Grant Ravenscroft is a self-confessed shopaholic. “I love buying exclusive goods,” says the Johannesburg entrepreneur. It’s a passion he’s recently turned into a thriving business with the launch of exclusive men’s (and more recently women’s) Croft & Co gift stores in the city’s upmarket suburb of Parkview.
Ravenscroft is better known in the area for his restaurant, Scusi’s, (something of an institution among locals) and this latest venture has taken him into unchartered waters. “It’s been an interesting journey,” he says, “and not without its challenges. But I believed in the concept from the start and even when some people told me it wouldn’t work, I knew that it could be successful.”
The original men’s Croft & Co store sells exclusive high-end goods, 50% of which are not available anywhere else in South Africa.“Our product ranges include Jack Spade, Vilebrequin, Art of Shaving as well as Mont Blanc, Dunhill and Ravenscroft Crystal, to name but a few,” says Ravenscroft.
In getting the product mix right he admits that he conducted very little market research; “I just included those products that I personally would like to buy,” he says. It’s a simple philosophy but one that has clearly worked; the store has become a destination for well-heeled shoppers looking not only for exclusive items, but also for an exclusive shopping experience.
“I think what works about the Croft & Co stores is that they give people the experience of luxury and exclusivity. People shop here because they want to feel spoiled, or because they want to spoil someone with a high-end gift, but it’s also about more than just the item they buy.
For example, they can buy a Mont Blanc pen at a stationery shop elsewhere in South Africa, but they don’t get the same shopping experience that they would coming into one of our stores where they are surrounded by a range of other exclusive goods. The store itself is a destination and people feel spoiled when they come to it – it’s not just what they can get there,” he explains.
Selecting the right products to stock might have been relatively simple, but getting the brands to agree to come into the store was anything but, as Ravenscroft relates. “A lot of these exclusive brands wouldn’t contemplate coming into a street-side store.
They have rules about where their brands can be placed and many of them dictate that it can only be in a shop in an upmarket mall, or at an airport, for example.”It took some tough negotiating to convince them that Croft & Co was the right store for their product, as he explains:“It’s something of a catch 22 situation because you need to get certain brands on board before others will follow suit.
In the early days before the store was even open I was selling people an idea and had to convince them that the store would be ideally suited to their brand. It took time to build up those supplier relationships.”Relationships – with suppliers and customers – have proved to be central to the success of the Croft & Co stores.
“I believe that all good business is built on relationships and at Croft & Co it’s especially important to build relationships with customers. Personalised service contributes a large part of the exclusive shopping experience,” says Ravenscroft, who will personally deliver items to customers if necessary.
“It also helps with word of mouth marketing, which drives all our new business,” he continues. “When we opened the men’s store, 80% of our customers were actually women, and we knew that if we were able to give them a personalised service, they would not only return to the store but they’d spread the word among their friends. Pretty soon, many of them were asking why we didn’t stock women’s products and this led to the launch of the women’s boutique,” he explains.
Relationships with what is a niche group of people have also helped Ravenscroft to grow the corporate gifting side of the business, which currently makes up 25% of turnover. “The people who are shopping at our stores – or receiving gifts from them – are often the same people who occupy top positions in business and when they wanted gifts that were differentor a cut above the rest, they started coming to us.
The corporate gifting side of things is going well but it’s also an area we’d like to grow,” he says.Looking to the future, Ravenscroft is cautious about expansion plans: “This is not a volume game and we don’t want –or need – to open 20 stores across the country.
We’d lose our exclusivity. So we’d like to consolidate the model and maybe open a store in Cape Town but at the moment, we’re pretty happy with what we’ve achieved. We’re one of a kind in South Africa and our success to date in what was a completely untested market is something of which we’re extremely proud.”
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