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Going The Extra Mile With Neil Robinson Of Relate Bracelets

In business, your offering is only as good as your relationships. Neil Robinson from Relate Bracelets explains how FedEx Express has helped the business grow into Africa and beyond.

FedEx

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  • Who? Neil Robinson
  • Company: Relate Bracelets
  • Position: Managing Director
  • Visit: relate.org.za

Neil Robinson, MD of Relate Bracelets understands the importance of business relationships. While Relate is a non-profit organisation, it is run like a business. It does not rely on donors, but instead produces and sells a product.

For each bracelet sold, one third of the income goes towards the materials and operating costs, one third supports the people who produce the bracelets, and one third goes to the charity for which that particular bracelet is branded.

In order for the business model to work and be sustainable, Relate’s partners are incredibly important. These include the retail chains that stock the product and who provide prime point-of-sale positioning, the charities who Relate works with, and most importantly, Relate’s logistics service provider, FedEx Express.

“Retail is all about visibility and availability,” explains Neil. “A brand is a living, breathing thing. People can see it, use it, and comment on it, but if they can’t access it, it’s all for naught. And so, at the point of purchase, it’s both visible and available, or it’s not.

“Logistics is key. You need to get your product to the retailer on time, 100% of the time. The expertise and focus that FedEx displays in supply chain and logistics encompasses far more than just retail, they understand our specific needs, making them a strategic partner, rather than merely a supplier.”

Related: Zenzele Fitness’s Clever Tactics To Grow In Next To No Time

Building a relationship

The FedEx/Relate Bracelets relationship stretches back to 2009, when Relate Bracelets launched its first campaign with ‘Unite Against Malaria’ leading up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

“We did the first campaign in partnership with Nando’s,” says Neil. “Robbie Brozin was passionate about the cause, and he pulled in strategic partners to launch the campaign. Within two years we’d shipped hundreds of thousands of bracelets. FedEx was an incredible partner, ensuring the integrity of our product and time-sensitive deliveries, and we’ve worked with them ever since.”

As with all good B2B relationships, the FedEx and Relate Bracelets teams understand that regular strategy sessions and updates are important.

“FedEx understands the inner workings of our business,” says Neil.

“A successful campaign has multiple elements, from planning and strategy, to marketing support, pricing and distribution planning. Of these, distribution planning is the most critical. For us, the bridge between our brand and the consumer is logistics. FedEx have delivered beyond expectations. They literally and figuratively go the extra mile for us.”

Protecting a brand

FedEx has customers across different industries and each of their needs are different. In the case of Relate, who operate in the retail sector, buying patterns are important. “Retailers run a tight ship,” explains Neil.

“They have planning cycles and seasons. Besides the fact that penalty clauses are built into contracts, you can’t miss a deadline by two days, or you’re in the next cycle, and that might be two weeks later. Not only are you missing out on valuable shelf time, but this can affect an entire campaign. Lost sales can also influence the retailers’ buying decision the following season. FedEx has made it their business to understand our business, so they know what’s at stake and what’s important to us.”

Supporting growth

FedEx has also played an integral role in the overall expansion of Relate Bracelets, particularly into new markets. “As a global organisation, FedEx has been absolutely critical in supporting us to grow our business into Africa, the US, Australia, the UK, Western Europe, and now New Zealand. They play an enormous role in the delivery of our products, with sophisticated tracking systems ensuring that the quality and integrity of our products are maintained.”

Through the relationship with FedEx, Relate experiences the benefits of working with a globally recognised and credible brand. “When you work with quality, you get quality.”

Related: Entrepreneur BB Moloi’s Inspiring Story of Rise To Success Through Grit And Hard Work

The business

If you’ve ever bought a beaded bracelet that supports a cause (for example: United Against Malaria, Operation Smile SA or PinkDrive), chances are it was a Relate Bracelet. If you bought it at Woolworths, Clicks, Sorbet or Foschini, it most definitely was.

To date, Relate Bracelets has raised more than R40 million, which supports various charities and ‘gogos’, women living on government grants and supporting their grandchildren, and who desperately need the additional income Relate Bracelets provides.

FedEx Express is the world’s largest express transportation company, providing fast and reliable delivery to more than 220 countries and territories.  FedEx Express uses a global air-and-ground network to speed delivery of time-sensitive shipments, by a definite time and date with a money-back guarantee.

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Customers Are The Heart Of Innovative Businesses

Keep your customer at the heart of your business.

Viga Interactive

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One of the main reasons start-ups fail is because they don’t create solutions that meet their customers’ needs. Failure is avoidable. Businesses that understand their customers feelings, challenges, expectations and motivations make themselves indispensable in highly competitive markets because they recognise that true innovation is led by customer insight.

An incredible example of a business that believes in innovation driven by insight is Netflix. They revolutionised the way people watch video content by listening to their customer’s needs. You’ve probably heard the story before: after paying a $40 overdue DVD fee, Reed Hastings co-founded Netflix. He was simply too busy to return his DVD. He recognised that this experience wasn’t exclusive to him, but that it was a problem that many people faced. He saw a gap in the market for receiving and returning videos more effectively, and that is how the $150 billion business was born.

If your start-up doesn’t fulfil a human need, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s not enough to have a cool idea. Ask yourself, “What is the market need behind the offering?” and then test ways of delivering your offering in the most user-friendly manner. Talk to your consumers, understand their likes and dislikes and establish your business purpose before haphazardly allocating funds to R&D.

Related: How Netflix Is Now Disrupting The Film Industry By Embracing Short-Term Chaos

You can’t go from being a California based DVD-by-mail provider, to becoming the world’s largest online video streaming service without a business plan. It’s important to recognise the step-by-step process of success. Netflix didn’t go from delivering DVD’s to pouring capital into the production of video content within six months. That sort of development would have bankrupt the company almost immediately. It took 21 years for the business to become content creators.

  • In 1999, the company became a subscription service because they found that customers preferred paying a monthly fee rather than making a once off purchase.
  • Then, in 2009, the company used investor capital to expand their DVD collection because their clients wanted a larger selection of movies.
  • In 2010, the business expanded internationally because they saw a gap in the market across various countries.
  • Finally, in 2013, Netflix created its first original content series because customers craved fascinating content beyond the overused Hollywood archetype.

The point is: Progress didn’t happen overnight. The business had to set goals and objectives. They then had to fund their growth by presenting market opportunities, backed by customer insights, to their investors. Establish your start-up one step at a time and make sure every progression isn’t innovation for innovations sake – it must be inspired by a human need.

13-reasons-whyNetflix was founded by a computer scientist and a marketing director. While one partner focused on Netflix’ service development, the other focused on sales. Since the company’s origin, collaboration and balance have been the cornerstones of the business’ success.

Netflix is currently composed of a diverse team of tech-professionals and designers. They understand the importance of combining technology and design to offer customer-inspired user-experiences.

After conducting consumer research, Netflix discovered that series and movie artwork influences viewing decisions by 82%. This has resulted in the creation of more descriptive and provocative designs. Netflix is known for leveraging human-behaviour to revolutionise their service offering.

As an entrepreneur, you can increase your ROI by partnering with the experts that understand human-based innovation.

Keep your customer at the heart of your business.

Related: What These 5 Digital KPIs Say About Your Business

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Building Customer Relationships

Are you working in a retail environment? Explore the Wits Plus online short course in Customer Relationship Building through the DigitalCampus.

Wits Plus

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Most retail businesses agree that providing excellent customer experience is imperative for a retail store to be successful.

But what is customer experience?  According to Forrester, an independent market research company, customer experience is “How customers perceive their interactions with your company”.

They explain that good customer experiences have three relevant characteristics for the customer:

  1. They are useful, thus deliver value and meet customer needs.
  2. They are usable, so the value is easy to find and engage with.
  3. They are enjoyable, and emotionally engaging so people want to use them.

The customer ‘interactions’ are the two-way exchanges that customers have with the company. A customer will make a judgement as to whether the company meets their needs, is easy to use and enjoyable to do business with. These judgements happen every single time the customer interacts with the company: when they navigate the company website, call the contact centre, enter the retail store, buy company products, talk to an employee, respond to an advert and so forth.

Providing excellent customer experience is challenging. The systems and processes required for excellent customer experience include understanding your customers, building a positive emotional connection with them, capturing and acting on feedback, developing and training everyone in the company and measuring the return on investment. All this is difficult enough to manage in a national company but what does it mean in this age of international and multinational companies?

Related: Customer Control For Entrepreneurs

Providing a superb customer experience is first underpinned by understanding the cultures, history, experiences and sensibilities of customers and then respecting them. Again, this is more manageable if your company is national and its cultural values are aligned with the national values and history. However, achieving this in a multi-national organisation where the historical experience and cultural values of the organisation may not be aligned with the country they are operating in, can be a real challenge.  A diverse workforce is also imperative to providing an outstanding customer experience and the importance of diversity is magnified in a multinational organisation.

This is demonstrated by the infamous ‘H&M hoodie incident’ that happened early this year. In Sweden the only jungle is urban, there are no wild monkeys and the black population is relatively small. As one would expect in a Scandinavian organisation, the H&M group board has good male-female diversity, but there are few black Swedes in senior decision-making positions. Few Swedes have experienced how skin colour can provide an all-pervasive feeling of difference, of ‘us and them’, and they have little, if any, understanding of these issues on a personal level.

However, H&M is a global organisation and therefore needs to have an intimate understanding of the different cultures and sensibilities of their customers in the different countries where they have a footprint; and respect them. The simple expedient of introducing a process whereby a local executive ensures that a new product is culturally sensitive could have demonstrated some organisational understanding of this issue.

The H&M hoodie debacle is an excellent example of how not understanding the customer can negatively impact on customer experience; how it can break the emotional engagement with customers and lose their trust. This incident has made it difficult for South African customers to engage positively with H&M. The importance of diversity in the senior teams throughout a multinational can directly impact the customer experience and the bottom line. In short, one picture and a hoodie nearly undermined the reputation of the organisation in South Africa!

Are you working in a retail environment? Explore the Wits Plus online short course in Customer Relationship Building through the DigitalCampus.

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Company Posts

Entrepreneurs Can Explore Opportunities In Growing Digital Textile And Interior Décor Markets

Those wanting to explore opportunities in digital textile printing can speak to experts at the Sign Africa and FESPA Africa Expo, taking place from 12-14 September at Gallagher Convention Centre.

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According to Mark Sollman, application manager at Mimaki, ‘Digital printing technologies are revolutionising the interior décor business. Not only can these items be produced more rapidly and with less waste than with traditional manufacturing processes, digital printing offers the ability to customise – or even personalise – interior décor.’

The global printed textile market is huge, estimated at over 32 billion square metres of output annually. Print is widely used to decorate the surface appearance of furniture and surfaces. Digital textile printing is ideal for customisation – allowing consumers to print unique products for their homes or businesses.

There are also emerging niche opportunities. For example, with the wide use of online travel review sites, hotels are increasingly keen to deliver a fresh experience. A ‘TripAdvisor effect’ has been identified, with the claim it reduces the hotel renovation cycle from every seven years to every five years, consequently boosting the market for printed décor.

There are many T-shirt printers offering a web-to-shirt service, where the buyer uploads their own unique image to be printed on to a garment on demand. The printing takes a large part of the value and will be done close to the buyer. For a fashion collection, stock-outs may be avoided by printing and making popular sizes and styles locally in small quantities.

Related: Explore Business Opportunities In Print At The Sign Africa And FESPA Africa Expo

This makes higher manufacturing cost less of a problem, and internet retailers can extend this with only commissioning the product after a sale has been completed online. Increasingly, supply chains are being pressured to provide greater flexibility, which inkjet textile printing is able to provide.

Applications with interior décor include; customised wall coverings and photo wall murals; window coverings and wall decals; curtains and blinds, cushions, lampshades and bags.

Those wanting to explore opportunities in digital textile printing can speak to experts at the Sign Africa and FESPA Africa Expo, taking place from 12-14 September at Gallagher Convention Centre. There are also a range of educational features, including: 

Textile Experience

Visit this hands-on workshop where printers can learn different techniques all taught by Charlie Taublieb, who has been in the screen printing industry since 1976, and heads up Taublieb Consulting in Greenwood Village, Colorado, a company specialising in technical screen printing consulting for textile printers. This takes place from 12-14 September, in hall 1 on the Rexx Screen & Digital Supplies stand.

T-Shirt and Bag Printing Workshop

Free demonstrations by local experts on T-shirts and bags with speciality printing techniques, direct to transfer and screen printing. For more info visit http://bit.ly/EntrepreneurSignAfrica5

Related: Considerations For Signage And Printing Industry Start-Ups

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