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How Runway Sale Landed the Big Fish

The secret to getting a big-brand to partner with your business is to offer them value, help them meet their goals, and help protect their brand. That’s how founders Karl Hammerschmidt and Elmien Smit of Runway Sale brought in the big deals.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats

  • Company: Runway Sale
  • Players: Karl Hammerschmidt and Elmien Smit
  • Est: 2012
  • Contact: www.runwaysale.co.za

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Elmien Smit and her partner Karl Hammerschmidt didn’t even try to partner with smaller brands when they launched their members-only luxury sale site Runway Sale.

Instead, they reached for the top, acknowledging that to be big and grow quickly, they had to work with the best local and international brands. Think Ben Sherman, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Hugo Boss, Nine West – you get the picture?

Related: How to Partner with a Big Company

Launched with a paltry sum of R50 000, the strategy has propelled this popular start-up’s growth from 2012 to now.

“We’re now doing 30 times the business we were doing two years ago, which is excellent in anyone’s books, but particularly for a new online concept that South Africans were not familiar with just a few years ago,” says Hammerschmidt.

Getting noticed

Smit ascribes their success to good fortune. “We were lucky to build great relationships with big brands,” she says. But luck has little to do with it. They had a solid business idea.

They’d done the necessary market research, and tested the concept. After they’d built their luxury sales site, the only thing they needed was a big brand to notice them, realise their brilliance, and sign on the dotted line as a partner. But how exactly do you do that when you’re – thus far – a nobody?

“We spent a huge amount of time and energy finding brands that would give us a chance,” says Hammerschmidt.

“It’s extremely difficult to get big brand representatives to return your calls or agree to meet you. It took research, persistence, and trial and error. You really have to feel your way around,
be committed to hard work and then, just maybe, you’ll find someone willing to give you a chance.”

That someone was from designer brand Carducci. What followed was a ‘halo effect’, says Hammerschmidt.

“After we proved what we could do, other brands were much easier to persuade. The more we built our portfolio, the bigger the interest we created.”

Thinking big

Entrepreneurship experts say that you need to think like a big brand to partner with one.

“Our business is about selling amazing products at amazing prices,” says Smit.

“To get buy-in from high-end brands, we had to assure them we’d look after their brand, and expose and represent it in ways consistent with their demands and that they can be proud of. One of the biggest mistakes small companies make is they don’t do enough homework about the requirements of big companies they want to partner with. You need to think from a large business point of view.”

No bargain bins here

“For luxury brands, brand equity is critical,” adds Hammerschmidt. “We offer brands the opportunity to sell items through an attractive additional channel outside of the traditional retail environment. The fact is that each season there are items that don’t sell at the full retail price.

“To have these items go on sale time after time can be damaging to a brand. What we do is sell the items at prices that are attractive to consumers, and are presented in an eye-catching and elegant online environment in ‘limited time’ events, which provides a lot more brand protection.”

Tips on working with brands

  • Invest a lot of time building a relationship with the big brand. Spend time with people inside the company who will champion your idea with decision-makers.
  • Target the right kinds of people within the big brand. Go after executives who actually have decision-making power.
  • Make friends in person. Reach out on email and set up in-person meetings over a cup of coffee where you can tell people about some of the things you’re doing.
  • Be genuine. Authenticity is key to successful relationship building, so show genuine interest in the big brand’s initiatives and goals.
  • Make sure your offering really meets the big brand’s goals. Take time to research the brand’s needs and figure out how to fill them.
  • Be patient. Though you may be on a shoestring budget, don’t push too hard. Your big business might be in the middle of financial year-end.

Related: Win-Win: Strategically Partner With Your Top Competitors

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

7 Pieces Of Wise Advice For Start-Up Entrepreneurs From Successful Business Owners

Launching a business is tough, but with perseverance, a willingness to learn from mistakes and a focus on the future, you can turn your dream into a reality. Seven top South Africa entrepreneurs share their hard-won start-up lessons.

Nadine Todd

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“What seems like an expensive lesson is actually the best thing that could have happened to you.” 

So you want to start a business? Seven successful entrepreneurs share their words of wisdom for start-up entrepreneurs

1. Offer advice and share your expertise freely

The more your clients are educated, the more empowered they will feel, and the more they will view you as a trusted advisor. I gave my clients material to help them develop the best labour policies and procedures. It didn’t make my service redundant — it built trust between us. — Arnoux Mare, Innovative Solutions Group, turnover R780 million

2. Stop planning and start doing

We all tend to complicate business with planning and processes. These shouldn’t be ignored, but you need to also just start — start your business, start that project, start walking the path you want to be on. — Gareth Leck, co-founder, Joe Public, turnover R700 million

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

3. Play your heart out and the money will follow

I learnt this valuable lesson when I was a student and busked at Greenmarket Square. You don’t stand with your hat, waiting for cash and then play — you play your heart out and the bills pile up in your hat. It’s the same in business. You can’t look at the bottom line first; it’s the other way around. — Pepe Marais, co-founder, Joe Public, turnover R700 million

4. Love learning lessons

What seems like an expensive lesson is actually the best thing that could have happened to you. I wasn’t paying attention to my partner or my books in our early days, and I didn’t realise the debt he was putting us into. We ended up owing R1 million. In hindsight, it was a cheap lesson to learn. Imagine if that happened today? The fallout would be much greater. We have 19 stores and nearly 100 staff members. It would hurt everyone, not just me. — Rodney Norman, founder, Chrome Supplements, turnover R100 million

5. Landing an investor starts with your story

A great story and data are the two golden rules of attracting an investor. You need both if you really want to access growth funding that will take your business to the next level. — Grant Rushmere, founder, Bos Ice Tea

Related: Watch List: 15 SA eCommerce Entrepreneurs Who Have Built Successful Online Businesses

6. Offer solutions

If you’re not solving a problem and creating value, don’t ship it — throw it away. That’s cheaper than selling a bad product. — Nadir Khamissa, co-founder, Hello Group

7. Small, clever decisions lead to big profits

One of the most important lessons any business owner can learn is that success on profit is nothing more than the accumulative sum of rand decisions. Lots of small, clever money decisions lead to big profits, and without the disciplines of frugality, money gets lost. It’s that simple. Question every single line item on a quote. Do we need it? Can we get it cheaper? This is what it’s about. — Vusi Thembekwayo, founder, Watermark

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Lessons Learnt

Here’s How Bosses From Hell Helped 6 Entrepreneurs Grow

From control freaks to being unco-operative, founders share what they learned from their worst boss.

Entrepreneur

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In business, sometimes the most valuable lessons come from the worst teachers. We asked six entrepreneurs: What’s the greatest thing you learned from a bad boss?

1. Bring everyone in

“A former boss was very hierarchical and discouraged collaboration. Everyone reported directly to her, and interdepartmental meetings were practically prohibited. It meant that only our boss had the full picture – we missed a lot of opportunity for alignment and cooperation. Today at our company, it’s a priority to hold regular team meetings and foster a strong culture of collaboration. It’s crucial that our team members weave collective sharing into the fabric of their day-to-day interactions.” – Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder and CEO, Indagare

2. Be vulnerable

“Don’t be afraid to show your emotions! I worked for a partner at McKinsey who was an incredible person but an awful manager because he kept his feelings bottled up. After a client presentation went awry, our team didn’t know where we stood with our manager. It was tense, awkward and demotivating. Showing vulnerability and letting others know when you’re genuinely upset can help everyone externalise their emotions, build trust and reassure employees that they aren’t alone. It sends a clearer message than stone-faced silence.” – Leo Wang, founder and CEO, Buffy

Related: 5 Factors That Make A Great Boss

3. Lend a hand

“I worked for someone who would never help out the junior staff with their work, even if he was finished with his own – he’d simply pack up and leave early. I now make an extra effort to ask my staff if they can use a hand when my own workload is light. It’s created a culture that feels more like a tight-knit team and less like a hierarchy.” – Adam Tichauer, founder and CEO, Camp No Counselors

4. Move as a group

“When I was a nurse manager, I had a boss with no experience in healthcare. She wanted to change our process for keeping patients from getting blood clots. I knew it was a mistake, but she insisted. Ultimately, the change failed. It taught me the importance of empowering staff to speak up. At Extend Fertility, we collect feedback from customers via surveys. Results are shared with our staff, and together we develop action plans to address negative experiences. It’s the employees who interact with patients on a daily basis who have the best solutions.” – Ilaina Edison, CEO, Extend Fertility

5. Trust your team

“I once worked for a woman who joined our team after I had been working there for a while. Every time I stood up, she’d ask me where I was going, whether it was to the bathroom or to the printer. She had a fear of not having control over my time and work. As a young adult, this behaviour really demoralised me, especially since I had excelled at the job for years prior. My leadership style is less neurotic. Once my team members have my trust, I’m pretty hands-off.” – Denise Lee, founder and CEO, Alala

Related: 5 Leadership Questions Every Boss Should Ask

6. Respect others’ time

“Early in my career, I had a project manager who’d wait until the very last minute to review work, then convey lots of new information and requests. This happened at the end of the day or, worse, after hours, when I was home. It was demoralising, inefficient and disrespectful. In my career, I’m conscious about reviewing work in a timely and complete way so my team can successfully incorporate my feedback without generating a last-minute crisis – or lingering resentment.” – Kirsten R. Murray, principal architect and owner, Olson Kundig 

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

11 Things Very Successful People Do That 99% Of People Don’t

Consistency is a big part of succeeding. The top 1% of performers in the world know this is the secret to their success.

John Rampton

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Becoming wealthy and leaving an impact on the world is not an easy feat. If it were, everyone would go around doing it. At that point, it would not be much of an accomplishment at all.

Rather, being extremely successful requires an extreme amount of work. Especially when there is nobody looking. The best people have developed habits that help them reach their goals. These routines are not necessarily challenging to form, but they take consistent effort over extended periods of time. Creating these tendencies in your own life will propel your success.

Here are 11 things, that 99% of people (myself included) do not do, but really should.

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