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Ten Minutes with Tinks

Lisa Prosser

Posted on May 03 2018

Step Ahead has become a real contender in the shoe retail space and with grit and determination, this family business proves they have the endurance and grace to make it in a highly competitive arena.

Step Ahead's beginnings were humble, the boot of Tinker de Swardt's car to be precise! We thought this was a story that needs to be explored, so we sat down with Tinks to find out a bit more about Step Ahead.


The origin of Step Ahead was not a case of fulfilling a lifelong dream in shoes or fashion. Please tell us how Step Ahead started?

After returning home from book club one evening after a few too many glasses of wine I damaged my husbands car. I was determined to pay for the damages myself so started selling sample shoes I received from a friend who was a shoe agent. Mens size 7's and Ladies size 4's – not an easy task!! I did very well selling these shoes so that is what started me in the shoe business. I opened the first Step Ahead Store in the Bryanpark Shopping centre in 1991 and with the help of my husband Ed, we slowly grew the business into the 19 stores we have today.
What were you doing before you started Step Ahead?
I trained as a nurse specializing in midwifery, which I loved but when the hours didn't suit my 3 small daughters I started a playschool from home which I ran for 10 years. 
What was your role in the business and what did you enjoy most about it?
My roll was buying, merchandizing and staff training. Ed ran the financial side of the business. Thank goodness as finances are definitely not my strength.  Interacting with our customers, attending shoe fairs and the launches of the new ranges were always exciting .
Step Ahead has stood the test of time and gone from strength to strength, now boasting 19 stores countrywide and an online shop! With many retail stores not making it in a fluctuating economy and a highly competitive industry, to what do you attribute Step Ahead's success?
Hard work, vision and selling a wide variety of good quality shoes catering for all ages. Training staff to keep costumers happy has always been a very important part of our business with the result we still have very loyal customers from 27 years ago who enjoy that personal touch they get from Step Ahead. 
I am not involved in the business anymore. Once the grandchildren starting arriving my priorities changed so it wasn't hard letting go of the reins especially to my very capable daughter, Louise. 
What have been the most influential experiences in your life?
I would say coming from a very big family, losing my mom at a young age, my nursing experiences and running a few Comrades has certainly taught me to never give up. And being happily married to Ed for 43 years certainly gave me the confidence to achieve what I set out to do.
Do you have any advice for young South African's with an entrepreneurial spirit?
If you can dream it you can do it. Follow your dreams and go out there and give it your best shot. 
What is the best compliment you've ever received?
That I have a lovely family. 
What is your most cherished family tradition and why is it important to you?
Secret Santa. Getting all the family together and exchanging gifts before they go off on their respective holidays, makes me feel truly blessed.
deswardt family

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