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Growing A Successful Trappers Franchise Into A R300 Million Business

When Grant Ponting took over the Trappers franchise in 2003, he faced one overriding challenge: 16 franchisees who were used to doing things their own way. To build a strong, cohesive group geared for growth, he needed to win their trust and prove that business is better when you work together. Today, Trappers has 34 stores and a turnover of R300 million. Here’s how.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Grant Ponting (MD) and John Black (Head of Retail)
  • Company: Trappers
  • What they do: Lifestyle and outdoor retail franchise
  • Turnover: R300 million
  • Number of stores: 34
  • Visit: www.trappers.co.za

Every business has strengths and weaknesses. Successful companies learn to recognise and mitigate their weaknesses, while building on their strengths.

When Grant Ponting and his brother Mark bought the Trappers franchise group in 2003, their first priority was to determine the business’s strengths and weaknesses, and what it would take to build a strong cohesive franchise group.

At the time, Trappers’ turnover was R25 million with 16 franchised stores. Today, it has 34 stores and a turnover of R300 million. Not only has the number of stores doubled, but average store turnover has quadrupled.

This didn’t happen overnight. It took careful planning, patience, building up trust and delivering on promises — and above all it required clear and focused goals.

Finding the strength in weaknesses

Both Grant and Mark were familiar with the Trappers brand before they invested in it. Having grown up in Nelspruit and attended university in Kwa-Zulu Natal, they knew the Pietermaritzburg and Nelspruit stores, and their owners. It was a strong brand that filled a niche in farming communities, but it didn’t have a retail footprint in larger South African cities.

Related: How To Write An Operations Manual For Your Franchise

“My family were consulting for the Nelspruit store,” explains Grant. “The business had three separate shareholders. The franchised stores were loosely affiliated, with no strong head office system guiding the brand’s strategy or overall positioning.

“We believed that the brand had legs, and that we could leverage its strong heritage and grow it beyond 16 stores through a franchise model,” he says. “We realised that we may lose stores who did not buy into our vision at the time, but we also knew that making these necessary changes at that time was critical for the business to grow.”

“One of the strengths of the brand was how well each store owner knew and engaged with their community,” says John Black, who bought shares in the business in 2011. “These were community stores run by entrepreneurially-minded people. But they were not used to being told what to do by a brand head office.

“All 16 stores operated independently. Our goal was to centralise the company, create a clear strategy and disseminate it to our franchisees, bringing all the benefits of a franchise with it, including economies of scale.”

Developing relationships with your franchisees

The idea seemed simple. The reality was not. “There was pushback,” says Grant. The store owners Grant and John were attempting to woo to their way of thinking hadn’t joined a fully formed franchise. “They were there because they were good entrepreneurs. We needed to use that, not fight it; that’s what had brought the brand to where it was, and we liked the brand. But we also knew that any real growth would only come if we were able to forge a strong, unified franchise business.”

The very thing that gave Trappers its strength was also the biggest barrier to its growth as a brand. “We knew we needed to win them over. They had to trust us if this was going to work. If we could harness their entrepreneurial spirit and also create a consistency in the brand and its offering, we’d build an incredibly strong business.”

Grant and John’s mission was simple: Find a way to create a balance that encouraged individual store owners to take guidance, input and leverage what head office put in place but still maintain their individual, entrepreneurial spirits, running competitively in their towns, understanding their markets, and responding to local needs.

“We lost a few at the beginning. Some because the model was never going to work for them. Others because we recommended they de-franchise their stores. We were too far away from them, and didn’t believe we could give them proper support while we were consolidating the business. It was in both of our best interests to part ways,” says Grant. “We also knew that those remaining would have our full support.”

Building trust

They needed to convince their franchisees that their strategy and credibility would change each store owner’s business for the better.

“We started by providing them with exclusive product ranges via a head office-owned wholesale business, in addition to exclusive deals and product ranges in partnership with key suppliers to the group,” says John. Today, John heads up the retail operations of the business.

“As the business grew, the group was not only achieving better pricing, but opportunities to expand into exclusive ranges presented themselves more regularly, which in turn resulted in the development of a centralised merchandising and IT model,” explains Grant.

“We also needed to create a consistent marketing message. There had been no consistent strategy or brand identity. Everything was localised. While that’s good — you want strong, focused localised marketing — you also need a unified brand message. The key is to be consistent and centralised.”

As these started to improve, there were economies of scale, which brought with them cost savings, service enhancements, banking benefits and gift vouchers. “We could do cost-effective group SMS campaigns, packaging, staff uniforms — these are all costs that add up,” explains Grant. “They’re also small brand touchpoints that don’t massively shift brand experience alone, but together create a consistent and recognisable brand experience.”

“Once you get everyone swimming in the same direction, you enter a safe haven,” adds John. “There’s comfort and support that a franchise brings its members. As a group we are far more powerful together, which is critical in this economy.”

Related: Selling Your First Franchise? Consider These Key Pointers

“In a competitive market, the more leadership we can provide, the better,” says Grant. “Retail 20 years ago was simple: You just had to be a good retailer. Now you need a social media expert, legal experts, marketing — all of these are specialised services. It’s tough for a single store operator. Then, if you bought well and delivered good customer service, you did well. Now, there are so many complexities. You might be a good retailer, but you’ll still have gaps. A strong head office can fill these, either internally or with service providers, and costs and learnings are shared.

“There’s a lot of information that can be shared between franchisees through workshops and conferences. We also play a key role when it comes to third parties — landlords and suppliers are more accommodating and trusting of a store that’s part of a group.”

Fostering trust and transparency in your value chain

Trappers’ success has been based on trust and transparency throughout the value chain. “In the beginning, we gave more than we took,” says Grant. “Sometimes this was to our detriment, but it empowered our franchisees. We wouldn’t be where we are today if we hadn’t. We couldn’t afford to lose franchisees, and so we took our time building their trust. We listened to them, and slowly put what we needed in place.

“We ended up compromising a lot, but it was necessary. As we proved ourselves and earned our franchisees’ trust, we were able to put more wide-reaching systems and processes in place, working with their knowledge of their communities and shoppers. Our compromises cemented a culture of working together. We’ve centralised the business, and costs and efficiencies are streamlined, but we’ve also got an empowered group of franchisees.”

According to Grant, if a franchisor is providing more than franchisees are paying the franchisor, you’re in a good position. “If it reverses, that’s incredibly short-sighted — especially if you’re trying to maximise something in the short-term, to the detriment of your future relationships with your franchisees.

“At the end of the day, we won our franchisees over with an increasingly trusting relationship; this has been the critical success factor in our relationship with our franchisees.”

Refocusing on what matters

Alongside the franchising growth strategy was a retail strategy. From the beginning, Grant focused on building franchisee trust while shifting from a wholesale to a retail model.

When the business was acquired in 2003, it had no head office-owned stores. Under Grant and John, this has grown to ten head office stores and 24 franchised stores.

When Mark exited the business in 2012, John’s role was to focus on the growth and management of the retail side of the business, having come from a major corporate retail background. “This has always been an important element of the strategy,” explains Grant. “Head office stores are necessary for scale. You need both. Corporate stores allow you to influence the overall direction of the business, experience what your franchisees are experiencing daily, and they are revenue generators.

Finding the balance when dealing with franchisees

“You also need to secure products at competitive prices, and for this you need scale. We needed to expand corporate store space to strengthen our buying power, which was essential when we were winning the trust of our franchisees and proving the benefits of a strong franchise model.”

But there’s a balance too. “In this, as in everything else, transparency is key,” says John. “We don’t dictate to our franchisees. We encourage them to test products within predetermined boundaries, and we do the same in our corporate stores. When they test a product that works they let us know, and vice versa. Not all tests are successful. Retail is a mix of art and science. We don’t want to do anything that negatively impacts all 34 stores, which is why tests are important. This is a benefit of a franchise system — you can learn from each other.”

True to the Trappers ethos, the brand follows a mixed system of autonomy and franchisor support. “It’s not a cookie-cutter template,” explains Grant. “What works in Joburg’s northern suburbs doesn’t necessarily work in Upington. We cater to local communities.”

Related: 3 Ways You Can Innovate And Improve As A Franchisee

Slowly but surely, Trappers developed into a strong, successful franchise group, but another hurdle loomed. “In the early 2000s retail in South Africa was easy,” says Grant. “Our focus was on building the franchise, but the retailing side was slightly easier. Loads of trends (like hand held GPS units and wearables) were taking hold at the time, and with a lack of focus our range assortments and the company’s reliance on a few very successful brands became a concern.”

And then the world changed. The 2008 recession reached local shores, impacting retailers. “Some of these trends slowed down or dried up completely, and we realised that we needed to refocus. We had to ask: What are we not doing, that we were doing ten years ago?

The importance of brand heritage

As a business, Trappers needed to refocus on its original and core customer profile, understanding that a brand’s heritage is often imperative to its success.

“We had followed trends and forgotten our customer base, which left us exposed,” says Grant. “You need to know who your customer is, and focus on that niche first.

“We don’t follow competitors. We focus instead on the true Trappers customer. That’s our north star. Who is our customer and what do they want? That’s the question at the heart of our retail strategy, and we ask it daily. Our core customers don’t change, but their needs do, and so it’s important to stay abreast of those changes and check in with them; listen to them.”

“This requires communication between us and the franchisees. “The more we share about our customers, the stronger we are as a brand.”

Where to next?

Trappers is currently in eight of the nine provinces. “We initially focused on areas close to our base, but once we strengthened the franchise and corporate store base, we branched out,” says Grant.

“We’re now looking to grow in the Eastern and Western Cape, and as far afield as Namibia. We’ve consolidated our base. The next phase is to continue to identify geographical and financially sensible pockets of our market that we are not currently located in and place either a franchise or a company owned store in these areas that best satisfy our core customer needs.”


KEY INSIGHTS

Use strengths to your advantage               

Every business has unique strengths — are you using yours? For Trappers, the entrepreneurial nature of its franchisees means store owners who really understand their local communities. Individual stores who cater to their communities isn’t the usual franchise model, but Trappers is making it work to their advantage.

Don’t lose your north star   

Every brand needs a guiding principle and an ideal customer profile. If you lose sight of this, it’s easy for your products and services to stray away from your core. In today’s competitive environment, knowing your core is a key differentiator.

Compromises earn trust                 

Whether you’re working with clients, employees or franchisees, trust and transparency are the building blocks of a good relationship. Sometimes you have to give more than you get to build that trust, and prove that you’re willing to put the relationship and others needs ahead of your own.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

Company Posts

Muscle And Grill Is Your Daily Chef. We Provide Fresh, Nutritional Food At Affordable Prices

It isn’t always easy to stay in tune with both body and mind. We do all the prepping for you so that you can keep up your pursuit of greatness.

Muscle and Grill

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Vital stats

Muscle and Grill is a healthy fast food establishment based in South Africa. In the face of modern South Africa, lives spent on the go require a fuel to match their aspirations while maintaining a delicious, fast and fresh service.

As our lives swirl into life’s vast depths of opportunity, our bodies are often the product of poor health habits, while trying to keep on the move to achieve our goals. Muscle and Grill challenges this. We want to be able to support the South Africa of tomorrow by offering the food your body needs to keep reaching new heights – to keep pushing the boundaries of accomplishment with health food convenience.

At Muscle and Grill we’ve got you covered. We provide nutritional fast food that is fresh and affordable. We have your health at heart. You could start your day off with some free-range scrambled eggs or fresh oats – for lunch a mixed bowl of rice, protein and fresh vegetables – or to round off your day, replenish your mind and body with a hearty health-infused burger and all its wholesome goodness. We have not forgotten that home constitutes a hungry family who have all been active, so grab a lean beef pasta salad with some greens on the side to go.

Related: SA Fast Food Franchising On The Rise

It isn’t always easy to stay in tune with both body and mind. We do all the prepping for you so that you can keep up your pursuit of greatness.

About us

It was once said that great ideas are born from ones’ frustrations. That is exactly how Muscle and Grill came about. Having no real on-the-go option to stay healthy, or having the time to prepare to be healthy, became a huge frustration for us. We struggled to find enough hours in the day to keep up with a busy lifestyle and still eat healthy while on the move. Our work came first and our lifestyles suffered.

The vision for Muscle and Grill is to make it possible to stay healthy on the go. We want healthy food to be easily accessible for all walks of life.

Our mission is to provide quality, healthy fast-food. The food we provide is delicious and will keep you coming back for more.

Concept

muscle-and-grill

Muscle and Grill works on an almost self-service basis. The point of sale system is customer operated where you can select what meal you would like to have. Once payment has been processed electronically the kitchen staff will receive the order and prepare it to spec. Muscle and Grill will be a completely cashless business, making it super-efficient for consumers and business owners.

Related: 3 Crucial Considerations For New Multi-unit Franchisees

The concept of Muscle and Grill is partnered with Puré Frooty. Puré Frooty is a self-service smoothie bar which prepares smoothies for you at the touch of a button. You can have a store with or without a machine – the choice is yours. Both concepts look to promote the idea of healthy living on the go.

We’ve looked to compliment our values by looking after that which grounds us. Our packaging and utensils are all eco-friendly, as we believe ‘going-green’ is not just a choice of eating but of the environment too.

So, when you are ready to join the next revolution in the fast food industry contact Muscle and Grill at info@muscleandgrill.co.za or visit the website at www.muscleandgrill.co.za to inquire on our franchise options today. Achieve your goals, stay on the move and look after yourself through Muscle and Grill.

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Company Posts

Nando’s Is Firing Up The East

Carlos Duarte has been part of the Nando’s brand since inception. When his brother Fernando co-founded the flamed grilled chicken brand in 1987, Carlos soon participated in its success and today owns four highly successful franchises in Johannesburg — three in the east and one in the south. Here’s how it all began.

Nedbank

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Carlos Duarte
  • Franchise: Nando’s
  • Position: Franchisee
  • Visit: www.nandos.co.za

What were you doing before becoming a franchisee?

I was in the audio visual technology field, as an employee. Then I joined Nando’s as an assistant manager in the Savoy and Rosettenville corporate stores. Franchising was my first experience of entrepreneurship.

Why did you decide to become a franchisee?

When my brother, Fernando Duarte, launched Nando’s in 1987, I noticed its quick growth and wanted in on the action. Being assistant store manager prepared me for when the opportunity to run my own store came along soon after.

What prompted you to partner with Nando’s?

I joined Nando’s in 1991 as a joint venture partner. At the time, Nando’s hadn’t yet franchised its operations, and the JV partnership meant the brand owned 51% of the business, while I owned 49%. My first franchise store was in Edenglen in 2001.

Related: (Watch) Why Nando’s Is Clucking Its Way To The Top

Describe some of the challenges of running not one, but four franchise locations

At the Edenglen store, we initially battled with sales and getting feet into the store. To be honest, I think the area was overtraded at the time, so it wasn’t the best location. Since acquiring the store in Lambton, Germiston, another in Greenstone and a third in Comaro, I’ve learnt to be cleverer in how I do things — and how I handle some of the same challenges — and learn every day from the brand itself.

Name some of the benefits you’ve experienced as a Nando’s franchisee

Nando’s is 31 years old this year. We’re in 30-odd countries worldwide with thousands of stores across the globe. As franchisees, we leverage off the dynamism of an operational business that’s known for its marketing — customers talk about our ads and they love our food.

What kind of support do you receive from Nando’s as a multi-unit franchisee?

Besides the popular marketing campaigns that attract customers, Nando’s has an extensive training manual along with a skills development training consultant who comes to the store for two days to help staff understand and implement it. The training is really effective — it has to be as this industry involves a very high turnover of staff and new skills need to be taught often.

Why is it important for a franchisee to have a good banking partner?

As a franchisee, your bank should understand your business — from operating costs, to overdraft needs and revamping expenses — so it has cash available for loans that can be approved quickly, with minimal hassle. On the technical side, a reliable mPOS device is imperative, especially for us, because 30% of our sales volumes are from home and office deliveries. It’s a fundamental method of payment every bank should provide its customers of a similar nature.


What advice do you have for budding franchisees on seeking out a good franchise brand and banking partner for their business?

  • Do your research to ensure you’re partnering with a brand that is established, well-known and expect to pay a fair price for that franchise.
  • Be aware of how the franchise brand is perceived in the market and what location opportunities are available to you as a franchisee.
  • Choose a banking facility that always has the funds available to grow your business.
  • Ensure the bank understands the brand’s business model and where you’re falling short.

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Franchisors

Make Your Business A Good Neighbour

Take your business from invisible and struggling to a thriving neighbourhood landmark.

Richard Mukheibir

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Is your business invisible to your customers? You may have fewer customers than you would like because your business does not seem relevant to those in your neighbourhood. This is an even bigger mistake than not being able to reach beyond your direct trading area.

To appeal to people – customers – you should also present your business as a group of people who help other people. This can be helping supply them with goods they need to buy, helping provide them with loans or simply being a reassuring and consistent presence in your neighbourhood.

As our Local Area Marketing Manager, Juan Botha, tells Cash Converters’ franchisees, this is about blending and fitting in like a neighbour. It is about give and take. And all of that adds up to community engagement.

Related: Effective Ways To Bring Customers To Your Door

Here are six of his top tips:

  1. Introduce the family: Cultivate a friendly, welcoming atmosphere in your shop or office. Introduce new staff to regular customers. Make sure that new customers can get to know staff through your in-store welcome boards and name badges.
  2. Find your partners: Identify the gatekeepers in your community and create partnerships with them. Think about approaching sports clubs, schools, church groups, sewing circles and book clubs.
  3. Snatch some selfies: If you have local celebrities as customers, take a selfie and post it on your social media: “Guess who came to say hello today . . .” Build relationships with local heroes and you will be able to call on them to host your in-house fun day or charity drive.
  4. Give back to business: Be involved in local business chambers and groupings as more than a participant. Show you are a good business neighbour by facilitating speed networking, hosting a speaker or sponsoring a sound system or catering for the next meeting.
  5. Adopt a cause: Identify a local charity and rally support for it.
  6. Help the community: Launch or participate in a community project – anything from an area clean-up or helping repaint school classrooms to planting trees or a community vegetable garden.

Building relationships helps you build your business’s reputation. That is because you can make people start to feel a certain way about your business and influence them positively towards you. Then, when they need something that you supply, you will be top of mind.

That neighbourhood warmth creates a sense of ownership. These prospective customers will already know how you can benefit their lives and so are more likely to become your regular customers.

They will be acting on the fact that people remember you for the experience you give them. As top American writer Maya Angelou said, their memories will be shaped by how you make them feel – not how or what you make them think. Relationships may be intangible but they can bring real value to your business.

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