Duncan Riley, owner and director of DWR Distribution, tells us exactly how the
company is all about the people.
DWR Distribution supplies, installs and maintains stage lighting equipment
throughout South Africa. The eight-year-old company is run by a humble and
inspiring Duncan Riley and his three right hands, Nick Britz, Robert Izzett and Bruce
Riley. Duncan is the owner and founder of the company and the well-known letters
DWR, an acronym for Duncan William Riley – only because he says all the other
names he had on a list when registering the company were unavailable.
The story of DWR is intricately interwoven with the story of Duncan and to separate
the two would serve an injustice to both, so this is a profile story of DWR and the
man that brought it to the market, from a small office and garage at his home in
Weltevreden Park on the West Rand.
Today, the business employs 42 “awesome’ people, as Duncan describes his
employees, and each and every one of them was handpicked for their genuine,
ambitious characteristics and not from a pile of CVs that inevitably land on your
desk when advertising a position. “You can teach a person a trade or set of skills,
but you can’t teach them to be good, honest, decent people who truly care about
others, and that is the essence I find in my team members long before they join
us,’ explains Duncan.
Developing and nurturing relationships with staff and clients is vital to the business.
In terms of the employees, this is proven by the fact that in the eight years the
company has been in business, only two staff members have left and not returned.
This is an incredible staff retention rate, which is exactly what Duncan wants – to
ensure each and every one of his employees are happy, growing, learning, suitably
challenged and thriving in their role at the company.
Other than the lovely Sherryn Riley, the first employee was Nick Britz, because
Duncan recognised the long term value in keeping people who were true and
beneficial to business. Nick could have worked anywhere in the industry, but he
chose to support Duncan’s dream of making DWR the first point of call for clients,
whether they have a problem on site or if they are looking to buy products.
Following Britz was Simon Ndlovu, who joined as a helping hand for installs and is
now assistant in the warehouse, then came Duncan’s brother Bruce Riley, who
joined as technical and support and is now technical director and heads up the
workshop, service and install teams. Cherine Viney was intially the receptionist and
now fulfills the role of logistics manager and PA to Duncan. Robert Izzett who is the
sales director began his career at DWR as a sales representative. Duncan describes
Bruce, Robert and Nick as his life support mechanisms and recently made them
partners in the business to ensure that when the time came for the business to
evolve without him it would still keep running like a machine. “I want the
individuals in the company to grow and learn. The business has got to run as it is
with or without me,’ explains Duncan.
The slogan “It’s all about the people’ is the core of the business. It’s the DWR
approach to all the people they deal with – colleagues, suppliers, and clients alike,
and this is what Duncan wants to leave behind when it’s time for him to step down
and let new blood take the business forward.
DWR Distribution’s head office is located in Laser Park on the West Rand, and has 2
500 square metres of space with various departments – the workshop,
manufacturing and steel fabrication department, cable manufacturing, sales and
admin, a demonstration room, and a training facility. Training programmes offer
clients value for their investment as they learn to manage and repair their own
equipment on site, which translates to fewer frantic phone calls from customers at
midnight, laughs Duncan.
There are smaller, 200 square metre offices with one employee in each in Durban
and Cape Town, and these will grow as the market grows. Nick Barnes runs the
show in Durban and Bradley Bruchhausen heads the Cape Town office.
Looking to branch out and supply and service the rest of Africa, DWR employed
Johnny Scholz, and so far he is doing very well.
Duncan became interested in the industry as a boy when he would accompany his
father, Dan Riley, on site while doing installations. Duncan went on to study
electronics and landed his first job in the industry at Calite as a technician. Today it
is not uncommon for DWR to refurbish an old installation that Dan had originally
installed years before. After a couple of years with Calite, including working for a
short period inbetween on the set of Egoli at ZSE TV (now Sasani Studios), Duncan
went to Electrosonic – a time and place where he learnt a great deal about the
industry, its people, and most of all how to do business using relationships as the
The time then came for DWR Distribution to be born. Having left the security of a
permanent job, Duncan found the means to go to the Czech Republic and meet with
Harry von den Stemmen and Joseph Valchar, MD of Robe Lighting, and this became
DWR’s first agency. The next agency was Avolites, as DWR needed a control system
to offer clients, so Duncan asked Simon Oates of Tadco if DWR could take it over
from them. Tadco were happy to hand it to someone who had the time to focus on
it. The rest of the agencies followed in due course, many owing to good
relationships built with people in the industry, such as Ofer Lapid. These agencies
are Philips Vari-Lite, Philips Selecon and Philips Strand Lighting, as well as Le
Maitre, Lumen Radio, MDG, MA Lighting, LSC Lighting, Clay Paky, Doughty, ESP
Vision, GDS, Longman, City Theatrical, Prolyte, Robert Juliat, Vectorworks and
Duncan established the company after his 12-year involvement in the entertainment
industry, and needless to say, the initial few months of embarking on a new venture
were trying. But getting over the hill included some highlights and successes,
including DWR’s first big order for a television studio’s lighting for Urban Brew
Studios, and its first big moving light order was for 36 Robe ColorSpot 1200 and
ColorWash 1200E ATs to Movievision. Gearhouse South Africa purchased 100 units
from Robe in 2007, just one year after DWR opened.
Biggest project supply
One of the company’s greatest gambles and largest projects was the 2010 FIFA
World Cup, for which DWR looked ahead and imported half a million Euros worth of
equipment in advance to have readily available, and a further four tons of lighting
and control gear was brought in to meet the massive demand, as rental companies
were kitting out fan parks, public viewing areas and a myriad of other World Cup
Gearhouse South Africa was contracted to deliver all the technical aspects of the
opening and closing ceremonies, and these included purchasing much of the lighting
equipment from DWR. For the closing ceremony, Gearhouse invested heavily in
Philips Vari-Lites for this gig. The 120 Vari-Lites were the biggest sale of Vari-Lites
in South Africa to date. Vari-Lite 3000s, 3500s and VLXs were used on this show,
along with Robe ColorSpot and ColorWash 2500E ATs and Robe REDWash 3 192 LED
Once equipment is sold, whether it’s simply “moving boxes’ or completing an
installation; the relationship on service and support begins. DWR strive to serve the
industry with dedication and would like to be known as the team who go the extra
mile. “For us, business and life is all about relationships,’ says Duncan.
The road ahead
The future of DWR is that it is getting more involved in what’s on stage, except for
audio, simply because there are true professionals in the audio market and the only
way DWR could hope to compete is if it acquired a good audio business that already
has the expertise. DWR is able to assist with stage lighting, LED screens, trussing,
cable and distro manufacturing and steel fabrication for our industry.
“DWR will stay focused on lighting, because we understand it and we are good at it.
This year we joined forces with Theatre and Studio. We invested in a large amount
of machinery and rented more office space to accommodate this. We are grateful to
have Rob Young, owner of Theatre and Studio, with his great knowledge, experience
and expertise now part of the team.
“We want our employees to be happy and important, we want to refine the system
of how the company operates, refine and sharpen our skills and offerings and be
experts to offer clients the absolute best,’ agreed Duncan, Bruce, Nick and Robert.
With the three partners, Duncan continues to inspire and help his staff grow as
individuals, professionally and personally, by taking time out of his day to meet up
with as many staff as he can to find out how they are and, if anything, is weighing
on their shoulders. “In spite of how big it’s getting, I want us to stay close. We are
He enjoys people and relationships, and truly being there for staff and clients –
professionally and personally wherever needed. “I have some great friends in the
industry, who have become pillars in my life and they include Mike Jones, Mark
Gaylard, Ofer Lapid, Nasser Abbas and Otto Horlacher, and my parents Dan and
Some may ask what’s Duncan’s secret. “It’s bascially to surround yourself with good
people. And that’s what DWR is all about, it’s all about the people.’
Last of all, there are two monkies in Duncan’s life, Amy and Luc, and they have
made sure that there is never a dull moment at home and make life all the more
worth living. “In conclusion, I want to thank the staff, customers and friends for
their support, because without them, none of this would be possible.’