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5 Key Tactics That Helped Gill Bowen And Tim Hartzenberg Revitalise The Shooshoos Brand

Great brands are built when the right product finds a strong market fit, and the business has a firm strategy and strong foundations in place. Here’s how the owners of Shooshoos are taking a much-loved South African brand global.

Nadine Todd

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Vital stats

  • Players: Gill Bowen and Tim Hartzenberg
  • Company: Shooshoos
  • Launched: 1996, purchased by Gill and Tim in 2014
  • Visit: shooshoos.com

When Gill Bowen and her husband, Tim Hartzenberg bought Shooshoos in 2014, it was because they loved the product and could see its potential. Over the past three years they’ve grown the business by 35%, although this hasn’t been their core focus. Instead, they’ve been laying the foundations for much bigger growth, both locally and abroad.

Here are five ways that Gill and Tim have taken a 20-year-old business, and revitalised the brand while building a solid base from which to grow exponentially.

1Never become complacent — quality and choice keep brands relevant

Even the best brands are in danger of becoming complacent. Shooshoos was no exception. When Gill and Tim took over in 2014, they realised that although they loved the brand, it hadn’t changed much in 17 years. The result was a rise in competitors, lack-lustre retail buyers and an indifferent market.

“When Shooshoos entered the UK market for example, there was nothing like them,” says Gill. “They were new and different, and offered exceptional quality. There were no competitors on the market that even vaguely resembled them.”

Related: How Mark Sham Earned His Suits & Sneakers

But time passed, and the company did not innovate. Styles remained the same, buyers got bored of the same choices they’d had the year before, and competitors started offering their own leather baby and toddler shoes — with more variety.

“One of the first things we did was give our range a facelift. We now have 150 new styles every six months.”

However, Gill is learning that there’s a fine line between variety and too much variety. “We’re pulling our options back for two reasons. First, it will save on our imported leather costs, and these are savings we can pass on to our consumers. Second, this new strategy allows us to release limited ranges. For the true Shooshoos fan, this means something new and different, and when the range is gone, it’s gone.”

The lesson:  Brand longevity requires two core ingredients: Dependable quality and fresh designs and options. By combining both, Shooshoos has become a more desirable brand.

2A single distribution channel grows the value of a brand

shooshoos-making-shoes

Gill and Tim discovered a second problem with the business’s international growth strategy: Shooshoos had no proper trade agreements in place, and were happy to sell to anyone. The result was three distributors competing with each other for shelf space in big-box retailers and niche baby stores alike.

“This didn’t equate to more business; it did the exact opposite,” says Gill. “It drove down prices as they were all trying to get to the retailers first, and offering discounts to do so. They’d also do deals on consignment, instead of cash on delivery. This devalued our brand, because it was too easy to acquire, and retailers just waited for the biggest discount.”

The lesson: A strong distributor who understands and supports your brand strategy is vital to the overall growth and value of your brand. It’s pointless pursuing one strategy if your distributor is under-cutting the market.

3Consolidate before you focus on growth

“When we bought the business it wasn’t geared for growth. No focus had been placed on developing systems and processes, or streamlining costs,” says Gill.

The company operated out of two separate buildings (manufacturing and offices) that were a 45-minute drive apart. “It was extremely inefficient, from a cost and time perspective,” says Gill.

“One of the first things we did was consolidate into one building that houses our offices, manufacturing plant and warehouse.”

The lesson: It’s difficult to manage a disorganised work space. Inefficiencies result in hidden costs and delays. By consolidating the business under one roof, Gill and Tim were able to implement proper processes and trim costs — even though their staff complement increased from 50 to 60 employees. Firm systems and processes have given the business a sound base from which to grow.

Related: 27 Of The Richest People In South Africa

4Building an export market takes time, so lay good foundations

shooshoos-com

When Gill and Tim took over Shooshoos, the business had an international footprint, but there was no international growth strategy in place. “The US was an online store for old stock, and the UK was in disarray.”

There are two key points to consider when approaching an export market: Are you geared for its seasonality (and the long tail of exporting), and do you have a proper go-to-market strategy in place?

“We understood seasonality, and were prepared for it. You need to work 12 months ahead, because buyers will generally order eight months in advance, and their season cycles are different to yours, which requires two completely different manufacturing lines. It took 30 months to ramp the business and orders up to a decent level that we can build from.”

The go-to-market strategy that eventually led to success

Gill and Tim’s go-to-market strategy has focused on trade shows, a tactic that is working well for the business, even if it got off to a rocky start.

“The organisers of our first show assumed we were a cheap brand and stuck us in a corner. No one walked past our stand. Fortunately, we had put a lot of effort into making it look incredible, and so while no one saw our products, the organisers did — and apologised profusely for where they put us. I was able to negotiate a stand up-front at the entrance for their next show based on that. It was a prime spot, and we made our mark.”

By exhibiting at trade shows, Gill and Tim have launched the brand and been approached by Kevin Harrington’s team. “Kevin was one of the first Sharks on the US Shark Tank. He’s the inventor of the infomercial. They filmed our advert for a small production fee, and will air it for a full year, building our brand through their channels. From the second year, they take a 10% commission on every sale.

Partnering for success

“They also host a product think tank that we were selected to attend, where we can share ideas with fellow entrepreneurs at an international scale.”

An essential component of a good go-to-market strategy is making it as easy as possible for consumers to buy from you.

“Tim spent weeks filling in a mountain of paperwork, but the end result was that we were able to open a local bank account in the US. This means customers can pay us without worrying about minimum orders and international money transfers. This has been an essential part of our US strategy.”

The lesson: As with any brand, you need visibility in the market. Trade shows are a good way to learn what other brands are in the market, what customers are looking for, and to make local contacts. However, it’s not a hit-and-run strategy. It’s a continuous strategy that ensures you remain prominent.

5Find a price point that serves the business, but that the market can tolerate

shooshoos-baby-shoes

Pricing can be tricky. On the one hand, the business needs to make a profit. Undercutting yourself and competitors can lead to small (or non-existent) margins, and eventually your business will go under. The same is true of discounts, which also undervalue your brand.

Price too high and you’ll harm the business because value and price doesn’t align in consumer minds. You need to be competitive, and your value proposition must be clear.

As the local economy has tightened, Gill has recognised two key characteristics in buyer behaviour. First, where customers used to purchase three pairs of Shooshoos per basket, they now buy one or two. Second, the styles they choose tend to be essentials that can go with anything.

“Our focus is to continue growing, and we’re doing it in another recession. Exporting has spread our risk, particularly because we earn in different currencies, but we can’t lower our standards to save costs. We won’t compromise the product.”

Related: Social Innovation: Walk a Mile in Vosk Shoes

Instead, Gill has conducted focus groups with retailers and customers to understand how they’re making purchasing decisions, and the price points that the market can tolerate.

“We’ve adjusted our strategy. We still offer colourful Shooshoos made from imported leather that customers love, but we are launching a second ‘by Shooshoos’ brand that is affordable and focuses on simpler designs and colours — the ‘everyday’ baby and toddler shoe.”

The lesson: Research your target market. For example, European and US markets care about non-toxic and eco-friendly products. In South Africa, fit and price are more important. Any growth strategy must be cognisant of buying patterns and what your customers care about — and will pay for.

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

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Rich List: 2019 Richest People In The World

They’re worth billions, and their wealth continues to grow each year. Here’s the top 10 richest people globally in 2019.

Catherine Bristow

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jeff-bizos 10. Jeff Bezos

Net Worth: USD 139,5 billion

Jeff Bezos founded e-commerce giant Amazon in a garage in Seattle, USA in 1994. He also purchased The Washington Post for $250 million in 2013.

Bezos believes in always taking a long-term view and living in the present moment.

“I think this is something about which there’s a lot of controversy. A lot of people — and I’m just not one of them — believe that you should live for the now.

I think what you do is think about the great expanse of time ahead of you and try to make sure that you’re planning for that in a way that’s going to leave you ultimately satisfied. This is the way it works for me. There are a lot of paths to satisfaction and you need to find one that works for you.”

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Entrepreneur Profiles

7 Self-Made Teenager Millionaire Entrepreneurs

These teenager entrepreneurs have already made their first million and more. How did they do it and what’s their secret to success?

Catherine Bristow

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1. Evan of YouTube

evan-of-youtube

Evan and his father Jarod started a youtube channel ‘Evantube’ to review kids’ toys. The channel was a resounding success with other kids – so much so that today it boasts just over 6 million subscribers.

Evantube brings in more than USD1.4 million a year from ad revenue generated on the channel.

How did it start? With a father-son fun project making Angry Birds Stop Animation videos, and morphed into doing reviews on toys and video games. But Jarod’s dad is aware of the responsibility of Evan’s sudden fame and hopes to teach Evan about the importance of being a good role model for others.

“Most recently, we had the opportunity to work with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and were able to fulfill the wish of a young boy whose dream was to meet Evan and make a video with him at Legoland,” explains Jared. “It was a really incredible experience. YouTube has definitely opened many doors, and the kids have gotten to do some pretty amazing things.”

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Expert Advice From Property Point On Taking Your Start-Up To The Next Level

Through Property Point, Shawn Theunissen and Desigan Chetty have worked with more than 170 businesses to help them scale. Here’s what your start-up should be focusing on, based on what they’ve learnt.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Shawn Theunissen and Desigan Chetty
  • Company: Property Point
  • What they do: Property Point is an enterprise development initiative created by Growthpoint Properties, and is dedicated to unlocking opportunities for SMEs operating in South Africa’s property sector.
  • Launched: 2008
  • Visit: propertypoint.org.za

Through Property Point, Shawn Theunissen and his team have spent ten years learning what makes entrepreneurs tick and what small business owners need to implement to become medium and large business owners. In that time, over 170 businesses have moved through the programme.

While Property Point is an enterprise development (ED) initiative, the lessons are universal. If you want to take your start-up to the next level, this is a good place to start.

Risk, reputation and relationships

“We believe that everything in business comes down to the 3Rs: Risk, Reputation and Relationships. If you understand these three factors and how they influence your business and its growth, your chances of success will increase exponentially,” says Shawn Theunissen, Executive Corporate Social Responsibility at Growthpoint Properties and founder of Property Point.

So, how do the 3Rs work, and what should business owners be doing based on them?

Risk: We can all agree that there will always be risks in business. It’s how you approach and mitigate those risks that counts, which means you first need to recognise and accept them.

“We always straddle the line between hardcore business fundamentals and the relational elements and people components of doing business,” says Shawn. “For example, one of the risks that everyone faces in South Africa is that we all make decisions based on unconscious biases. As a business owner, we need to recognise how this affects potential customers, employees, stakeholders and even ourselves as entrepreneurs.”

Reputation: Because Property Point is an ED initiative, its 170 alumni are black business owners, and so this is an area of bias that they focus on, but the rule holds true for all biases. “In the context of South Africa, small black businesses are seen as higher risk. To overcome this, black-owned businesses should focus on the reputational component of their companies. What’s the track record of the business?”

A business owner who approaches deals in this way can focus on building the value proposition of the business, outlining the capacity and capabilities of the business and its core team to deliver how the business is run, and specific service offerings.

“From a business development perspective, if you can provide a good track record, it diminishes the customer’s unconscious bias,” says Shawn. “Now the entrepreneur isn’t just being judged through one lens, but rather based on what they have done and delivered.”

Related: Property Point Creates R1bn In Procurement Opportunities For Small Businesses

Relationship: “We believe that fundamentally people do business with people,” says Shawn. “There needs to be culture match and fluency in terms of relations to make the job easier. As a general rule, the ease of doing business increases if there is a culture match.”

This relates to understanding what your client needs, how they want to do business, their user experience and customer experience. “We like to call it sharpening the pencil,” says Desigan Chetty, Property Point’s Head of Operations.

“In terms of value proposition, does your service offering focus on solving the client’s needs? Is there a culture match between you and your client? And if you realise there isn’t, can you walk away, or do you continue to focus time and energy on the wrong type of service offering to the wrong client? This isn’t learnt over- night. It takes time and small but constant adjustments to the direction you’re taking.”

In fact, Desigan advises walking away from the wrong business so that you can focus on your core competencies. “If you reach a space where you work well with a client and you’ve stuck to your core competencies, business is just going to be easier. It becomes easier for you to deliver. Sometimes entrepreneurs stretch themselves to try to provide a service to a client that’s not serving either of their needs. This strategy will never lead to growth — at least not sustainable growth.”

Instead, Desigan recommends choosing an entry point through a specific offering based on an explicit need. “Too often we see entrepreneurs whose offerings are so broad that they don’t focus,” he says. “Instead, understand what your client’s need is and address that need, even if it means that it’s only one out of your five offerings. Your likelihood of success if you go where the need is, is much higher.

“Once you get in, prove yourself through service delivery. It’s a lot easier to on-sell and cross sell once you have a foot in the door. You’re now building a relationship, learning the internal culture, how things work, what processes are followed and so on — the client’s landscape is easier to navigate. The challenge is to get in. Once you’re in, you can entrench yourself.”

Desigan and Shawn agree that this is one of the reasons why suppliers to large corporates become so entrenched. “Once you’re in, you can capitalise from other needs that may have emanated from your entry point and unlock opportunities,” says Shawn.

Building a sustainable start-up

While all start-ups are different, there are challenges most entrepreneurs share and key areas they should focus on.

Shawn and Desigan share the top five areas you should focus on.

1. Align and partner with the right people

This includes your staff, stakeholders, partners, suppliers and clients. Partnerships are the best thing to take you forward. The key is to collaborate and partner with the right people based on an alignment of objectives and culture. It’s when you don’t tick all the boxes that things don’t work out.

2. Make sure you get the basics right

Never neglect business fundamentals. Do you have the processes and systems in place to scale the business?

3. Understand your value proposition

Are you on a journey with your clients? Is your value proposition aligned to the need you’re trying to solve for your clients? Are you looking ahead of the curve — what’s the problem, what are your clients saying and are you being proactive in leveraging that relationship?

Related: Want To Start A Property Business That Buys Property And Rents It Out?

4. Unpack your value chain

If you want to diversify, understand your value chain. What is it, where are the opportunities both horizontally and vertically within your client base, and what other solutions can you offer based on your areas of expertise?

8. Don’t ignore technology

Be aware of what’s happening in the tech space and where you can use it to enable your business. Tech impacts everything, even more traditional industries. Businesses that embrace technology work smarter, faster and often at a lower cost base.

Ultimately, Desigan and Shawn believe that success often just comes down to attitude. “We have one entrepreneur in our programme who applied twice,” says Shawn. “When he was rejected, he listened to the feedback we gave him and instead of thinking we were wrong, went away, made changes and came back. He was willing to learn and open himself up to different ways of approaching things. That business has grown from R300 000 per annum to R20 million since joining us.

“Too many business owners aren’t willing to evaluate and adjust how they do things. It’s those who want to learn and embrace change and growth that excel.”

Networking, collaborating and mentoring

Property Point holds regular networking sessions called Entrepreneurship To The Point. They are open to the public and have two core aims. First, to provide entrepreneurs access to top speakers and entrepreneurs, and second, to give like-minded business owners an opportunity to network and possibly even collaborate.

“We believe in the power of collaboration and networking,” says Desigan.

“Most of our alumni become mentors themselves to new entrants to the programme. They want to share what they have learnt with other entrepreneurs, but they also know that they can learn from newer and younger entrepreneurs. The business landscape is always changing. Insights can come from anywhere and everywhere.”

The To The Point sessions are designed to help business owners widen their network, whether they are Property Point entrepreneurs or not.

To find out more, visit www.ettp.co.za

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