When asked how they define innovation Patrick Bennett and Robin Read, co-founders of Tevo, have a ready answer: “It means bringing something truly new to the market, something that customers have never seen before.”
That’s the foundation upon which their business is built and it’s what they claim has allowed them, after only 22 months of operation, to take on industry big guns with a 25-year history in the direct response television (DRTV) market.
Read hails from a financial and systems background and was a partner at Deloitte & Touche before joining M-Cubed Holdings to turn around its ailing wealth management division. Bennett was previously managing director of Verimark and marketing director for Massdiscounters’ Game and Dion stores.
But as he is quick to point out, Tevo has had to fight for every inch it gained. Launching a start-up against such strong, well-established competitors meant the battle was always going to be tough. The partners left lucrative careers and pooled their substantial business experience to build Tevo.
The first year was tough. “We had to weather an in-depth seven-month planning process prior to operation. Neither of us had any income, but we knew that research and planning was vital to build a business that could absorb rapid growth in its early stages,” he says.
Next came the challenge of establishing a toe-hold as a fourth industry player. “We had to fight for our space,” says Bennett. “No one laid out a red carpet for us, but we had good products and were able to hang our hat on innovation.” The planning and research paid off.
“Our competitors were all in the copy game. As soon as one company had a product, the rest would follow suit. Our promise to retailers was that Tevo would never be just another industry player. We guaranteed we would bring innovation to an industry that had gone stale and that we would never supply them with even one product their stores already had,” Bennett explains.
Staying true to their word has meant extensive travel to all parts of the world to source unique products. Tevo also works with local developers to bring new products to market. “Our first criterion is innovation.
Secondly, the product must be of excellent quality because if the perception you create is not congruent with the customer’s experience of the product, you’re in for a quick industry exit. Products sell if you can tell a story about them, so that’s another criterion. And the product must sell at an appropriate price.”
Bennett highlights the importance of balancing gut feel with a tried and tested process of selection, saying, “More heads are better than one. You have to get input from others.” In keeping with their promise, each of the nine products Tevo has launched, from the Slinky Hose to the Rapid heat reflecting ironing board, has been new to the South African market.
They point out that many of them have already been copied by competitors. The sales generated from these nine products have managed to secure Tevo second place in the market, but their appetite for new territory isn’t showing any signs of abating. “We’re chasing the market leaders now and they’d better know it.”
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