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It’s About The Money With Wimpie Sevenster

Why work for money when money can work for you? The Interface Financial Group (IFG) offers a unique business model that gives entrepreneurs unprecedented freedom. Entrepreneur speaks to Wimpie Sevenster, IFG master licensee for South Africa.

GG van Rooyen

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Wimpie-Sevenster

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Whether small businesses are trying to expand or fighting to survive, cash flow is always an issue. Regardless of whether the economy is struggling or booming, businesses are always in need of cash.

Brief history of The Interface Financial Group

Interface, like the financial services industry of which it is a part, is a very mature player. Having been in business since 1972, Interface is clearly the market leader in invoice discounting.

It has hands-on experience and a growing network of offices in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, Singapore, the United Kingdom and, of course, South Africa.

Related: Chicken Xpress – The ‘No Frills, No-Fuss, Keeping-It-Simple Franchise’

For the first 20 years of its operations (before franchising), Interface acted as an invoice discounter. This activity has resulted in a very solid knowledge base from which Interface franchisees/licensees can draw support.

Senior management of Interface have ‘been there and done that’ — their experience now translates into your franchise/licence success story.

What does IFG do?

IFG-south-africa

The Interface Financial Group offers factoring services. Importantly, this isn’t the same thing as lending money. Simply put, an IFG licensee buys an asset, and the asset that’s bought is an accounts receivable that is evidenced by an invoice.

The IFG licensee buys this at a discount from the face value and holds it until maturity, usually about 40 days. At the end of the credit period they receive payment of 100% of the face value and, therefore, the discount is taken as income, which is their gross profit in the transaction.

Your client’s customer pays the invoice in full directly to you on the due date. Your working capital goes to work the moment you purchase an invoice, and it offers an above-average return on your capital with minimal marketing and a work schedule that is within your control.

Why do you need an IFG licence to do this? Isn’t this something that you can do on your own?

Absolutely. This is something that anyone can do. However, in the same way that there’s a great advantage to opening an established fast food franchise store, IFG offers the training and support needed to get up and running quickly.

The Interface Financial Group is an international operation that’s been around since 1972. It has also been given ‘World-class Franchise’ status by the Franchise Research Institute.

We like to say that IFG allows licensees to be in business for themselves, but not by themselves. Licensees benefit from a proven model, operating system and support structure. It offers an exceptional training programme, a powerful start-up marketing programme, ongoing transaction support and international invoice discounting opportunities.

Lastly, licensees benefit from the Interface Risk Management Programme, which has been perfected over more than 40 years, and is a key reason why IFG licensees all over the world are incredibly successful.

With many franchise/licence opportunities out there, what makes IFG uniquely attractive?

There are a lot of factors that make an IFG licence attractive. Firstly, start-up costs are low and there are no pre-set capital requirements. Secondly, you don’t need to hire employees and you don’t need a shop front, or even an office. This is an operation that can easily be run from home.

The Interface licence is designed as a home-based business concept. A home-based office is usually more economical than renting office space. We do not, however, mandate that you must be home-based. It is a matter of personal choice. Are you comfortable working at home, and does the home environment lend itself to a professional office?

The small business market keeps growing, and that increases the number of small businesses that need cash flow assistance. A wide range of industries and markets benefit from invoice discounting, including manufacturing, construction, distribution and professional services.

An uncertain economy does not affect your business, because you are there for small business owners when traditional banking institutions cannot help.

However, you do not compete with large financial institutions. Instead, you work alongside them to provide short-term solutions that they cannot assist SMEs with. A lot of our clients are referred to us by banks, business brokers, lending institutions and accountants.

How do IFG licensees go about finding clients?

We have found that the best clients come from referral sources. We have, therefore, created a professional marketing approach that does not rely on cold calling and ‘selling’ to an end user. We train our franchisees/licensees in the art of forming a ‘Lead Source Referral Group’ that will supply the bulk of their business.

In the majority of locations, where Interface licensees operate, that group consists of three basic components: Banks, non-bank lenders and accountants that run small business practices.

Interface franchisees do not ‘sell’ the service. A typical marketing approach is to work with a lending officer of a local bank. We request a meeting time, by appointment, of only 15 or 20 minutes.

During that meeting, we explain who we are and what we do. We are mindful of showing that we are not in competition with the bank, and simply ask for referrals when the bank is unable to accommodate their customers’ business funding needs.

This approach allows the bank to continue supplying their regular services and maintaining a deposit relationship, while Interface handles the funding requirement.

At some future time, the client will become ‘attractive’ to their bank, from a lending point of view, and the bank will then take over the funding role.

Banks are in the business of providing services to their clients. Those services vary and may be readily available, or not available, due to the incompatibility of the applicant.

Where they are not available, the bank then becomes a ‘problem solver’ for their customer by referring that aspect of the business need to Interface.

Who is the ideal IFG licensee?

IFG

There is no such thing as a universal description of an Interface licensee. There are, however, several significant characteristics that all IFG franchisees have. First, we always look for individuals who have excellent communication skills — both verbal and written.

Interface licensees are charged with the task of communicating with professionals such as bankers and accountants on the one hand, and with small business owners and entrepreneurs on the other.

Interface clients are by nature very entrepreneurial individuals who are striving to get their business venture up and running as quickly as possible. Because the business is in its early development stage, the owner is probably handling numerous responsibilities within the organisation. Licensees need to be able to effectively communicate with these individuals in order to obtain the required information and also to work with them on an ongoing basis.

Second, we look for individuals who are decision-makers. Licensees gather and analyse the information, confer with Head Office, and then make a decision to move forward or not. Our process is designed to be handled quickly, efficiently, and in a professional manner.

Finally, we seek to work with licensees that are entrepreneurial in their outlook. We look for people who have a vision for themselves and their Interface business.

Is a background in business or finance a must?

A background in business will certainly never hurt, but it is by no means a must. The list of successful IFG licensees is incredibly varied.

Related: Minuteman Press Advises You To Under-Promise And Over-Deliver

We have licensees who come from all walks of life. But what they all have in common is drive, a good head for business and great communication skills.

It also helps to have some ‘number crunching’ abilities, but it is not imperative, since our detailed system will easily walk you through the process and procedures.

Our personalised training programme will also ensure that you grow to understand the Interface system. Part of what we bring to the table is a comprehensive transaction tracking system that takes care of all of the monthly chores in terms of creating your income and expense statements and your monthly balance sheets.

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GG van Rooyen is the deputy editor for Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa. Follow him on Twitter.

Franchisors

Are You On Your Team’s Wavelength?

Success means being a team player as well as a team leader.

Richard Mukheibir

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Remember that old interview question, “Are you a team player?” When you run your own business you are the team leader – the captain and the coach rolled into one usually. But on top of that, you also need to be a team player.

That means more than squeezing into your bulging To Do list automated, one-size-fits-all birthday messages or the occasionally staff party. Yes, staff lunch out, a braai at the office or a few drinks after work are good ways to put the work stresses aside and get to know your staff better.

Those basic bonding exercises are taken for granted now. In reality, any wow factor was fleeting in the first place. The days since the automatic birthday greeting impressed any employee are at least one generation back and Victorian industrialists had extensive staff entertainment programmes.

What never goes out of fashion, though, is proving to staff that you are an active part of the team, not just a figurehead. I have now been with Cash Converters for almost 25 years and nearly every day, I say a thank you for the fact that I learned the business from the ground floor up by launching our first pilot franchise.

Related: 11 SA Entrepreneurs on What They’ve Learnt About Managing Staff

That quarter-century of experience has shown me that leading a team proactively means you need to be:

Present

This is more than rushing through the shop floor late for your next meeting and focused far away from the employees you are passing by. It is more than just being spotted in the hallway between your office and the carpark or even waving or nodding a greeting to an employee.

In the know

Taking the easy route here is initiating a conversation about the latest sports scores. More personalised is to ask how a staff member’s house move has gone or a child is settling into a new school. It is good for you to be reminded why your employee works for you and for your employee to know that you are aware of him or her having a life beyond a work role.

Human

humanising-conceptsThe time-and-motion pioneers who emerged after the Second World War to translate regimented army mentalities into greater industrial efficiency and productivity have long since been discredited. It rapidly became obvious that workers object to being treated like different parts of a machine.

Related: How To Know If You’re Mismanaging Your Staff

Respectful

Staff want to be treated like the human beings they are by someone who has the courage to show their own human side. In your conversations with staff, this also means showing how you are aware of the work they are doing and what they are contributing to your business.

Learning

Staff respect a boss who gives the team motivational talk and then rolls up his or her sleeves to spend some time helping accelerate the push to a new goal. As team leader, ideally you should understand and be able to carry out any job within the team. Some of the tasks might not be your speciality but keeping up to date with new techniques, materials or needs in each area means that you can make better strategic decisions.

Invested

This is about more than the capital, skills and time you have invested in growing the business. It is about sharing key goals as well as daily tasks so that your staff feel they are investing their working lives in a shared project – and so share the insights and inspirations that could be the next important key that makes your business run more smoothly and productively.

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Franchisors

Meet Jan Grobler: Serial entrepreneur, Advocate, And Job Creator

It is the authors’ sincere hope that young South-African entrepreneurs will learn from wiser business men such as Jan Grobler and co-create a vibrant and legacy driven entrepreneurial environment in our country.

Dirk Coetsee

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Jan Grobler has either directly or indirectly created 10 000 jobs and he is not done with forming a lasting legacy. The author can call on various titles in an attempt to describe this serial entrepreneur: Advocate, Founder, Franchisor and Project manager, yet no label can fully embody his unique skill set, experience, and entrepreneurial spirit.

As a highly enthusiastic observer of business leadership traits in others, I noticed Jan’s’ strong willed and passionate intent to create more businesses, ignite exponential growth within them, and ultimately deliver numerous job opportunities to South-Africans, from the onset of the interview.

As an advocate and MBA graduate Jan had a solid academic foundation that served him well on his entrepreneurial journey. “Working back” the bursary he had from Sanlam he values the learning he received from older and wiser entrepreneurs that he had established trusts for. He learnt to be a good listener and increase his emotional intelligence by making mental notes when the older entrepreneurs imparted some of their wisdom and experience and then taking action on the accumulated learnings.

Related: The Anatomy Of Peak Performance

The value of being a “Global Citizen”

coffee2go

Jan is a global citizen and has “back packed in 46 countries” accumulating cultural and business learnings as he travelled. He shared an example of waitresses in a South-American country “doubling up” as secretaries offering additional services such as fax and the recording of minutes of meetings thereby adding more dimensions, services, and income streams to a coffee shop operation.

The words rolled of his tongue with enthusiasm as he described how modern times has provided multi-dimensional opportunities for an entrepreneur such as being in your office in Centurion, South-Africa, purchasing products online from China , and then selling online to purchasers in Italy. Jan sees the future of franchising in South Africa as moving more and more towards “mobile outlets”. He has extensively researched the international “mobile franchising market” and is very excited about the possibilities for growth in South-Africa with regards to this market segment.

He is one of the founders of Fit chef and is currently developing the franchise system “Cafe2go”(Mainly a mobile concept) of which there are currently twenty five outlets. On his entrepreneurial journey Jan has developed eighteen brands of which he was a cofounder and as a contracted project manager he has assisted in facilitating the exponential growth of hundreds more companies.

Channels and revenue streams

coffee-to-go-pictures

As the aroma and taste of another Cafe2go Cappuccino held my attention Jan elaborated on four more revolutionary franchising concepts that he is co-developing. He said that success in business is highly dependant upon doing things better than others and offering a unique service and product.

Related: Business Leadership: Leading A Culturally Diverse Business Team

Jan pointed out that he sees himself as a “channel creator” and it was clear to the author that through his vast experience and entrepreneurial acumen he has a high vantage point from which to see opportunities for the creation various funding models, sales channels and revenue streams, that combined causes exponential business growth.

This entrepreneur is very proud of his first start-up company of which he is still the CEO called Curator. Curator was started to, and still does assist entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, whether it be through growth interventions or for example raising capital or franchising the business.

Jan has never stopped learning whether it be from learnings accumulated from engaging other entrepreneurs or knowledge obtained from books. More importantly he continues to apply this learning in helping businesses to grow and create more and more jobs. Jan is building a legacy that any entrepreneur can be proud of. It is the authors’ sincere hope that young South-African entrepreneurs will learn from wiser business men such as Jan and co-create a vibrant and legacy driven entrepreneurial environment in our country.

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Franchisors

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.

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