For decades, the conventional wisdom in many sectors was that bigger was better. The larger you got, the argument went, the more likely you were to achieve market dominance, supply chain efficiencies and coherencies that you could then carry from developed markets into developing markets. That should lead to happy investors.
Except that, as PwC’s Strategy& discovered, in key sectors like consumer packaged goods there is no direct correlation that can be drawn between being big and achieving higher shareholder returns. That’s a startling conclusion.
There may be a number of reasons for that: Media fragmentation has made it harder and harder to get “big” messages out to a mass audience in the ways that companies could when channels were far more limited; the competitive advantage gap between large companies and smaller participants has closed because small companies have learned how to perform well; and, ironically, innovation has in many ways defeated the need for scale because global networks have changed how big individual companies need to be in order to achieve the presence that they would once have had to grow themselves.
So, how should companies decide whether they need to get bigger? Should they even bother? For many, the decision to remain artisan or to work within defined boundaries is an absolutely valid strategy; it enables them to define what matters to them, and to work within those parameters. But, for those companies that do decide to increase their presence, here are some key factors to consider.
Define your goal, and make decisions from there
The decision as to whether to grow or scale comes down to the definition of success that you have set for yourselves in your strategy.
As Jeremy Melis, UPS’s marketing director for small businesses, told The Balance, “The goal isn’t necessarily the speed of domestic or international growth.The goal is to best position your business to achieve what you’ve defined as success. That could be revenue growth, geographic expansion, a community of loyal customers or a better quality of life for yourself and your employees.”
As in all aspects of strategy, the key concern is why, not what or how. Growth or scaling should be the means, not the end. Your goal should be deciding what you are committed to achieving.
Growth and scaling are different things
A key issue is that growth and expansion are too easily confused. Business coach Mihir Thaker makes the excellent point in an article on the site Business Business Business that, “Growth is all about adding percentages here and there around the business …. Growth is normally a factor of turnover …. Scaling is different.
It’s a process driven approach to growth. No longer is the business concerned with growth for growth’s sake, but only with growth which can be managed.”
So, in seeking to scale a business for example, you are looking to change not just the pace and scope of growth but also the manner in which that acceleration takes place. Growth and scale demand different management styles and therefore different types of leadership, while the pace at which expansion takes place also requires careful judgment.
Expand too fast, and the business risks becoming over-extended; expand too slow and the company risks stalling as others react and/or the business cannot keep pace with demand.
And because scale demands a different set of actions than growth, it follows that it springs from a different mindset. One of the key questions that is asked too seldom is: “Does our company have that mindset?” If not, it may be better, and more profitable, to focus on growth.
To scale the business, first scale the culture
Companies that are serious about scaling their presence must understand that their ability to do so hinges on their ability to shift and coordinate new thinking internally at the same time as they look for opportunities and new customer relationships externally. The temptation is to focus only on the latter – to see a shift in scale as achieving a greater footprint through growth, acquisition and/or diversification.
In point of fact, in order to deliver on that, the business itself must change mindset. As McKinsey has noted, in order to achieve a change of scale at requisite speed, particularly in a digital setting, an organisation today needs to start by realigning its technology infrastructure to handle the new levels of customer interactions that will come.
It will also need to invite new people into the business to make the new scaled process work better, develop new ways to ship faster and more diversely and reset its success metrics so that it can accurately gauge performance against its highest strategic goal and act/react accordingly.
Should you scale?
What questions should you ask yourself to determine if you should scale or grow? We have developed a model that helps companies figure out what they should do in order to meet their objectives. This model, called The LASSO Model, addresses a brand’s optimal expandability.
Nearly all the businesses we spoke to in the course of developing our model commented that the decision to pursue scale was about much more than aspiration. It was a conscious decision to achieve critical weight in the markets that they were focused on because otherwise they risked being unable to achieve their goals.
That’s particularly true in sectors like consumer packaged goods, media and entertainment, where the pursuit of scale can become an end in itself.
Companies that are fueling their growth through venture capital, for example, will sometimes set their sights on being a particular size at which they are deemed to have succeeded in their quest to expand. In media, the goal for many is to make it to the R100-plus million revenue mark because that is deemed to be a benchmark for a scaled media presence.
If that’s the metric that is expected of you, then that will be the key measure you focus on. Many will get stuck at around R50 million or lower, unable to grow a unique audience, achieve consistent engagement, differentiate themselves against others and over multiple platforms, and improve their margins.
Size alone is probably not enough
That leads to the final factor. Strong businesses depend on more than one thing to protect themselves against competitors. We liken this to a Rubik’s Cube. What makes the Cube hard to solve is that the puzzle does not exist in one dimension, but rather in three.
Equally, businesses that have ambitious expansion plans need to look for ways to build in other aspects of competitiveness beyond just size itself. Indeed, wherever possible, they need to use scale to reinforce and strengthen those other elements that make up their value proposition, so that the bigger they become, the more competitive they are.
Many of the companies we spoke to in the course of our research found this the most difficult part of their expansion planning – thinking of scale as a competitive factor that wouldn’t just strengthen their market presence but also raise the barriers to entry for copycats and enable them to profitably leverage and capitalise on what really drew customers to them.
Growth and scaling are different approaches and neither one is “better” than the other. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Each works better in some sectors than others. Each has its own dynamics and makes its own demands. What’s important for entrepreneurs with ambitious agendas is that they understand why they have chosen one approach over the other, how they have organized their infrastructure and culture to make it happen, and where they will integrate growth or scale with other competitive factors to make it harder for others to emulate their success.
Controlling Profit Margins To Build Greater Organisational Wealth
To build organisational wealth, you need to have strong financial management and control. Are you getting the insights you need to properly control your profit margins?
Organisational wealth is a concept that is based on the premise that businesses can only achieve true wealth once all parts of the organisation are running optimally. It places an emphasis on business systems, internal processes, staff morale, job satisfaction and, of course, financial success.
Having proper control and management of your finances is essential for every growing business. Keeping up with, and staying ahead of, competitors requires more than just a simple accounting system to try control financials. Luckily, modern technology and innovative business management platforms offer practical solutions to give you and your team members up to date information about every part of your business.
This helps businesses better manage cash flow, stock holding, expenses and financial investments for increased control over profit margins as well as continued growth and long-term sustainability.
Here are a few ways in which a good business management system can help you achieve greater profit margins and contribute to building greater organisational wealth.
Comparing budgets vs actual costs
An integrated system allows different departments to quickly and easily share information on expenses budgeted for and actual payments made. This results in streamlined and seamless project planning and management through automatic distribution of information and project amendments based on accurate information.
Managers can get customised financial reports depending on their requirements and set cash flow alerts as well as expense approvals to ensure that budgets are not exceeded.
With the correct systems in place, your small or medium sized business can manage its entire procurement process systematically. Details of suppliers, requests and responses with cost estimates, purchase orders, returns and outstanding orders can all be recorded, centrally maintained and shared between departments. This will allow you to quickly compare suppliers, negotiate better deals and plan your purchases to maintain and improve profit margins.
Matching supply and demand
Optimising procurement to expertly match supply and demand can lead to an increase in your business’s profit margins. For many small to medium sized businesses, managing supply and demand cycles can be a time-consuming and complicated task. The good news is that an integrated business system, such as SAP Business One, allows you to get real-time inventory insights and updates.
It also allows you to manage and set up standard and special pricing to cater to seasonal trends, which are also readily available. Over and above that, an integrated system allows business owners to apply volume, cash, and customer discounts and run reports to track the impact these special offers had on overall profit margins.
Accurate insights to make strategic business decisions
The adage “knowledge is power” is certainly true for businesses – no matter their size. Even in a small business, there is a massive amount of information which can be gathered about your operations within the supply chain and company financials. Having access to accurate information can empower your team members to make more informed decisions.
Providing employees with comprehensive information facilitates strategic decision-making, which can lead to optimised stock holding and procurement, meaningful customer relationship management and more successful marketing campaigns. These benefits can contribute to a sustainable growth in profit margins.
An investment in technology may initially seem costly, but when you invest in the right tools and platforms, you will soon start the process of building your organisational wealth through increased profit margins and excellent financial control.
How TomTom Telematics Can Keep Your Business Moving Forward
Successful businesses need to find ways to improve their margins while still delivering excellent and efficient customer service. VDM’s CEO, Deon van der Merwe, explains why this wouldn’t be possible in his business without TomTom Telematics’ solutions.
When TomTom Telematics entered the South African market in 2010, the local team took a deep dive into the different industry verticals they were servicing.
The more they got to know their customers, the more they realised a different solution was needed to address local conditions, and a subscription model was introduced whereby customers didn’t need to invest a large capital outlay into TomTom Telematics’ technology, but would receive the tech and software, including installation, at no extra cost, in exchange for a monthly subscription fee.
This model gives SMEs affordable access to TomTom Telematics’ solutions, but it’s had another benefit as well: As TomTom Telematics introduces new innovations, existing customers can benefit — without the costs associated with replacing all of their existing technology themselves.
An indispensable tool
For a transport and logistics business like VDM Group, which has more than 160 vehicles on the road, this means they have access to incredible new offerings, without needing to replace their TomTom units themselves.
“TomTom plays a critical role in our business,” says Deon van der Merwe, CEO of VDM Group. “It’s an indispensable tool in ensuring quality customer feedback and the management of KPIs for all supply chain stakeholders.
“Earlier this year, TomTom Telematics launched their New WEBFLEET product. We were very satisfied with what we had, and yet they still approached us and offered to replace all our existing units with new tablets, and they’re covering the installation costs,” explains Deon.
“New WEBFLEET is the result of TomTom innovating their product based on customer feedback from around the world, and the local team wanted to ensure we had access to the additional functionality and innovations that had been introduced.”
Seamless integration with your network
According to Deon, the new TomTom PRO 8275 units seamlessly integrate VDM’s fleet scheduling software with information they extract from TomTom, including individual vehicles’ standing time and arrival notifications.
“The software from TomTom is open API, which means that all our various applications can communicate and interact with each other,” he explains. “From a productivity perspective, we no longer need to manually capture any trip information.
In addition, we have every conceivable piece of data available that will assist us to run a leaner, more cost-effective fleet, enabling us to ensure that we are delivering on all our KPIs — particularly with regards to meeting our customers’ needs.”
VDM is a large transport business, but Deon believes the benefits for SMEs are as great, if not more so. “Many SMEs don’t have the back-office support that we do. The ability to capture and use this information without a team of admin specialists at your disposal is a huge competitive advantage for smaller businesses,” he says.
Offering you the competitive edge
VDM offers a specialised logistics service that creates custom-made options for clients. In order to ensure the most optimal and cost-effective solutions, while still ensuring top quality delivery, they need to consider special and complex individual customer requirements, from the point of origin to the point of destination, before finalising a customer-specific solution.
“We take into account a host of factors, including inventory carrying costs, volume requirements, product specific factors and route to market,” explains Deon.
“Road transport significantly impacts total supply chain costs, and if not managed properly, can have a severe impact on the sustainability of any particular channel. We try and manage this risk by continuously improving our service through innovative logistical solutions, the use of advanced technology, vertical integration and a team of passionate and talented experts.
TomTom assists in creating differentiators
“This focus has helped us to develop a market offering that includes dedicated and completely flexible inter-modal solutions, which is a big differentiator for us. TomTom Telematics plays a key role in our total productivity, helping us measure the performance of road transport across our supply chain.”
Deon believes that what you don’t measure you won’t know.
“TomTom provides updated fleet statistics that allow us to constantly benchmark our fleet against pre-defined route surveys and, in so doing, enables massive savings in fuel and total turnaround time.
Communicating via the WEBFLEET platform also helps us save time and creates a formal trail of correspondence with our drivers. I don’t believe it’s possible to successfully run a business like ours without a solution like this.”
An Evolving Business: How Consol Glass Is Going Global
Seventy-four years ago Consol was just manufacturing glass in a single plant. Today it has firmly established itself in three other African territories and continues to spread the word: The best things come in glass.
What started as a single glass plant supplying the beer and beverage industries has evolved into the company that supplies 80% of South Africa’s glass containers.
“We’re using South Africa as a springboard to get into the rest of Africa, starting with acquiring a glass-making business in Kenya, and another in Nigeria,” says Johan du Plessis, Senior Executive: Information Systems and Technology at Consol Glass. “We’re also in the process of building a new factory in Ethiopia.”
What is Consol’s business ethos?
The Consol Vision is to be the supplier and pack of choice across Africa — while continuing to retain its status as the industry leader in the South African market. To achieve this requires a particular approach and as a business Consol is clear and unyielding on its operational parameters, and excellence is at the heart of this position.
A spirit of innovation and collaboration and working side by side with customers to create a product that adds quality to life, underpins the Consol approach to doing business.
Determined to always exceed customer expectations in beauty, function and quality is an attitude that’s engrained in the company and ensures Consol retains its leadership position.
How have you developed a product that the market responds to?
We’ve tapped into an existing market with an established product. Our client base ranges from bigger home industry and craft beer and craft gin, to collaborations with brand owners.
We work closely with major partners during the concept and design process to accomplish distinctive features like embossing or debossing and colour, to differentiate their product. Our customers use glass to premiumise their product.
Known as trailblazers, in 2017 alone, Consol launched 56 new product innovations. This progress and innovation is also why every year, Consol products are recognised in the IPSA Gold Pack Awards.
Consol is also committed to responding to the needs of niche markets and smaller clients, such as the microbreweries industry, for whom the company regularly creates turn-key glass packaging solutions.
We also co-brand with other companies, like we recently did with Crosse & Blackwell mayonnaise.
What inspired the Consol Shop?
Consol is often perceived as a ‘vessel brand’, when in fact it’s a versatile, recognisable part of the consumer’s everyday lifestyle — providing solutions for storage, serving, décor and more. Consol responded to the call for greater access to its products and opened its first shop in 2004.
Today Consol has three retail outlets: Woodmead (JHB), Stellenbosch (CT) and Cornubia (KZN) — all modern, industrial chic stores. The Consol Shops give consumers and small businesses access to glass packaging in any quantity — single items or bulk purchases.
The shops are also the perfect setting in which to illustrate how best to put glass to good use and the concepts are plentiful and creative.
What role has Sage and Parity played in your business success?
Sage X3’s cost-effective and standard format not only helps us with mining, but using it for our retail section made us realise we could create more of these stores without reinventing the wheel. It’s a new-age type of software where the user interface can be operated from anywhere using its state-of-the-art browser.
Sage X3 is flexible and easily configurable, so our retail-specific backend could be built. It’s not as lengthy as your typical ERP process, the cost of training is lower and owning and operating it is simpler. We converted our Cornubia store to Sage X3 after its amazing success at our Woodmead and Stellenbosch locations.
Why choose Sage X3 powered by Parity?
- Time is money in Consol’s world and Parity enabled Consol to deploy a full retail solution in three months, accommodating Consol’s functional requirements and a customised user interface to Consol’s corporate image.
- Real-time tracking of business processes and key business KPIs, with the system accessible from anywhere.
- The Sage X3 and NextPOS system has brought agility to our retail business, we can cost- effectively deploy more branches in a short space of time.
- Customer service levels were improved with a system that can work seamlessly off-line when required.
- Staff efficiencies improved through system processes, for example, the ease of use of price updates in the shop environment.
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