Importing and distributing an overseas product might sound like an easy way to get started as an entrepreneur, but there are many who have tried and failed, and who will attest to the challenge involved in making it happen.
There’s the marketing of an unknown product to consider and relationship-building with both producers and retailers, not to mention the minefield that is importing. But in spite of these challenges, there are those who get it right, like Jocelyne Philippe, exclusive importer of the Bensimon fashion label to South Africa.
Drawing on past experience
Donning the Bensimon clothing label she’s brought to our shores, Philippe is the picture of cool, casual French chic. But beneath the style and sophistication lies a hard-nosed businesswoman with a wealth of fashion industry experience who’s determined to make a success of the brand in South Africa.
After working in various positions for major brands like Levi Europe, Billabong Europe, Polo, Ralph Lauren Paris and Lee Cooper Paris, Philippe took the leap into starting her own business when she opened a Bensimon boutique in Biarritz in her native France.
“Although the Bensimon brand is well known in France and Europe there was nothing like it in Biarritz, which is an up-market weekend destination on the west coast of France – much like Knysna. I saw a gap for the brand and approached Bensimon to secure the rights to open a shop there,” she explains.
Securing local market rights
When her husband was relocated and she moved with her family to South Africa, Philippe sourced a top-end manager to continue to run the French store, which she still owns. But it wasn’t long before she started looking at the South African market with a similar eye for opportunity and realised that Bensimon would fill a gap here as much as it has done in Europe.
She explains: “Bensimon is a ready-to-wear lifestyle range of stylish clothing and accessories that is based on casual comfort and an easy, understated style. The range is known for the quality of the natural fabrics it uses, which include silks, linen, wool and bamboo material.
It targets everyone from children right up to 60 year-olds so it has enormous scope. The prices reflect the quality, but they are not outrageous.” With a strong conviction that the South African market would be receptive to such a brand, Philippe set to work conducting market research and putting together a business plan, strategy, figures and a proposal to take to Bensimon in Paris.
Excited about the opportunity that South Africa presented and confident in Philippe’s proven ability to make their brand work, the company awarded her exclusive importing rights.
Gearing up, getting out there
This is when the work really began in earnest. While Bensimon might be well established in Europe, local boutique retailers (Philippe’s first route to market) had to be sold on the idea of stocking it. This meant an exhaustive round of cold calling and relationship-building – in the middle of a recession, arguably not the best time to be punting an up-market fashion label.
But there were things working in her favour, as Philippe explains, “Fortunately, there is a story to be told about the brand, which was started 25 years ago by the Parisian Bensimon family. This, together with its success in Europe, made selling the idea easier.
And because the brand is new, boutiques felt that stocking it would give them a differentiator,” she says. In a relatively short space of time, Philippe went from zero to 20 retail outlets in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Drawing on importing experience gained while working for a Belgian garden and outdoor company when she first arrived in South Africa, Philippe contracted a local importing and logistics company to manage the many challenges of importing. “There is so much red tape and you have to get someone who knows exactly what they are doing,” she advises.
Building awareness, looking ahead
She also hired High Pitch Media to build awareness of the brand in the South African market. “In a short space of time, they’ve gained Bensimon exposure in local fashion publications such as Elle, Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Marie Claire,” she says. Retailers report that sales are picking up and the brand is gaining traction.
“My next step is to open a boutique for the brand, and to take on a business partner with local fashion industry experience,” says Philippe. It’s early days and Bensimon might be a brand you haven’t heard of yet, but Philippe is working furiously to change that.
“I think I got into the market at the right time. There is increasing international interest in the South African market and we’ve established a foothold for Bensimon before the flood of other brands arrives. There’s still much to be done but the future’s looking good,” she says.
JBSA Fashion Consulting
Player: Jocelyne Philippe
Contact: +27 11 513 3000
25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa
Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.
“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.
South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:
- I Am Emerge Provides An App For Township Spaza Bulk Purchasing
- Tuluntulu Offers High Quality Video Streaming On Low Data Speeds
- SSG Consulting Developed KEY360: A Cloud-Based And Web-Enabled Platform For Managing Large-Scale Construction Projects
- Pargo Solving Last-Mile Distribution Challenges
- HouseME Is A Digital Real Estate Platform
- Olympic Paints Has Developed A Built-In Paint Tray Causing An Unexpected Industry Shift
- Passion4Performance Developed A Recognition of Prior Learning Assessment Concept
- NewSpace Systems Delivers High Quality Components At Lower Costs
- My Online Presence Creates End-To-End Solutions For Online Brand Presence
- Skynamo Offering Insights To Sales Teams In The Field
- RecruitMyMom Creating A Platform For Job-Seeking Moms
- GAAP Provides A Hardware And Software Point-Of Sale And Enterprise Solution For The Hospitality Industry
- HeroTel Bringing Wi-Fi To Low Income Communities
- Saryx Engineering Offers Digitised Compliance and Safety For Companies
- BrightBlack Is An Energy Providing Innovative Solar Energy Solutions
- Howler Is An Event Technology Platform
- execMobile’s PocketWifi Keeps Business Travellers Connected
- Rhino Africa Provides Online Touring Assistance
- Snapplify Is Offering Students Access To Textbooks
- GoMetro A Commuter-Driven Mobile App
- Domestly Connecting Cleaning Professionals and Homeowners
- NMRQL Using AI To Deliver Consistent Returns
- Colony Live Connecting Users Across Multiple Platforms
- codeX Is Growing The Work Experience Of Coders In Africa
- This Is Me – Disrupting By Offering A Unique Business Model
Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’
People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.
Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.
Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform
The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mergeconnect/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mergeconnect/
- Website: http://www.mergeconnect.co/
- Email: Hello@mergeconnect.co
- Number: 072 458 2182
It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.
“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.
Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.
From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.
The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.
“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.
Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.
“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris
Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.
Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.
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