Hi! My name is Bertus Steenkamp and I am the proud managing member and founder of Trophex Taxidermy. Just as every hunter’s trophy has a story, our taxidermy also has a story, and this is our story.
Trophex Taxidermy was started from scratch when my father and I experienced the frustrations one has when exporting raw hunted trophies, also known as “dip and pack”.
Red tape, quality, lack of communication and short timeframe were some of the problems we experienced, but definitely not the only ones. It was, however, clear that this sector in the South African hunting industry provided a huge opportunity.
I was 24 years old and with a little help from my father, we started a “dip and pack” business, with me owning a third of the business and my father two thirds. Pressured by the Department of Agriculture for a company name, we named the business after our family farm, Doornlaagte, and in 2004, “Doornlaagte Dip and Ship” was born.
Our facility was an old storeroom on the farm where my grandfather used to fix tractors and all kinds of machinery. The floors were covered with black engine oil and no matter how hard we tried, we could not get rid of it. So the solution was to keep all the skins and skulls on tabletops or plastic covers on the floor. If one of the skulls would just as much as touch the floor, it would have a black engine oil stain on it.
We also didn’t have an office, so the documentation, emails and permit application needed to be dealt with after hours at home.
Even with all these challenges at hand, we managed to export over 1 000 trophies within two years’ time. As we received more work, we started to improve our facilities and also started to employ more workers.
With a father-and-son deal, I bought my father’s two thirds of Doornlaagte Dip and Ship from him. In 2007, I was the sole owner of Doornlaagte Dip and Ship and I needed to rent the storerooms from my father.
All our international clients struggled to pronounce “Doornlaagte”, so I changed the name to “Trophex”, which is short for “Trophy Exports”. I also registered the business as a closed cooperation with me as the only member.
In the same year, I started to do taxidermy work on the side, mounting trophies for friends and family, which led to Trophex transforming into a fully functional taxidermy. We started mounting trophies for domestic clients and word of mouth took its course.
Every trophy hunted has a story, and most of these stories were shared with me or anyone at Trophex. Some stories are funny and exciting, some intense and some sad. But I noticed that every trophy does have a story to tell and knew that it was our responsibility to create memorability or a connection or proof, and this led to our slogan, “Trophies with stories”.
Before we knew it, we were mounting and exporting hunting trophies for clients all over the globe and the word spread. I think it all might have happened too fast because we started to run into all kinds of problems. Problems neither I nor the whole Trophex Taxidermy team would stand for. We did not want to fall back into being a taxidermy with the same kinds of problems that led us to start our own taxidermy back in 2004.
Luckily all these problems led to our searching for solutions, and to our amazement, we found that our solutions to these problems actually placed us in front of our competition. The more problems we ran into and solved with a system that would prevent the same problem from occurring and accruing, the better advantage we had.
We studied our African animals, and I mean really studied them closely, getting the animals to look as natural as possible because this is part of our products’ quality. Also important is the way the trophies are put together – not only do our trophies look natural, but they are also strong and reliable.
Simple things mattered, such as the back of a shoulder mount; we don’t just leave the back uncleaned, nor do we just paint it, nor do we just cover it with felt. We work the skin around the back fix and trim it down neatly, then cover the back with felt and then, because felt attracts dust and dirt like a magnet, we cover the felt with clear plastic vinyl. This is done so that the hunter can remove it just before hanging his/her precious trophy on the wall with a clean felt backing that no one but the hunter, who is our valued customer, will probably see.
Another problem was that hunters would get their first look at the trophy the day they receive it, and sometimes they are not happy. The frustration was that 99% of the time, the problem was actually just a simple adjustment to a pose or an expression on the trophies, which could easily be adjusted during the mounting process. We also learnt that the reason for this is the fact that our clients are not involved in the process and would very much like to be included – maybe not everyone, but most.
We changed our system so that every time a quality check is performed by our manager at any point in the process, the system automatically sends an email with three photos of the trophy to the hunter, asking whether he/she is satisfied with the progress of the trophy and if we need to change anything. This service is very unique up to this day and our customers are well informed of what is happening with their trophies at any time.
The better we got, the more we grew, until Trophex Taxidermy grew to be so big that we needed to move into town. In 2016, Trophex Taxidermy moved to Lephalale in Limpopo, the heart of South Africa’s prime hunting area.
Over the years, our taxidermy has learnt from mistakes and failures. We have improved and involved into what you will find today. Yes, we still make mistakes and, yes, we still improve every day, but our years of experience and thousands of clients all over the globe are proof that we know what we are doing and we are the company that is always and will always be doing it better.
I am proud of my team, from the top to the bottom. I don’t know how I could have done it without them and the trust they had in me. We’ve created Trophex Taxidermy into what it is today and that is just great!