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Elgin Free Range Chickens: Jeanne Groenewald

A free range chicken farmer captures the large retail market through organic growth and strict adherence to standards.

Juliet Pitman

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Jeanne Groenewald

When it comes to growing a start-up, there are those businesses that experience very little growth until they reach a ‘tipping point’ – a defining deal, partnership or shift in the market that allows the business to take off into the stratosphere. It’s the kind of thing most business owners dream about. And yet there is another kind of growth that, while less dramatic, is no less impressive or effective.
Slow and steady, organic growth is what allows countless small businesses to evolve from the start-up phase into companies of significant size and market share.

Just ask Jeanne Groenewald, founder and managing director of Elgin Free Range Chickens. The company produces 70 000 birds a week, employs over 300 people and lists Woolworths, Pick ‘n Pay, Checkers and Spar among its clients, along with a host of independent stores and delis – an impressive achievement for any food brand.

Groenewald got to where she is today through passion for her product, an unfailing commitment to standards of excellence and a steady growth rate of 30% a year. “We’ve grown the business little by little, in line with increasing market demand and what we felt we could manage at each stage,” she says. It’s a sound philosophy and yet it’s one that countless entrepreneurs, impatient for overnight success, fail to follow.

Grass roots beginnings

“I wanted to produce free range chickens for my family to eat,” says Groenewald simply of how the business started. “We’d have friends over for dinner and they’d comment on how good the chicken tasted and when they found out I’d reared them, they’d ask me to breed some for them as well,” she says. With these informal ‘orders’ growing, Groenewald started to produce around 150 birds every eight weeks, then every four weeks and then weekly. “I realised there could be a business in this,” she says.

Starting out

When production was up to 400 birds a week, she decided to test the market’s interest and called a Pick ‘n Pay buyer she’d previously worked with when she was rearing ducks. “He was definitely interested, so I bought a delivery vehicle, had it branded, and started supplying a handful of the top Pick ‘n Pays in the area,” she says.

Groenewald is adamant that the vehicle and its branding was the best money she’s ever spent. “It drove all over Cape Town with our phone number on it and although we weren’t actively trying to grow, we kept getting calls from people who’d seen the van and wanted to place orders,” she says. Production increased  and the business quickly outgrew the single shed outside Groenewald’s farm kitchen door until her entire farm was given over to free range chickens.

Managing growth

At 2 000 birds a week, Pick ‘n Pay’s Blue Ribbon Meat approached Elgin Free Range Chickens to supply their butcheries. “This was beyond the farm’s capacity and I knew I’d have to take a decision to expand, so I took on four contract growers and built an abattoir,” Groenewald explains.

A critical mass of 15 000 birds a week was needed to justify this investment. Although the business reached these numbers within a couple of months, market demand didn’t keep up and in 2001 Groenewald found herself with excess birds.

Instead of scaling back, however, she turned the challenge to her advantage. “I got the cell number for one of the buyers at Woolworths. I didn’t know the person but I took a chance and left a message on their phone,” she says. The next day, she had three company representatives in her office wanting to inspect the farm and within two weeks was packing chickens for Woolworths.

Sticking to her standards

Talking to Groenewald you’d believe it was the simplest thing in the world to phone up a major supermarket retailer and get your product listed, but as many who have tried and failed will tell you, it’s not that easy. Groenewald herself will tell you as much. Part of her success derives from the fact that she produces a niche, high quality product and is unfailingly committed to maintaining the standards which got the business where it is today.

The Woolworths deal came in five weeks before Christmas and the estimated demand of 2 500 birds a week grew to four times that, but Groenewald refused to compromise on quality simply to meet lucrative short-term demand. “People suggested we source birds from other growers, but we weren’t prepared to drop our standards,” she explains.

She describes that period as ‘the roughest of my career’ but she’s also philosophical about what she learned. “I realised that the best you can do is to do your best. I stuck to my guns on standards and in the end, we rode it out,” she says. Looking to the future, Groenewald’s growth philosophy remains the same. “We have room for expansion and we always make sure we have everything in place for new sheds to be online within eight weeks. But we grow in line with increases in market demand,” she says.

Elgin Free Range Chickens

Player: Jeanne Groenewald

Est. 1997

Contact: +27 (0)21 859 2795

www.freerangechickens.co.za

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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Company Posts

Designing Her Destiny

Oh Yay! owner, Emmerentia van den Hoven does business her way.

QuickBooks SA

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In 2011, Emmerentia van den Hoven took a leap of faith when she decided to leave her graphic design job at an agency and pursue her real passion – and it has paid off tenfold. Here’s her story.

“When I started planning my own wedding eight years ago, I fell in love with wedding design and wanted to do that for the rest of my life. Designing for brands had become a set of rules rather than being creative, and I’d always wanted to work for myself. So, in September 2011, I turned my seven-month-old side gig into a fully-fledged business and launched Oh Yay!

I have to hustle every month to get new clients because every client will use my services maximum twice – first for the wedding invitations and then for the stationery on the day – so I don’t normally have returning clients.

Because my main business is seasonal and usually once-off per customer, I have branched out into branding for small businesses in the beauty and lifestyle industry. I also earn a passive income through the Oh Yay! online shop where I sell wedding décor items.  Oh Yay Kids – my other online store – is my passion project. I launched it just before my second child was born, adding items to the store that I made for my two boys when I saw a need for it. I then expanded into prints for nurseries and kids’ party stationery.

I work for myself and have no employees, so the fact that QuickBooks lets me load all my services, products and prices in one place makes running my business so much easier. Being an entrepreneur is difficult because you don’t know if you’ll be successful or not. But if you believe in and love what you’re doing, it reflects in your work and the service you give.”

Less admin, more of what you love

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When Oh Yay! was launched, along with her dream of being an entrepreneur, came the nightmare of other administrative tasks. But that changed in 2018 when Emmerentia started using QuickBooks.

“When I was using spreadsheets to balance my books, I was spending 80% of my time on admin, which left very little time to tend to customers’ orders. I now spend no more than 25% of my time on admin, which is important, especially when it comes to the speed at which I send quotes. You don’t get any work if you don’t send out quotes and it’s tough to juggle the admin with your actual job of running the business.

Numbers were never really my strong point, so having a professional quote done in record time not only projects professionalism, but the format also changes the way new clients see me. In my industry, the quicker you can send a quote out, the likelier you’ll get the clients’ business. It gives legitimacy to my business. The QuickBooks system operates so seamlessly that clients communicate with me differently, like I have my own accounting department, when in fact, I’m a one-woman-show.

I used to dread doing admin, but now it’s so easy and quick. I’m not just saying this – QuickBooks changed my life.”

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

These female entrepreneurs are breaking barriers, transforming industries and inspiring change on the continent.

Diana Albertyn

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Owner Of Nouwens Carpets Shares Success Lessons From Running A 50 Year Old Family Business

Embrace technology every chance you get.

Nadine Todd

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A company that’s been active for more than five decades in an industry that’s hundreds of years old doesn’t sound like a recipe for innovation — and yet that’s exactly what Luci Nouwens, owner of Nouwens Carpets, is focused on.

The modern carpet has a history that goes back thousands of years. And despite the hipster trend of reclaimed and hard wood flooring, the carpet still remains a popular choice for consumers.

In South Africa, a name that’s synonymous with quality carpeting is Nouwens. When Cornelis Nouwens arrived in the country in the 1950s, bringing the skills of a trade which he had mastered alongside his father in Tilburg, the hub of the Netherlands’ wool textile industry, he passed on the skills and the love of the craft to his family and to workers in the Harrismith region in KwaZulu Natal.

More than 50 years after her father started it in 1962, the company remains family owned, and is headed by Luci Nouwens, who has been with the business for 48 years.

“We have maintained our reputation for premium quality all this time by paying meticulous attention to crafting standards and selecting only the finest raw materials,” says Luci. “Equally important is that we have innovated at every opportunity, embracing technology without ever compromising the traditional craftsman’s spirit.”

Innovation drives growth

Businesses that innovate are able to grow and hire more employees. As a result, they grab a bigger share of the market. That’s true regardless of the size of your business: If you innovate, you can scale up.

In 1968 Nouwens launched a pure karakul wool carpet that was extremely hard wearing and took the company into the commercial carpet market. Luci recalls the manufacturing of the carpet as “a major feat of unique textile engineering.” Another innovation in 2005 was the introduction of a totally new style of flat weave wool carpet, a very clean, minimalist and natural look requiring much less wool without compromising on wearability.

“These innovations are just two of many that have allowed the business to boost its market share over the years,” says Luci. “But beyond that, innovation has enabled Nouwens Carpets to form the backbone of economic activity and upliftment in the local community around Harrismith. This has allowed us to make substantial investment in providing education and skills development for the local population, to ensure that the craft is preserved for generations to come.”

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

Innovation enables sustainability

Innovation in technologies and how they are applied is key to enabling a manufacturer like Nouwens to create new business value, while also protecting the planet.

“We have used technology to enable sustainable manufacturing, for the benefit of the business, the community, and our customers.”

Nouwens selects equipment, materials and manufacturing methods based on their degree of sustainability and protection of the environment. The company is also a member of the Green Building Council of South Africa and submits its products for VOC testing to ensure that harmful emissions are significantly reduced.

“Ultimately, we are driven by a passion for textiles and the ability to constantly find better ways to produce beautiful products. After the downturn in the economy, we started to produce more cost-effective commercial nylon yarns, and in 2017, we became the new kid on the block for synthetic grass. The bottom line is that a true entrepreneur does what has to be done when the time comes.” — Monique Verduyn

The role of disruption in creating value

A disruptive business is a business that challenges and potentially changes the status quo. From a mindset point of view, a culture that questions ‘why’ can help foster organisational and market disruption. But disruption for the sake of disruption is self-defeating, it needs to be on the back of making things better and based on commercial principles, i.e. people or market players actually wanting to be disrupted.

The starting point is this: Does someone, or a market, value what you’re producing? If the answer is yes, you have a commercially viable disruption. Disruption that is valued by its target market has the best chance of resulting in success.

Get that right and you’ll have a customer base, you’ll gain traction and you’ll attract investors, provided you’re also making a meaningful and sustainable difference to your target market or community. — Ian Lessem, CEO, HAVAIC Investment and Advisory Firm

Collaboration

Team up with customers and competitors.

There’s more power in collaboration than competition. We’re stronger together than when we’re apart. When it comes to working with competitors, consider this: They may have something that you don’t, or vice versa, and 50% of something is always more than 100% of nothing. You’re then positioned to add value before you add an invoice, so your clients benefit from your relationships, and the market wins. From there, you become your client’s go-to-person, because you’re putting them first.

Customers are also a great source of knowledge: They might just have the answers you’re looking for, but are you asking them the right questions? They often know more about an entrepreneur’s business than they know themselves, because they’re on the receiving end of your offering. One way to collaborate with customers is to ask them more questions about yourselves, themselves and their clients. Harness their perspective and develop yourself to give them what they want, not what you think they want. — Wes Boshoff, founder, Imagine Thinking

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch

PR

Know what your audiences are interested in

As a brand, there are many ways to ensure your audience is paying attention to you, but you can’t expect them to find you unless you’re sharing content that captures their interest. If you send out press releases, don’t be too rigid or plain. Audiences want to be engaged, and not to have to deal with long, cumbersome information. An infographic, along with a video or pictures will make your release easier to ingest and more memorable. People don’t want boring figures, they want relatable stories.

One way to be relatable is by tapping into influencer marketing. This doesn’t mean you need celebrities with the highest followings to endorse you. Micro-influencers are proving to have just as much clout as those with larger followings. Evidence shows that micro-influencers have a more established and deeper connection with their audience, which translates to loyalty and a readiness to follow their advice. The trick is to find the micro-influencers who are speaking to the audience you want to reach.

Big data plays a key role in painting a picture of who is ‘out there’. With the right information, you can tailor your content to a specific audience. Big data can show you what topics and problems are trending in your industry, so that you can get the jump on them. Use big data to deliver your own insights on current topics, shaping and leading the conversation, converting your audience’s attention into action. — Madelain Roscher, founder and managing director, PR Worx and Status Reputation Management

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