiring to see so many different artists making such original and unique art.”

But if Hamilton Gallery’s story were a fairytale, it would be Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Opened in 2018 with the help of two other artists, it took some time to find a space that was the right fit.

Katherine had a clear vision for the gallery, and the interior design reflected just that. The space had a contemporary yet homely feel. “We wanted to create an environment where visitors could stay a while, sit on one of the couches, drink coffee, read an art magazine or coffee table book,” she explains. “Our aim was to make quality art collecting for one’s own  home more affordable and accessible.” 

Unfortunately, the gallery’s location on Alphen Hill road (Wynberg) didn’t lend itself to high foot traffic. With low volumes of potential customers coming through the door, Katherine decided to move the business to Wolfe Street. This, too, proved to be a bad fit, as the number of walk-in customers remained low.

Katherine then decided to turn the gallery into an online venture, but she struggled to translate likes into real-life interest from buyers. Despite the numerous challenges she faced while trying to find the right location, Katherine kept pushing until the vision she had for the gallery turned into a reality.

The main thing that got her through those difficult moments? The satisfaction of finding a home for the art she has on display. “It is rewarding selling an artist’s artwork and finding a buyer who understands and appreciates the value and beauty of the art.” 

Eventually, she found a space at The Old Biscuit Mill, which allowed her to execute her vision while drawing in new customers. “The Old Biscuit Mill has a good number of visitors during the week and especially over the weekend. This has been a more successful way to gain exposure for each artist in addition to the social media presence we continually work on,” she says.

As the Gallery slowly builds a bigger database of customers, the important thing Katherine’s learnt is that growing a business requires patience.

Read more: 16 (mostly) free online tools that’ll help you grow your small business

Bishopsford Bonsai Nursery nurtured their business through changing seasons

An image of Bishopsford Bonsai Nursery's garden

The passion for nurturing bonsai trees runs in Debbie Harris’ family. In 1969, her mom, Gail Theron, visited a Bonsai show at Kirstenbosch and was fascinated by what she saw. In 1970, she turned her bonsai hobby into what is now the family business: Bishopsford Bonsai Nursery.

When her children became teenagers, Debbie joined the business and helped grow it into what is today.

For 35 years, the Bishopsford Bonsai Nursery was located in Hout Bay. There, it slowly evolved and grew in size. Nine years ago, the nursery moved to its current location in Constantia. The family put the same care into designing and constructing their new space as they did with nurturing their business. It’s now a beautiful space that fills customers with a sense of awe. “We receive all kinds of crazy requests and compliments,” says Debbie, “we love sharing the space with everyone.”

In 2020, like many other businesses, the nursery needed to find a new way to share its products with customers. Debbie’s son had joined the business to learn more about it, and together, they decided to open an online store. “We created the website ourselves, and after many, many hours, we launched the online store in April 2021,” she explains.

They approached their new service with the same level of commitment as they did with their in-person customers. “Online orders are packed immediately when received and dispatched Monday to Friday. Our courier partners offer a fantastic service, too.”

The family’s dedication to offering high-quality products and their desire to share their passion with others has helped them survive during slow times and thrive during busier seasons. 

“We don’t charge for advice and are happy for people to bring their Bonsai in for help,” explains Debbie. “We thoroughly enjoy running our courses and workshops and enjoy seeing people being creative.”

“It is a family-run business, with all of us striving to give the customer the best product and service possible. With 54 years of trading under our belt, we have built up trust and respect.”

Read more: Good advice: 6 tips for aspiring small business owners

Pearls of wisdom

While your business journey might look different from the businesses above, there are some lessons you can learn from them that could assist with your business growth. 

  1. Be passionate about what you do: having an inner driving force will motivate you to find a solution to the problems you face.
  2. Invest in your customers: ensuring that your customers have a good experience from start to finish will lead to customer loyalty.
  3. Engage in trial and error: your business might not be a success from the start; that’s why it’s important to try new things if what you’re doing isn’t working.
  4. Be patient: growing a business is a long game – just because you can’t see immediate results doesn’t mean your business won’t be successful.
Written by

Megan is a Content Strategist at SnapScan, with a book-buying habit that is spiraling out of control.

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