Small businesses are the lifeblood of an emerging economy. At a time when unemployment is at an all-time high in our country, it’s the entrepreneurs and the start-ups who consistently create jobs, stimulate the growth of the fragile economy and provide hope for a more stable future.
Starting a small business is no mean feat however – it takes guts, determination and plenty of trial and error.
What should you do if you want your small business to make it big in South Africa?
The retail and inventory management experts from Vend have assisted countless local SMEs, including children’s shoe brand Shooshoos, to streamline their business practices for operational success over the years. Here are a few inside tips to get you inspired:
1. Be sure to find your niche
When you start a small business in South Africa, the first thing you should do is find your niche; you need to be clear about what your product or services is, who your target market will be and what will set you apart from your larger, more established competitors.
In the case of Shooshoos, for instance, the company’s goal was to bring a trendy, high-quality product range of hand-made children’s shoes and apparel to the South African market and help local communities through job creation.
2. Remain authentic and tap into emotion
Once you find your niche, work it and remain authentic to your brand. Gill Bowen, owner and operator of Shooshoos, believes that tapping into the emotions of your customer base is key if you want to succeed as a small business in SA.
“For us, the key thing to remember is that our customers are at a new phase in their lives.
“They’re excited and cherishing the small moments. One of the biggest things for a parent or grandparent is when children take those first steps. We get to be part of that journey and adventure and it’s very special,” explains Gill.
“A lot of our customers are gift-givers excited to buy shoes for someone new; like grandparents expecting a grandchild. Moms too! They come in and love the high quality of the shoes. They are excited to touch and purchase the product. It’s amazing.”
3. Never underestimate customer experience
Positive customer experience lies at the heart of every successful business, no matter how big or small. Whether your service or product is provided from a brick-and-mortar premises, or will only be available online, you want your customers to have a fuss-free, seamless experience that will result in repeat business.
According to Gill, Shooshoos made a point of creating a happy, inviting shopping environment for their customers right from the start.
“Our store is extremely bright, playful and inviting. We use lots of colour and have amazing wallpaper. We also tap into different senses like smell. We have a scent in our store that’s strictly a Shooshoos scent – a candy-waffle aroma. It adds a little touch of delight to the customers’ experience.
“We also like to make shopping as easy as possible for our customers. We have all the products out on the shelf so they can see the full range; we don’t have a store room.
“We also have quick customer service and make it simple and convenient to pay via Vend point of sale on an iPad. The easier we can make the transaction, the better – especially for moms who are busy.”
4. Streamline POS and reporting
On a more practical level, streamlining your point of sale and reporting system will allow you to keep your finances on an even keel without spending needless time compiling Excel sheets and data from an outdated legacy POS.
When you invest in an innovative system like Vend that allows you to track and manage things swiftly and effortlessly (even offline or from your mobile!) you will have much more time to spend on research and development and brand building.
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“Vend has created a customer experience that doesn’t revolve around a big, bulky point of sale system in-store. Customers may not realise the impact but we’re now able to process sales in one-fifth of the time we used to.
“Processing returns is quicker and easier too. No matter where I am in the world, I can pull up sales figures with Vend which is a massive thing for me − it’s made a huge impact on the business,” says Gill.
5. Leverage the power of social media
“Social media makes people more aware of what’s out there and available to them, and they are getting more knowledgeable about what they want. Big-box retailers are commercialised and deliver en mass – people are starting to look for more experiential, interactive brands that they believe in.
“I think it’s much easier for a small retailer to create a brand experience, trust, and a relationship with the customer compared to big-box retailers,” advises Gill.
Keeping these guidelines in mind when you put business practices in place for your South African SME will smooth the way for operational success and a sustainable enterprise model.
Start as you mean to go on and the sky will be the limit when it comes to growth in an emerging economy like Mzansi, so stay the course and chase those dreams!