When the global recession hit, South African entrepreneurs in the export business really felt the pinch. Once the holy grail of local businesses, the export market became a high-risk playing field that could destroy a business with alarming speed.
At the time, home-grown kids’ clothing brand Keedo had more than 60% of its business in the export market, a significant portion of which was in the United States. But as company founder Nelia Annandale explains, “The recession, which came to the States earlier than it did to South Africa, changed all that. The US market became incredibly tough and the European market was very depressed.”
Faced with the very real prospect of losing a significant portion of her market, Annandale acted swiftly. “We decided to grow our existing footprint in southern Africa. While the brand had always been available in the South African market, growing it there had never been a driving strategy,” she says. Now it became a matter of survival.
Today export only accounts for between 25% and 30% of Keedo’s business. Annandale realised the massive potential in the growing aspirant consumer base on the African continent and started supplying to Mozambique, Botswana and Zambia.
She strengthened Keedo’s local market presence, grew the number of stores, ventured into online retail, increased business turnover and managed to maintain a successfully South African manufactured product at one of the worst times in local manufacturing industry history.
Annandale’s most valuable lesson? “Be flexible enough to shift your business strategy and focus on new markets when existing ones become less lucrative,” she says. Rigidity, fear and ego are all factors that contribute to entrepreneurs sticking to their guns even when they know the battleground has changed.
Annandale’s flexibility, coupled with an ability to change tack midstream and still keep a business running smoothly, means Keedo has done more than survived. It has thrived.
Be flexible enough to shift business strategy.