Self-made single mom starts from the bottom

ROTOCON sales director Pascal Aengenvoort, Vineyard Labels co-owner Ezelle Cussons and ROTOCON group CEO Michael Aengenvoort at the ROTOCON WineLand 30 Under 30 Awards.

Against all odds, she started from the bottom to successfully establish a label printing business in Paarl. The owner of Vineyard Labels shares her inspiring story.

The ECOLINE RFP 340 that Vineyard Labels bought from ROTOCON in 2019.
The ECOLINE RFP 340 that Vineyard Labels bought from ROTOCON in 2019.

Determined to leave her failing marriage behind and start afresh elsewhere, Ezelle Cussons (37) loaded her two toddlers in the car along with a suitcase full of possessions and drove as far away from Benoni as she possibly could.

She eventually ended up in Paarl – a vastly unfamiliar territory compared to the East Rand of Gauteng – with nowhere to live and no job prospects to provide for her two girls. As a single mom, the pressure was on to keep the money coming in – no matter what else was going on. “It was a dark time in my life, but I kept thinking: ‘It can only get better from here. The worst has passed.’ I guess I’ve always been positively wired like that,” she comments.

With the help of her younger brother living in the United States, Ezelle found a place to live and started working odd administration and filing jobs to make ends meet. She knew she had to do whatever it takes to build a new life for her and her two girls. She applied for work at Varuna Marketing in Paarl where she met owner and local entrepreneur Gavin Wolhuter. “I remember the printing business upstairs in our building went belly up and the owners disappeared overseas, leaving everything behind. Gavin took a leap of faith and bought the equipment that went on auction to start a new printing business. Ezelle invested her last bit of savings and together with Gavin, they became co-owners of Vineyard Labels, with a 50/50 split in ownership. They also retained a couple of staff members who, today, “are valued members of the company,” Ezelle explains.

With zero experience or knowledge of the label printing industry, Ezelle and Gavin took a massive gamble, and started up the old Nilpeter flexo press to jumpstart their foray into the label printing game. Ezelle describes her business partner as her “rock” and “safety net.”

“We were thrown right into the deepend, and after our first machine minder decided to jump ship, we had to quickly learn how to operate the press and other label printing equipment. A lot of our work back then was done by trial and error, but we learned quickly,” she explains. Ezelle, Gavin and a handful of staff members spent many late nights learning to operate and understand every intricate and technical detail of the printing machinery. “Today, I can confidently say that I know my way around a slitter-rewinder,” she quips.

And the equipment was only one part of it. Ezelle and her team had to learn to run a business, too. “From going out looking for new business, following up on leads as well as quoting and invoicing clients, we had to do it all ourselves. My daughters grew up watching me work in that factory building day and night.”

ROTOCON sales director Pascal Aengenvoort and Vineyard Labels' machine minder Brandon Koopman.
ROTOCON sales director Pascal Aengenvoort and Vineyard Labels’ machine minder Brandon Koopman.

With a bit of dedication, perseverance and a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude, it wasn’t long before Ezelle and Gavin started finding their feet and building Vineyard Labels into a fully-fledged label printing business. “We’re a tight-knit family where everyone does what it takes to get the job done. We’re a small team, but everyone is highly skilled and talented and knows what’s expected of them.” Being in competition with big label printing multinationals such as MCC Label and Lebone Paarl Labels doesn’t intimidate Ezelle in the least. “We pride ourselves on not being a corporate company. We provide a personal touch that these corporates cannot match, and we’re able to pick up the work that the big companies simply don’t want or do not have the capacity to handle.”

With the business up and running, Ezelle approached leading print technology supplier ROTOCON in search of a new press and purchased the ECOLINE RFP 340 in 2019 – a machine that’s designed to improve printing efficiencies. “It wasn’t the cheapest press around, but the quality of the finished product is phenomenal, and the level of after-sales service we get from Pascal Aengenvoort and his team at ROTOCON makes it all worth it.” Later, they also bought an RSH (ROTOCON Slitter Horizontal) 340 slitting inspection and rewinder system.

What Ezelle really appreciates about the Aengenvoorts is that they’re willing to get their hands dirty and work closely with machine minders to really understand the needs of operators and print shops.

Utilising the services of their extremely talented in-house designer Charl van der Merwe, Vineyard Labels has convinced the likes of Van Loveren, Vergelegen, De Wet Cellar, UniWines and Asara of their innovative designs and quality craftmanship.

With the advent of local cheese manufacturer Zandam Cheese in Durbanville, Vineyard Labels is looking to expand its portfolio beyond wines.

“We definitely see a trend developing towards shorter label runs, but with a lot more focus on premium finishing and intricate embellishments,” she comments.

Vineyard Labels is situated in Dal Josafat, Paarl and has a capacity to produce between 2.5 and 3 million labels on a monthly basis. The company has experienced phenomenal growth since 2021 – producing roughly 240 000 labels a month – to 2023 where they now average 750 000 labels a month.

The support and assistance that ROTOCON has offered Vineyard Labels, according to Ezelle, has been immeasurable. “This is more than just a supplier-customer relationship,” she enthuses. “This is a true partnership. Not only does the team offer products of the highest built quality and spec, but it has technical know-how and qualified technicians to make anything happen. They really go the extra mile to help us,” Ezelle says. She believes ROTOCON’s technology has allowed Vineyard Labels to branch out its market offering and meet their customers’ ever-evolving needs with greater adaptability and responsiveness.

“Looking back, and watching my two teenage daughters today, I’m happy of how things worked out. I put in a lot of work, but through it all, I taught my children a valuable lesson: Don’t depend on others to make your own success. Be independent and be willing to make the sacrifices needed to get the things you want in life,” Ezelle concludes. With this kind of can-do attitude, Ezelle and Vineyard Labels can only go from strength to strength.

Caption Featured Image:

ROTOCON sales director Pascal Aengenvoort, Vineyard Labels co-owner Ezelle Cussons and ROTOCON group CEO Michael Aengenvoort at the ROTOCON WineLand 30 Under 30 Awards.

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