He’s already proven his entrepreneurial chops, but Durban-based Brett Latimer is at it again. By turning customers into fans, he’s shaken up the food business in South Africa’s most laidback city, taking his store’s turnover from R4 million to R34 million – in its first month.
Three steps to high-impact growth
Latimer cares for his employees as if they were family. He greets them every day, provides training and incentives to do well and, most importantly, he pays them well.
Latimer did his homework before opening the store, identifying that there was a gap in the LSM 5 to 10 market for a one-stop food shop that was a cut above the rest when it comes to variety, quality and customer service.
By going direct to farmers and suppliers, Latimer has stripped out unnecessary layers from his business model, making it possible to pass the resulting cost-savings on to his customers.
From modest beginnings
Small taxi-rank butchery or high-quality foodmarket, Brett Latimer’s understanding of trends has fuelled growth.
Charismatic and super-energetic, Brett Latimer exudes the magnetism of a celebrity. Not quite what you would expect from your grocer. But that’s probably why he’s been so ridiculously successful.
Latimer’s father, a boxer, died when he was 11, but he taught him a very important lesson: When you get knocked down, get up again immediately. It’s a mantra that he’s lived by all his life. He struggled at school, and was no academic achiever.
After failing a couple of times, his mother sent him to Damelin, where he did commerce and typing. He had planned to study law at university, but he soon realised that tertiary education was not for him. Luckily, when he turned 18, he received an inheritance of R17 000. Both his father and grandfather had been butchers, so it was natural for him to follow suit, especially because he idolised both of them. But first he needed to learn the trade.
He joined the Avonmore Spar in Durban as a trainee manager. There he learnt all about how to buy meat, debone and cut it. He also got to work with staff at all levels, and gained experience in dealing with people from all walks of life, which taught him the value of being friendly and polite to everyone.
By age 22 he had invested his inheritance in a small butcher shop in Overport. Thanks to the position of the butchery close to the taxi rank, he sold a lot of pre-packed meat for busy consumers. Two years later, he sold the store for 100% profit.
Next, in the early 80s, he bought a rundown store in Isipingo, again catering for taxi commuters and blue collar workers. He set up braais outside the shop to attract shift workers with the aroma of meat on the fire, recognising a gap in the market that would develop into today’s highly popular shisa nyama fast-food craze.
Latimer stayed in the meat business for many years, at one point owning 17 butcheries including seven located inside Boxer Cash and Carry Stores, all of which catered to the working class. Over the years he consolidated these down to six Cambridge Food stores, which he sold for more than R500 million to JSE-listed Massmart between 2008 and 2010.
By that time, he says, he felt like he’d been driving the same car for years and it was time to trade it in for a new ride. After a short sabbatical, he got together with his business partner Paul Beltramo, and invested R75 million in a new store in Tara Road on The Bluff, one of the most densely traded streets in the area, and called it Oxford Freshmarket.
He made the move, he says, because he believes the future lies in high-quality food. Given the shift in the role that food plays in our lives and in our culture, he’s definitely on the right track. Food has become more than one of life’s great pleasures.
Think Masterchef. It’s a signifier of style, too. The notion that ‘you are what you eat’ extends beyond the virtues of a nutritious, well-balanced diet. Beyond the overwhelming popularity of reality TV cooking shows, food and cooking websites are attracting 70 million visitors each month.
These days, it often seems that you are what you buy in the supermarket, or at the organic farmer’s market. The grocery list has become a reflection of people’s values and identity. Food is the new fashion, and Latimer is cashing in on the trend.
Employees who shine
Latimer has tons of praise for his staff who, he says, make all the difference when it comes to customer service. We asked him what makes them so nice. “We pay people well. The entry level salary is R3 000 a month. We have employees who started on that and are now earning R8 000. Also, our staff are full-time and not on contract. We’ve created a family of around 350 people who are all 100% invested in the business.”
But how does he get that right?
“I engage with the staff every day. I greet all of them. We hug, we squeeze. I promise you that one thing I have learnt over time is that every single human being longs for some form of recognition. They want you to ask them how they are and to listen to the answer. That’s why we also employ for attitude, not excellence; we want friendly people who are looking for an opportunity and want to be part of our movie. We want people who are committed to improving themselves. They know that we are there for them. This is their Oxford university of life.”
What training do you provide?
The training is done by me and my partner Paul. It’s all based on hands-on experience that we have gained over many years in the business. We specifically avoided hiring an HR manager until now because we wanted to establish our own principles and values first and then have that person take those forward. The point is that we want our employees to be followers — we don’t want to beat people to get them to work.
The lesson: A strong growth strategy requires a focus on staff. Latimer has always encouraged his staff to feel like the business is a part of them. He cares about them, and they care about the business as a result.
The customer experience difference
There are several upmarket food retailers in the country. What’s different about Oxford Freshmarket compared to other food stores?
“Our customers love us. It’s what we call a destination store. It’s in a convenient location which makes it easy for people to drive right up to the shop and park outside. You walk into a store with a dramatic open plan flow, which has a fairly industrial feel with beautiful finishes, like a cross between a Woolworths and a Makro. It’s segmented into areas for fresh produce, a butchery, a bakery and a grocery section. Each area is staffed by people who have expertise in what they are selling. They are invested in what they do and behave as if it’s their own business.
Yeah, yeah… What else?
The store opens at 6.00am and it closes at 9.00pm. We’re all about convenience. Like our signage says, ‘We’ve done our homework with you in mind.’
When customers come to the store, they can see the staff working in the butchery section and they can watch the bakers making bread. At other stores, you don’t see that. Everything is pre-packaged and the process of buying is completely impersonal.
Here, we treat customers like we want to be treated. We greet our customers. We thank them for coming to shop at Oxford Freshmarket. We help them put their purchases in their car and we wave them goodbye.
What’s with the mic and the PA system?
I love what I do. I’m over the top. I get on the mic and tell customers about our specials. When we’re busy and we have no time to meet, I give the staff updates on what they need to know.
We have nothing to hide from our customers. They’re part of the family. It’s all about talking to people all the time. A few weeks ago I went to a restaurant for dinner.
The owner walked past our table several times and did not greet us once. That’s terrible service and I won’t be going back. At Oxford Freshmarket, the customer experiences the exact opposite.
The lesson: When you devise a business model, think about the customer first. What do they really need? If you can answer this question and build something that really suits them, whether it’s a product, store or service, you will always have customers.
Great prices without quality sacrifices
Latimer was forward-thinking enough when he sold Cambridge Foods to Massmart to ensure that he concluded a preferential procurement deal with them. It’s one of the factors that made it possible for Oxford Freshmarket to cater for the masses of customers who lined up outside the store in its first month.
What he’s also done is cut unnecessary layers out of the business and focused on connecting directly with suppliers and farmers as much as possible. This allows him to cut out extremely expensive financial and retail middlemen.
“It means we can sell a fillet for R109, compared to other retailers where customers pay R200 for the same cut. We go direct where possible, which enables us to cut out a lot of unnecessary expenditure. It requires you to work longer hours because you are driving to farms and markets, but it does mean you can pass the savings on to your customers. I’m a great admirer of Raymond Ackerman and he once said to me, “Remember that rich people like low prices and poor people need them.”
Latimer insists that Oxford Freshmarket is the only food retailer that sells everything under one roof, which also helps to ensure that savings are passed on to customers. “We do the shopping for the consumer so that they don’t have to go from store to store to get the freshest and best quality food items.”
The lesson: Finding the right price is all about understanding your customers and aligning their expectations with your prices. The next step is reviewing your business model carefully and seeing where you can curb unnecessary expenditure.
Super start-up opportunity
We asked Brett Latimer what he would do today if he was a young entrepreneur having to bootstrap himself to success.
“If I wanted to go into business as a young person today, the first thing I would suggest is make sure that every time you go into something, have an exit strategy, or what I call a back door.”
Why? Because you need to know whether you are trying to establish a lifestyle business that generates income without plans to sell it in the future, or you are building equity in a business that you may want to transform into cash.
Depending on your goals, the type of business you choose and the way you grow it should be aligned with your objectives. If, one day, you plan to exit your business and transform your equity into cash through a sale, you need to prepare for that every step of the way. You’ll need to build value and equity in your company by selling great products, backed by unique services and relationships.
The container concept
There are great opportunities for young entrepreneurs that Latimer wants to offer under the Oxford Freshmarket banner.
“In Durban there is a wonderful coffee shop called Freedom Café, which is housed in a converted red shipping container with a glass extension. It’s attractive and filled with quirky details like dachshund salt and pepper holders.
“I’d like to see young people who want to get into retail buying containers like this one and turning them into retail outlets equipped with a refrigerator. I’ve even registered a name for these stores — Hit ‘n Run — because they’ll cater for people who need to stop in quickly on the way home to buy meat, vegetables, bread and groceries.”
Latimer says he is a great believer in entrepreneurship and wants to encourage interested people to take the opportunity to go into supermarket retail. In line with the model he envisages, the container-based stores would be franchises of Oxford Freshmarket and operate under its banner. However, he says, he would not charge a franchise fee.
“Under our brand we would set rules about minimum hygiene standards and create a list of products to be sold. I would advise entrepreneurs who are keen on the concept to set aside R100 000 for stock. We would provide them with model stock and advise them what the top sellers are in the market they are trading into, and enable them to come to Oxford Freshmarket to buy their stock at wholesale prices from us. We’d act as a cash-and-carry for them, but strip out all the additional costs, which would make them more competitive than other retailers in the space.”
Latimer says he sees enormous potential for this type of business model in the KwaZulu Natal hinterland. “Business owners could position themselves at taxi drop-off points, set up an instant shop with instant signage, and get all the mentoring and support they need in merchandising from us. They would even have the opportunity to buy the rights for a particular area and grow the number of stores they have.”
It’s a subject he feels strongly about because, he says, it’s black economic enrichment that is being promoted by government, but not actual empowerment. “We want to help and encourage all people who are keen to get into the supermarket retail trade so that they can truly change their lives.”
For more information on this exciting new concept, contact Oxford Freshmarket at email@example.com
Jason English On Growing Prommac’s Turnover Tenfold And Being Mindful Of The ‘Oros Effect’
Rapid growth and expansion can lead to a dilution of the foundational principles that defined your company in its early days. Jason English of Prommac discusses how you can retain your company’s culture and vision while growing quickly.
- Player: Jason English
- Position: CEO
- Company: Prommac
- Associations: Young President’s Organisation (YPO)
- Turnover: R300 million (R1 billion as a group)
- Visit: prommac.com
- About: Prommac is a construction services business specialising in commissioning, plant maintenance, plant shutdowns and capital projects. Jason English purchased the majority of the company late in 2012, and currently acts as its CEO. Under his leadership, the company has grown from a small business to an international operation.
Since Jason English purchased Prommac in 2012, the company has experienced phenomenal growth. At the time he took over as owner and CEO, it was a small operation that boasted a turnover below R50 million.
Today, Prommac is part of a diversified group of companies under the CG Holdings umbrella and alone has grown it’s turnover nearly ten fold since Jason English took over. As a group, CG Holdings, of which Jason is a founder, is generating in excess of R1 billion. How has Prommac managed such phenomenal growth? According to Jason, it’s all about company culture… and about protecting your glass of Oros.
“As your business grows, it suffers from something that I call the Oros Effect. Think of your small start-up as an undiluted glass of Oros. When you’re leading a small company, it really is a product of you. You know everything about the business and you make every decision. The systems, the processes, the culture — these are all a product of your actions and beliefs. As you grow, though, things start to change. With every new person added to the mix, you dilute that glass of Oros.
“That’s not to say that your employees are doing anything wrong, or that they are actively trying to damage the business, but the culture — which was once so clear — becomes hazy. The company loses that singular vision. As the owner, you’re forced to share ‘your Oros’ with an increasing number of people, and by pouring more and more of it into other glasses, it loses the distinctive flavour it once had. By the time you’re at the head of a large international company, you can easily be left with a glass that contains more water than Oros.
“Protecting and nurturing a company’s culture isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. Prommac has enjoyed excellent growth, and I ascribe a lot of that success to our company culture. Whenever we’ve spent real time and money on replenishing the Oros, we’ve seen the benefits of it directly afterwards.
“There have been times when we have made the tough decision to slow growth and focus on getting the culture right. Growth is great, of course, but it’s hard to get the culture right when new people are joining the company all the time and you’re scaling aggressively. So, we’ve slowed down at times, but we’ve almost always seen immediate benefits in terms of growth afterwards. We focus heavily on training that deals with things like the systems, processes and culture of the company. We’ve also created a culture and environment that you won’t necessarily associate with engineering and heavy industries. In fact, it has more in common with a Silicon Valley company like Google than your traditional engineering firm.
“Acquisitions can be particularly tricky when it comes to culture and vision. As mentioned, CG Holdings has acquired several companies over the last few years, and when it comes to acquisition, managing the culture is far trickier than it is with normal hiring. When you hire a new employee, you can educate them in the ways and culture of the business. When you acquire an entire company, you import not only a large number of new people, but also an existing organisation with its own culture and vision. Because of this, we’ve created a centralised hub that manages all training and other company activities pertaining to culture. We don’t allow the various companies to do their own thing. That helps to manage the culture as the company grows and expands, since it ensures that everyone’s on the same page.
“Systems and processes need to make sense. One of the key reasons that drove us to create a central platform for training is the belief that systems and processes need to make sense to employees. Everyone should understand the benefits of using a system. If they don’t understand a system or process, they will revert to what they did in the past, especially when you’re talking about an acquired company. You should expect employees to make use of the proper systems and processes, but they need to be properly trained in them first. A lot of companies have great systems, but they aren’t very good at actually implementing them, and the primary reason for this is a lack of training.
“Operations — getting the work done — is seen as the priority, and training is only done if and when a bit of extra time is available. We fell into that trap a year ago. We had enjoyed a lot of growth and momentum, so we didn’t slow down. Eventually, we could see that this huge push, and the consequent lack of focus on the core values of the business, were affecting operations. So, we had to put the hammer down and refocus on systems, processes and culture. Today Prommac is back at the top of it’s game having been awarded the prestigious Service Provider of the year for 2017 by Sasol for both their Secunda and Sasolburg chemical complexes.
“If you want to know about the state of your company’s culture, go outside the business. We realised that we needed to ‘pour more Oros into the company’ by asking clients. We use customer surveys to track our own performance and to make sure that the company is in a healthy state. It’s a great way to monitor your organisation, and there are trigger questions that can be asked, which will give you immediate insight into the state of the culture.
“It’s important, of course, to ask your employees about the state of the business and its culture as well, but you should also ask your customers. Your clients will quickly pick up if something is wrong. The fact of the matter is, internal things like culture can have a dramatic effect on the level of service offered to customers. That’s why it’s so important to spend time on these internal things — they have a direct impact on every aspect of the business.
“Remember that clients understand the value of training. There is always a tension between training and operational requirements, but don’t assume that your clients will automatically be annoyed because you’re sending employees on training. Be open and honest, explain to a client that an employee who regularly services the company will be going on training. Ultimately, the client benefits if you spend time and money on an employee that they regularly deal with.
“For the most part, they will understand and respect your decision. At times, there will be push back, both from clients and from your own managers, but you need to be firm. In the long term, training is win-win for everyone involved. Also, you don’t want a client to become overly dependent on a single employee from your company. What if that employee quits? Training offers a good opportunity to swop out employees, and to ensure that you have a group of individuals who can be assigned to a specific client. We rotate our people to make sure that no single person becomes a knowledge expert on a client’s facility, so when we need to pull someone out of the system for training, it’s not the end of the world.
“Managers will often be your biggest challenge when it comes to training. Early on, we hired a lot of young people we could train from scratch. As we grew and needed more expertise, we started hiring senior employees with experience. When it came to things like systems, processes and culture, we actually had far more issues with some of the senior people.
“Someone with significant experience approaches things with preconceived notions and beliefs, so it can be more difficult to get buy-in from them. Don’t assume that training is only for entry-level employees. You need to focus on your senior people and make sure that they see the value of what you are doing. It doesn’t matter how much Oros you add to the mix if managers keep diluting it.”
When Jason English purchased Prommac late in 2012, the company had a turnover of less than R50 million. This has grown nearly ten fold in just under five years. How? By focusing on people, culture and training.
Who’s Leading Your Business Billy Selekane Asks – You Or The Monkey On Your Back?
You’re either a change-maker, or someone who is influenced by the shifting conditions around you. The truly successful know how to determine their own destinies. Here’s how they do it.
- Player: Billy Selekane
- Company: Billy Selekane and Associates
- About: Billy Selekane is an author, internationally acclaimed inspirational keynote speaker, and a personal, team and organisational effectiveness specialist.
- Visit: billyselekanespeaks.com
We live in a world of disruption. We live in a world where Airbnb’s valuation is $31 billion, but the Hilton’s market cap is $30 billion. Airbnb doesn’t own one square kilometre, and yet they’re worth more than the world’s biggest hotel chains with enormous assets. We live in a world where things have been turned upside down.
In this brave new world, you can either thrive, or fight to survive. As a leader in your organisation, the choices you make, the mental mind-space you occupy and how you engage with those around you, will determine your personal success, as well as that of your entire organisation.
“The business of business is people. You can’t just pay lip service to the idea that they are your most important asset. You need to live it. Leaders must be intelligent and honest. You can’t just push people to meet the numbers,” says Billy Selekane, personal and business mastery expert and international speaker.
The problem is that great leaders need to first find balance within, before they can successfully lead their organisations.
“Things can no longer be done the same way,” says Billy. “Success today is defined by people who are driven, are inspired by their own lives and goals, and have the power and capability to inspire others.” But before you can achieve any of this, you need to rid yourself of the monkey on your back.
Related: Billy Selekane
The monkey on your back
“If I continue doing what I’m doing, and thinking what I’m thinking, I’ll continue to have what I have,” says Billy. “That’s the definition of insanity. Are you doing things by default or design?”
Billy’s analogy is a simple one. It’s something we can all relate to, and it’s the single biggest thing stopping us from clearing our minds, focusing on the positive and achieving success. He calls it the monkey on our backs.
“Every one of us is born with an invisible monkey on their shoulder,” says Billy. “Your monkey is always with you. Sometimes they’re the one speaking, and you need to be careful of that.” What you need to be even more aware of than your own monkey though, is everyone else’s monkeys.
“Every interaction we have is an opportunity for what I call a monkey download. You have an argument with your spouse before work, and you end up getting into your car with not only your monkey, but theirs as well. Your irritation level has doubled thanks to the extra monkey. Now you get irritated with a pointsman, another driver or a taxi on your way to work. You’ve just added three monkeys.
“By the time you walk into the office, you’re bringing an entire village of monkeys with you. They’re clamouring, clattering, arguing with each other, and the noise is deafening. Not only does everyone get out of your way, but you can’t hear yourself think. And the more your mood drops, the more monkeys you download from the people around you. This is not the path to focus, achieving your goals or being happy. It’s certainly not the path to great leadership.
“Great leaders know how to keep all those monkeys out. They know how to control their moods, and regulate their own positivity. They understand that they are the architects of their own success.”
Getting out of the monkey business
To be a great leader — and personally successful and happy — you need to start by getting out of your own way, and as Billy calls it, ‘getting out of the monkey business.’ You need to not only shake your own monkey, but everyone else’s as well.
According to Billy, there are four simple areas you can begin focusing on today that will help you become the person (and leader) you want to be.
First, honesty is the foundation of everything else you should be doing. “Be clear and straight. Speak to people simply and honestly, but with respect. Connect with them, not through the head, but with the heart. Don’t play tricks.”
Next, be authentic. All great leaders are authentic, and recognised as such. Aligned with this is integrity. “This is sadly out of stock, not only in South Africa, but the world,” says Billy.
“There is nothing as disturbing as a leader without integrity, and on a personal level, you won’t achieve emotional stability if you aren’t a person of integrity.”
Finally, you need to embrace love. “Wish your employees well. Wish your family, friends and connections well. When we are given love, and trusted to perform, we take that and pay it forward. In the case of business, this means your employees are giving the same love to customers, but if everyone showed a little more love, the world would be a better place. When people feel cared for, they show up with their hearts and wallets, and they pay it forward.
“Great leaders understand this. They don’t only focus on making themselves better, but adding to everyone around them. Remember this: In every business, there are no bad employees, just bad leaders. Employees are a reflection of that.”
If you want to build a better future, business or life, you need to start with yourself.
Stop letting negative thoughts and minor irritations derail you. You are the master of your moods and thoughts, so take personal responsibility for them.
Shark Tank Funded Start-up Native Decor’s Founder on Investment, Mentorship And Dreaming Big
Vusani Ravele secured offers from every single Shark in the first episode of Shark Tank South Africa, eventually settling on an offer from Gil Oved from The Creative Counsel. Entrepreneur asked to him how this investment has changed his business.
- Player: Vusani Ravele
- Company: Native Decor
- Established: February 2016
- Visit: nativedecor.co.za
- About: Native Decor creates visually pleasing products from sustainable timber. The company’s designs are innovative and functional, with its creations mostly inspired by South African cultures, landscapes and wildlife.
It all started with a cordless drill. In February 2015, Vusani Ravele received a drill from his girlfriend as a Valentine’s Day gift. He immediately became obsessed.
“I couldn’t stop drilling holes in things,” Vusani laughs. “I just loved working with my hands.”
Unlike most people, who lose interest in a Valentine’s Day gift by the first day of March, Vusani’s passion for his cordless drill didn’t dissipate. Instead, it had reignited a spark. Thanks to that cordless drill, he rediscovered a love for design he’d first felt in high school. And one year later, he had started a company called Native Decor.
As a start-up he then made the bold move to enter the inaugural season of Shark Tank South Africa. He was funded by Gil Oved on the very first episode. It was a life-changing experience, but Vusani is keeping a level head. The money helps, but he’s trying not to let it change his approach too much.
I’m doing my best not to think of Native Decor as a funded start-up. The money has allowed me to do certain things, like buy a new CNC machine, but I still try to think like a founder without money. Once you have a bit of money in the bank, the temptation exists to throw it at every problem, but that’s not how you create a successful business.
You need to bootstrap and pretend that you don’t have a cent in the bank. With a bit of lateral thinking, you can often come up with a solution that doesn’t require money. It might require more effort, sure, but I believe it creates a stronger foundation for your business. If a business can carry itself from early on, its odds for long-term success are much higher. You also need to fight the urge to spend money on things like fancy premises or extra staff. The longer you can keep things lean, the more runway you create for yourself.
I didn’t enter Shark Tank just for the money. The money was important, of course, but there was more to it than that. Looking purely at money versus equity, Gil Oved’s offer wasn’t the best, but I knew that I wanted to work with Gil. Stepping into the room, my primary aim was to attract him to the business.
He wanted 50% equity for R400 000 of investment. I wanted to give away 25% for the same amount. We settled on 40% for R400 000 with an additional R3 million line of credit. It was more of the company than I initially wanted to give away, but I was okay with it, since I saw it as the cost of Gil’s involvement, which I knew would add bigger value to the business than just the cash injection.
Investment comes in many forms. I wanted Gil to invest in the business because I realised that investment isn’t purely about money. I didn’t just want him to invest his cash in Native Decor, I also wanted him to invest his time and energy. You can get money in different places. You can create a business that funds its own growth, for example, or you can get a loan from a bank.
What an investor like Gil offers, however, is knowledge and access to a network. Money can help a lot with the growth of a business, but a great partner can help even more. By giving Gil 40% of the business, I’ve ensured that he has skin in game. He has a vested interest in seeing Native Decor succeed, and that’s worth more than any monetary investment.
True mentorship can be a game-changer if you’re running a young start-up. A great advantage that often comes with investment is mentorship from someone who knows the pitfalls of the entrepreneurial game. With a new business, it’s easy to be sidetracked or to chase an opportunity down a dead end.
Gil is visionary, and he has helped me focus on the long-term goals I have for Native Decor. He has also helped me to think big. As young entrepreneurs, I believe we often think too small. We don’t chase those audacious goals. Someone like Gil, who has seen huge success, can help you push things further and to dream bigger.
You need to dream big, but act small. It’s important to have big dreams for your business, but you should also chase those easy opportunities that can help you build traction. When I started, I wanted to try and get my products into large retail stores, but the fact of the matter was, as a start-up, I didn’t have a strong negotiating position.
There was a lot of bureaucracy to deal with. Gil advised me to focus on the ‘low-hanging fruit’ — those small gift stores that would be keen to carry my products. By doing this, I’m gaining traction and building a track record for the business. Also, I realised the importance of aligning myself with the right kind of stores. Perhaps being in a large retailer isn’t a good idea, since this is where you typically get cheap items produced overseas. Unless you’re purely competing on price, that’s probably not where you want to be.
Funding is great but it’s not all about the money. If that’s what you’re chasing you’re doing your start-up an injustice.
Watch the Shark Tank investment episode here:
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