Walk into any Mr Price store, and within seconds you’ll be humming along to your favourite song. The great tunes come courtesy of Red Cap Radio, the retailer’s in-house station, which has become an inextricable part of the Mr Price brand. David Yapp and Marcel Sapet, the force behind Red Cap Radio, are driven by an intense love and passion for the medium.
Their first experience with an in-house station came in 1991, when the two managed Radio WKSP, the signature station of The Workshop, a Durban mall.
“It was a good place to start, but the station wasn’t sustainable,” says Yapp. He soon hit on an idea that had sustainability. While still working at Radio WKSP, he’d also started spinning tunes at Mr Price stores, mainly to celebrate store openings. Seeing the potential to take this further, he sent a proposal to Mr Price for an in-house station in 1993.
“I presented a couple of pages in a folder to the then operations manager, Shane van Niekerk, who in turn presented the idea to Alistair McArthur, former MD and now CEO of the Mr Price Group. After reviewing the strategy for two years, they contacted me with the news that I had one month to put together a concept,” Yapp recalls. It was a tough task, but Yapp was equal to the challenge. “For seven months, we worked out of a stockroom. Eventually, we were provided with a customised studio, and in August 1996, Red Cap Radio made its first broadcast.”
That broadcast kicked off with the song Mission Impossible – an apt choice, says Yapp. “At times, launching the station seemed like an impossible mission. We encountered all sorts of difficulties. The studio was ready for broadcast only half an hour before we went on air. We’d never worked with the equipment before, and had only 2 000 CDs with nothing backed up on computer.
It was mayhem. But the upside was that we learnt to rely on ourselves.” Yapp reveals that the strategy of Red Cap Radio – a name coined by marketing guru Neville Trickett – hasn’t changed since the early days. That’s not to say it hasn’t grown: the station is now broadcast in over 300 Mr Price clothing stores nationwide and over 150 Mr Price Home stores.
While the format in each store is standardised, stations in the Home outlets play a relaxed crossover between adult contemporary and world music, while the clothing stores have a greater mix of Top 40 hits. “Ultimately, Red Cap Radio remains a powerful communication and motivational tool,” stresses Yapp.
That goes for both Mr Price’s sales associates and customers. Indeed, the station contributes greatly to the “family feeling” that permeates the stores, with associates able to send each other on-air dedications, birthday wishes and other messages.
“The station makes associates realise they are valued. It also helps them keep in touch,” explains Yapp. “It’s an important way to ensure that our culture of dreams and beliefs is perpetuated, even in areas far from Mr Price’s headquarters.” Customers enjoy the vibey atmosphere created by Red Cap Radio. But the station is functional too, providing a platform to promote discounts and sales.
“We have a very strong team of DJs whom we trust, and the station’s success is largely thanks to them,” says Sapet. Many of SA’s leading DJs learnt the basics at Red Cap Radio. And customers have noted their talent: in a survey conducted by Bateleur Research, Red Cap Radio was ranked above all other in-house radio stations.
Every success has a challenge, and Yapp admits it’s been hard for a retail clothing business to grasp the principles of running a radio station, and vice versa.“Fortunately, the company has given us a lot of leeway to correct our mistakes, and our passion makes it easy for us to confront obstacles.”