Connect with us

Lessons Learnt

For Cupmasters A Cup Is More Than Just A Simple Product

How do you take a generic product and differentiate it? For Anne-Marie le Roux and Cupmasters it is about a ‘total package of benefits’.

Monique Verduyn




Vital Stats

You don’t need the ‘Next Big Thing’. Success often lies in providing an established product in a new and clever way.

Think Differently

How do you distinguish one commodity from another? Whether it’s bottled water or a new car, commoditisation is everywhere. Unless you’re a smart entrepreneur that is.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: Enko Education Investments Matches Money With Passion

Anne-Marie le Roux, founder of Cupmasters, doesn’t believe in commoditisation, and she has proven that everything can be differentiable. Even a disposable cup.

When Le Roux left a career in town planning to take care of her first child, she discovered – much to her irritation – that the cups she bought for the baby leaked all over everything. There had to be lots of other mothers out there who were equally annoyed.

She researched available options and came up with an improved design that was watertight. Next, she found a manufacturer and soon she was supplying cups for the baby market.

One thing led to another and soon buyers in the food and beverage industry started calling her to enquire if she supplied disposable cups too.

“The brand name and contact details were printed on the bottom of my product and the enquiries came in as a result of word of mouth,” Le Roux recalls.

“Because I have never been able to say ‘no’, I immediately said ’yes’ and then I had to make it happen. It doesn’t matter what business you are in, your attitude has to be right.”

It’s the way that you do it

Cupmasters-stockLe Roux’s approach and imagination naturally led to product differentiation, because of the way she operates. She trades in disposable cups, but what she ‘sells’ is unique execution.

The product itself may be generic, but her offering is different. And that difference does not lie in marketing – when she started the business, she had a listing in the Yellow Pages; today she has an active website that attracts a lot of business, but there’s no expensive advertising.

“It’s about efficiency, responsiveness and communication,” she says. “We also give clients exactly what they want. We don’t go to them and show them our product range. Instead, we ask them what they are looking for, including printing and packaging, which is a big differentiator.

“Unlike many other suppliers, we can package cups according to client specifications, we can print almost anything they want on the cups, and we can provide both large and small quantities, not just big bulk orders. That means that it’s easy for clients to place an order for a once-off special event. The relationship we have with our outsourced manufacturer enables us to scale up or down as needed.”

Her attitude has served the business well in one other important way: When she first started supplying cups to coffee shops like the Brazilian in the 1990s, she had no idea they would one day form part of the massive Famous Brands group.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: How Munaaz Catering Equipment Puts Customer Experience First

Providing exceptional service to a couple of small stores led to her becoming a supplier to one of the biggest companies in the food and beverage sector. She even succeeded in meeting the exacting standards of Woolworths, another major client.

“How we offer the product is what gets us the customers, and how we deliver it is what keeps them coming back,” she says.

Success through differentiation

In a January 1980 Harvard Business Review article titled ‘Marketing Success Through Differentiation – of Anything’, Theodore Levitt wrote: “Customers attach value to a product in proportion to its perceived ability to help solve their problems or meet their needs. All else is derivative. As a specialist in industrial marketing has expressed it, the ‘product’… is the total package of benefits the customer receives when he or she buys.”

If ever there was a business that could prove the enduring value of this 35-year old idea, Cupmasters is one. As Levitt explains in his article, the product is only a small portion of the value the customer experiences from a purchase.

“What is equally important is the way the product is delivered, the fact that we can respond immediately if demand peaks during a heat wave in summer when thousands of people are ordering ice-cold drinks, or in a cold snap in winter when takeaway coffee and hot chocolate sales spike,” says Le Roux.

“Or if the customer is thinking of an innovative new design, and we come up with the solution.”

What Le Roux is referring to is that a disposable cup packaged in a bundle of added value is not a commodity at all. It is, as Levitt affirms, a measurably differentiated product.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: How Spur Overhauled Its Supply Chain

“Customers never just buy the ‘generic’ product like steel, or wheat, or sub-assemblies, or investment banking, or aspirin, or engineering consultancy, or golf balls, or industrial maintenance, or newsprint, or cosmetics, or even 99% pure isopropyl alcohol.

“They buy something that transcends these designations – and what that ‘something’ is helps determine from whom they’ll buy, what they’ll pay, and whether, in the view of the seller, they’re ‘loyal’ or ‘fickle’.”

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Lessons Learnt

#Wealthiest List: 8 Self-Made Millionaires On How They Built Their Wealth

These inspirational self-made millionaires built businesses with nothing less than hard work and sheer determination.

Catherine Bristow



Prev1 of 8

1. Nick D’Aloisio Wrote a Million Dollar App At Age 15


At the age of 15, Nick D’Aloisio wrote an app while sitting in his parent’s bedroom in the UK. At the age of 17, D’Aloisio sold his app Summly – a mobile news summarisation app to Yahoo for a staggering USD 30 million.

As one of the youngest millionaires, D’Aloisio is also the world’s youngest entrepreneur to be backed by venture capitalists – having secured seed funding from Sir Li Ka-Shing, Hong Kong’s billionaire, as well as raising USD 1.23 million from celebrity investors, including Yoko Ono and Ashton Kutcher.

“The number one thing I did that I think was wise was to get, through some of my advisers, was a Chairman; basically someone who was a very experienced business person, an industry veteran — Bart Swanson, who had been at Amazon and then Badoo. Then, myself and Bart really started finding people and growing the team.”

Prev1 of 8

Continue Reading

Lessons Learnt

7 Cannabis Industry Millionaires Making It Big In The Marijuana Business

These entrepreneurs have capitalised on a new market set to continue to grow rapidly as more countries legalise marijuana across the world.

Catherine Bristow



Prev1 of 7

1. Brendan Kennedy


Brendan Kennedy worked on job sites as a carpenter to pay his way through university, with his eyes set firmly on becoming an architect, until the allure of Silicon Valley changed the course of his direction. While working at technology start-ups Kennedy began thinking about the possibilities that medical marijuana provided.

“I was really sceptical of medical cannabis,” he says. “It took a year of having conversations with patients and physicians and hearing the same story, repackaged but essentially the same, over and over and over again, where my scepticism eroded and I became a believer.”

In 2013, Kennedy and his partners applied for a licence from Health Canada and launched Lafitte Ventures, which was later renamed Tilray. Today, the company is a global leader in medical cannabis research, cultivation, processing and distribution.

Prev1 of 7

Continue Reading

Lessons Learnt

Scaleup Learnings From Our Top Clients – What The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Do Right

So, how do our successful clients move through these constraints to scaling up? We see four key drivers of success, and they are: people, strategy, flawless execution and finance.

Louw Barnardt




You’re out of your start-up boots, staff is increasing, your client base is growing, revenue is up and you’ve proven your case to the market. Now it’s time to scale up. The challenges of this vital growth phase are different and it’s a time that demands different mindsets and different actions. In a world littered with small business failures, it helps to be well-prepared for scaling up using a proven methodology. At Outsourced CFO, we get an inside look at the success factors of our clients who are mastering the transition.

On the one hand, scaling up is a really exciting phase; this is what moves you into real job creation and making an impactful contribution to economic growth. On the other hand, it is really hard to scale up successfully. We see three major constraints that limit companies’ transition from start-up to scale-up:


The business has to have the leadership that can take it to the next level. When you start scaling up, especially rapidly, the founders can no longer do everything themselves. The team must grow and include new leadership talent that can take charge and execute so that the founders are working on the business instead of in the business.


The processes, procedures, networks, systems and workflows of the business all need to be scalable. This is imperative when it comes to your infrastructure for the financial management of your business. You’re only ready for growth when your infrastructure can seamlessly keep pace.

Market access

Scaling up demands more innovative marketing and storytelling so that you can more easily connect and engage with the new employees, clients, network partners, investors and mentors that need to come along with you on your scale-up journey.

Businesses that build a market conversation and a compelling brand narrative during their start-up phase are better positioned to have this kind of market access when they need to scale up.


It is critical to have the right people on your team. Our successful entrepreneurs have what it takes to attract, inspire and retain top talent. A strong team of smart, ambitious and purpose-driven people who love the company and want to see it succeed contribute greatly to a world class company culture. They are adept at communicating a compelling vision and establishing core values that people can take on. These entrepreneurs are tuned into the aspirations of their people and focus on developing leaders in their teams who can in turn develop more leaders.


It is planning that ensures that the right things are happening at the right times. At successful scale-ups strategies and action plans are devised to ensure that the most important thing always remains the most important thing.

Strategy includes input from all team members and setting of good priorities for the short, medium and long term. Goals are clear and everyone always knows what they are working towards. The needle is continuously moved because 90-day action plans are implemented each quarter to achieve targets and goals that are over and above people doing their daily jobs.

Flawless execution

Top entrepreneurs are not just focused on what operations need to achieve, but how the business operates. They have the right procedures, processes and tools in place so that everyone can deliver along the line on the company’s brand promise. Frequent, quick successive meetings ensure the rapid flow of effective communication. Problems are solved without drama. There is no chaos in the office environment. Everyone is empowered to execute flawlessly to an array of consistently happy clients.


Everyone knows that growth burns cash. A rapidly scaling business faces the challenge of needing a scalable financial infrastructure to keep the company healthy. Our successful entrepreneurs pay close attention to finance as the heartbeat of the business, ensuring that everything else functions. They look at the tech they are using for financial management and for the ways that their financial systems can be automated so that they can be brought rapidly to scale. The capital to grow is another vital finance issue.

The best way to finance a business is through paying clients on the shortest possible cash flow cycle. However, when you are scaling up and making heavier investments in the resources you need for growth, it is likely that you will need a workable plan for raising capital. Our scale-up clients know the value of accessing innovative financial management that provides high level services to drive their business growth.

Navigating the scale-up journey of a growing private company is one of the hardest but most rewarding of careers to pursue. Having people in your corner who have been through this journey before helps take a lot of pain out of the process. No growth journey looks the same, but there are tried and tested methods that will – if applied diligently – lead to definite success. Happy scaling!

Continue Reading



Recent Posts

Follow Us

We respect your privacy. 
* indicates required.