What’s your career background?
I’m a landscape architect and horticulturist, with several smaller add-on businesses.
How was the Fourways Farmers’ Market conceived?
I’d bought the old Keith Kirsten nursery, which also had an adjacent vacant plot. While fixing it up, it struck me that Joburgers work their backsides off Monday to Friday, with little escapism available on the weekend. I love picnicking, and saw an opportunity to build a picnic park for families like mine.
To solve the hassle of catering I came up with the idea of an outdoor supermarket. That’s when the market started taking shape.
What research backed up your idea?
I visited and researched markets all over the world and in South Africa to see what worked and what didn’t and then formulated my own idea. People flow and ergonomics are very important to a successful market.
This market has been planned in AutoCad and the resulting aisle layout means that each vendor has ample space, there are no dead spots or bottlenecks, and items are grouped into sections like a supermarket.
We also made distinct areas for buying and consuming, essentially creating different ‘rooms’ for different functions and to accommodate all visitors.
Is this a lean operation?
Absolutely not! There are the beautiful gardens and lush lawns to picnic on, with add-ons like security cameras, baby changing facilities, umbrellas, car guards, cleaners, a paramedic, music bands, garden and lawn maintenance and carpentry. It’s capital intensive and high maintenance, but it puts the market in a league of its own.
There are rose gardens, olive groves, veggie and herb patches, water features and arbours, beautiful flowers everywhere – and while people scoffed at the money spent to achieve this, and questioned the ROI, people walk in and are blown away. It’s a place they want to keep visiting.
How have you created a profitable model?
In two years we’ve grown to 106 stores – 100 are leased to vendors, six belong to us because leasing isn’t sufficient to create profit. We supplement income with sale of coffee, sodas and water, and we sell all the liquor. We limit the market to Sunday from 10:00 to 15:00 to create exclusivity and give our vendors a break.
The rest of the week the venue is leased for private and corporate functions.
What is the secret to getting a market right?
First is organisation. Next is getting your mix right: The ratio of finished foods, prepared foods, food ingredients, raw foods, craft, beverages, gifting and jewellery.
We’ve ensured there’s no direct competition with the vendors, that the quality is very high, and they’re selling something new and different that customers want to buy. We insist that vendors pay attention to the whole consumer experience, as that creates a lasting experience.
How can a market help launch new businesses?
We’ve had vendors build up such a client base in 18 months that they’re now supplying local supermarkets or building their own shops.
While it’s a part-time passion project for some, it’s a stepping stone for others, depending on their goals. As a start-up you come in at a minimum rental, have a space and an audience, you can develop your product and brand and get to know your true target market, and you get massive exposure.
What have been some unexpected snags?
With seating capacity for 2 400 people in a day, we’re technically Joburg’s largest restaurant and you wouldn’t believe what people can do to the infrastructure. There’s a lot of maintenance every week so it’s ready for the next Sunday.
We’re expanding to other locations now, applying lessons we’ve learnt. We’re in the final stages of zoning for a new market and managing objections.