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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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+.

Lessons Learnt

Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

Throughout the year, the Virgin co-founder shared what he thinks are the essential elements to success.



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If there’s one thing Richard Branson knows, it’s how to run a successful business.

Throughout last year, the Virgin founder shared what he thinks are the keys ingredients to building a successful company with each letter of the alphabet, which he slowly revealed through the 365 days.

From A for attitude to N for naivety to Z for ZZZ, check out Branson’s ABCs of success.

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Lessons Learnt

How Reflexively Apologising For Everything All The Time Undermines Your Career

How can you inspire confidence if you are constantly saying you’re sorry for doing your job?




I’m one of those weird people who gets excited about performance reviews. I like getting feedback and understanding how I can improve. A few years ago, I sat down for my first annual review as the director of communications for the Florida secretary of state, under the governor of Florida.

I had a great relationship with my chief of staff, but I had taken on a major challenge when I accepted the job a year prior. I didn’t really know what to expect.

Youth takes charge

I was 25 at the time, and everyone on my team was in their thirties and forties. I came from Washington, D.C., and was an outsider to my southern colleagues. I was asking a lot from people who had been used to very different expectations from their supervisor.

I sat down with my chief of staff who gave me some feedback about the challenges I had tackled.

She then paused and said to me, very directly,”But you have to stop apologising. You must stop saying sorry for doing your job.”

Related: 8 Valuable And Inspirational Web Series You Should Check Out

I didn’t know what to say. My reflex was to reply sheepishly, “Umm, I’m sorry?” But instead I immediately decided to be more cognisant of how often I said I was sorry. Years later, her words have stuck with me. I have what some may consider the classic female disease of apologising. When the New York Times addressed it, five of my friends and past coworkers sent it to me.

In it, writer Sloane Crosley got to the heart of the issue:

“To me, they sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologising.”

Topic of debate

I’ve talked at length with other women trying to figure out this fine balance. The Washington PostTime, and Cosmopolitan have all tackled this topic. Some say it’s OK to apologise; others criticise those who are criticising women who apologise. Clearly, I’m not alone in dealing with this issue. In fact, I’m constantly telling the people I manage that by apologising they give up a lot of their power.

Related: Want To Feel Empowered? Check Out These 17 Quotes From Successful Entrepreneurs And Leaders

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t apologise for doing your job.

If you’re following up with a coworker about something they said they’d get to you earlier, don’t say, “Sorry to bug you!” If you want to share your thoughts in a meeting, don’t start off by saying, “Sorry, I just want to add…” If you’re doing your job, you have absolutely nothing to apologise for.

That’s what I think. And I’m not even sorry about it.

This article was originally posted here on

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Lessons Learnt

10 Quotes On Following Your Dreams, Having Passion And Showing Hard Work From Tech Guru Michael Dell

If you’re in need of a little motivation, check out these quotes from Dell’s CEO, founder and chairman.



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There’s much to learn from one of the computer industry’s longest tenured CEOs and founders, Michael Dell. As an integral part of the computer revolution in the 1980s, Dell launched Dell Computer Corporation from his dorm room at the University of Texas. And it didn’t take Dell long before he’d launched one of the most successful computer companies. Indeed, by 1992 Dell was the youngest CEO of a fortune 500 company.

Dell’s success had been long foreshadowed. When he was 15, Dell showed great interest in technology, purchasing an early version of an Apple computer, only so he could take it apart and see how it was built. And once he got to college, Dell noticed a gap in the market for computers: There were no companies that were selling directly to consumers. So, he decided to cut out the middleman and began building and selling computers directly to his classmates. Before long, he dropped out of school officially to pursue Dell.

Fast forward to today. Dell is not only a tech genius and businessman, but a bestselling author, investor and philanthropist, with a networth of $24.7 billion. He continues his role as the CEO and chairman of Dell Technologies, making him one of the longest tenured CEOs in the computer industry.

So if you’re in need of some motivation or inspiration, take it from Dell.

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