“We didn’t ever just want to be a ‘me too’ company.” These are the words of Marc Marot, MD of Marot & Sanders. Together with partner, Sven Sanders, he came to carve out a niche market in the highly competitive world of advertising and branding. Seeing a gap in the industry, the two young designers left their jobs and embarked on what has been an often rocky journey of entrepreneurship.
Marot & Sanders describes itself as “a retail image specialist”. With clients largely in the retail sector, it specialises in ensuring that a consistent company image and brand message is communicated to customers at every touch point. Marot explains how they identified a gap in the market: “We realised that many companies used different suppliers to do their advertising, branding, PR, corporate clothing, signage and events. What happens is that customers get an inconsistent experience of the company.
Our focus is to handle all these activities for the client, making sure their brand is communicated correctly and consistently.” They call it “applying their M&S-ense” to a brand and it seems to work. Their client list has included Toyota, Engen, Ford, Rennies Distribution Services, Playtex, JAM Clothing, Firstpharm Generics and Akals Sports Retailers. But while the business is now a highly successful enterprise, it had humble beginnings.
Marot and Sanders started with little more than their creative expertise and the sheer determination to make a success of things. “We moved into a granny flat, put together our savings and a loan from my parents, and opened our doors,” remembers Marot. Total start-up costs amounted to R19 000, spent on computer equipment, and R800 for office supplies. For the first six months, the pair ran the business after hours while still in full-time employment, drawing on the contacts they had slowly built up through freelance assignments.
Small jobs gradually expanded to become larger jobs and the company started building long-term relationships with clients. These relationships have stood them in good stead. “One of our key differentiators is our tendency to work very closely with clients, most of whom are used to dealing with only an account executive. And we have always treated even the smallest client as if they were our only client. We’ve also been paranoid about losing clients,” says Marot.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, however. One of their biggest stumbling blocks was non-payment and resulting cash flow problems. Marot remembers a month when they couldn’t pay themselves salaries and were forced to sell a brand concept they had been working on. The client who bought it went on to make a small fortune out of it, attaching it to a clothing label. “We realised things had to change,” Marot says. “We divided our clients into two groups, choosing to keep only those who had a good payment history and who were as passionate about their brands as we were.”
This left them with a far shorter client list, but in the first year after making the change, the company’s turnover nearly doubled. “We had fewer clients but they were getting better quality work,” he points out. In their first year, the two high school friends made a mere 1,6% of the annual income the company is doing today, as it heads into its tenth year. But you won’t find them complacent – they still exude the edgy creativity and energy that got them there in the first place.