As we head towards Easter and a glut of long weekends, fanute’s husband-and-wife team Charl and Dani de Beer share their secrets to surviving the busy holiday season in Cape Town, balancing family life while working long hours to supply the hospitality industry with fresh linen daily.

“In a normal day, our work-life balance is quite straightforward. We’ll both get the kids ready for school, and then one of us will drop them off while the other goes through to work, and then one will handle the school pick-up and extra-murals,” says Dani. “In season, that all goes out the window!”

The busiest period for Cape Town’s hospitality industry traditionally falls during the school holidays over Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and this was the second time that Charl and Dani had been working over the season. Their company fanute, which they started about two years ago, rents freshly-laundered linen to accommodation providers in Cape Town, mostly supplying AirBnBs. Their first season was compact – the business was 5 months old, they had 180 properties and laundry cleaning services were outsourced. This year, though, was a whole new ballgame.

“This time we had 400 properties that we had to supply with linen over the season, and we now have our own laundry,” says Charl. “It’s a whole new process to learn.” Many late nights were spent at the laundry, which is equipped with the Hydrofinity near-waterless laundry solution that fanute distributes in South Africa.

The biggest change was that because they had to do their own laundry, they had to prepare orders as well as driver schedules for the next day – if Charl and Dani left the laundry at night without preparing for the next day, they’d have let their customers down.

Their first season was compact – the business was 5 months old, they had 180 properties and laundry cleaning services were outsourced. This year, though, was a whole new ballgame.

As a result, date nights for the two over season would incorporate work, beginning by turning on the laundry cycle and ending with folding linen and preparing orders, with a dinner sandwiched in between. “Usually we have about 40-50 properties needing fresh linen every day. In season, it’s 100ish properties a day,” says Dani. “Each property has multiple beds, so you’re looking at least 200 sets of linen a day, each of which needs to be delivered between 10 and 1 so that properties can prepare for check-in.”

Dani and Charl prepared for what they could – stockpiling cleaning chemicals and consumables as linen manufacturers and chemical suppliers shut down. However, there were issues that they couldn’t have expected, such as both delivery trucks breaking down and laundry equipment breaking down, and that involved on-the-spot problem solving skills. To streamline service, they prompted their customers for linen requirements beforehand as well as asking them not to add new properties at the last minute, although, as Dani says “We try to make a plan, though – we’re all at the coal face. The hospitality industry is a changeable one and lots of our clients received last minute bookings.”

They prepared as well as they could on the home front as well – Dani’s mom came down from Joburg to look after their two boys for 5 weeks while they were out of school, and Charl and Dani set up a soccer camp and other activities for them to go to during the day. They both tried to be as hands-on as possible, with one starting and ending work days earlier and later so that one could be with the kids as much as possible. While they were relatively happy, it became clear that the kids started to resent them being away at work, especially the youngest, a 6-year-old, who called it ‘bum bum work’!

As a result, date nights for the two over season would incorporate work, beginning by turning on the laundry cycle and ending with folding linen and preparing orders, with a dinner sandwiched in between.

Charl and Dani both acknowledge that working over season does require sacrifice, naturally taking them away from their kids sometimes: “The business is like a newborn baby!” says Dani. “It needs to be nurtured and it takes time.”

Luckily, the couple works well together, which avoids unnecessary friction when tensions run high. “We met at work and we’ve worked together before,” says Dani. “We have a huge mutual respect and don’t cross into each other’s areas, but if one is struggling we will help and give advice, pitching in where necessary. For instance, if one of us is working flat out and there’s lots to do, the other will volunteer to pitch in on either family or work demands. Business and family are each as important as the other.”

While there’s an obvious downside to both working in the same home-grown business, with each experiencing high demands from both business and family, there is a flipside. “There is a benefit to each of us understanding the issues,” says Charl. “Problems are shared and faced together.”

Even though Charl and Dani still say they want to get their work/life balance better for the next season, they understand that the sacrifice is just temporary. “We knew that the season wouldn’t last forever – it’s like a marathon, you just push through it,” says Dani.

Tips from Charl and Dani:

  • Lean on your support system: Especially from a parent perspective, engage with your family and friends to see if they can help with looking after kids, and adjust their schedule for celebrations like Christmas and New Year’s Eve so that work can be accommodated.
  • Use your industry contacts: When a number of technical issues cropped up during season, like their laundry’s rolling iron breaking down, Charl and Dani called on industry contacts to see if they had capacity in their laundry to help. “Having those resources was incredible – people in industry were very accommodating,” says Dani.
  • Rely on your staff: When your team are invested and part of the work family, they will pull through and put their heads down when it’s pressured, even over Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
  • Sacrifice the month: Keep in mind that you will survive the season, and that it will end. When it’s busy, you just need to buckle down and be ok with resurfacing in January.
  • Trust: Trust that your partner is giving their best, their everything.
  • Plan something nice: Make sure there’s a ‘carrot’ on the horizon – a nice weekend away for you as a couple to look forward to.
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