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The Simple Strategy That Grew Simply Asia Into SA’s Best Eastern Restaurant

The culture created by Mr Chai Lekcharoensuk, founder of Simply Asia Thai Food & Noodle Bar, helped turn his dream of traditional Taiwanese food into a successful and growing franchise. Find out how he got it right.

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Little compares to the happiness that is felt across the table of a great meal shared with family or friends. Or to that moment when you experience the sights, smells and tastes of a new culture for the first time.

It’s an experience Mr Chai Lekcharoensuk, founder of Simply Asia Thai Food & Noodle Bar, wanted to create when he came to South Africa 25 years ago. Back then, he couldn’t find any Thai food that reminded him of home and so he opened Wang Thai Restaurant, in Cape Town, an upscale establishment that promised an authentic Thai dining experience: mouth-watering meals made by Thai chefs, using only the freshest ingredients.

“The success of Wang Thai inspired Mr Chai to make Thai cooking something everyone across South Africa could enjoy,” says Enzo Cocca, Group General Manager of Simply Asia. “And so, he changed the restaurant format from fine dining to family friendly restaurants – and the Simply Asia brand was born, with the first branch opening in Cape Town’s historic Heritage Square.”

simply-asiaThai food was not unfamiliar to South Africans at the time, as Thailand was a popular travel destination. But Mr Chai identified an opportunity to bring speciality, authentic Thai food and trading formats to the market and, by 2006, the company had opened 12 restaurants.

Today, customers can experience the taste of Thailand at 64 outlets across South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, as Simply Asia continues to grow its footprint across the continent. By the end of 2017, the restaurant count will increase to 66 – and 72 by the end of 2018.

Quality and authenticity

Every restaurant in the franchise chain operates on the same values that the very first restaurant was built on: quality and authenticity. It’s these values that Enzo believes sets Simply Asia apart in a market that is now crowded with a wide variety of specialist food styles and trading formats.

“Consumers have a lot of choice today. They can find high-quality, readily prepared food anywhere, from restaurants, to food trucks, to supermarkets. There are a lot of competent local and international traders entering the market every day, many offering similar cuisine.”

Related: Multi-Unit Franchising Growing In South Africa

So, how does Simply Asia keep customers coming back for more – and appeal to new customers?

The answer to that question is in the question itself: “Customer retention has been key to our growth,” says Enzo. “We have to stay relevant to our customers and still be able to attract new customers every day.”

Employees first

Simply Asia’s growth strategy centres on four pillars: training, innovation, partnering with the right people, and leveraging tools and technology that provide real-time insights into its operations.

“Franchise owners and their teams are continually trained and upskilled to ensure they always offer the best possible customer service and experience,” says Enzo.

He adds that a Simply Asia franchisee is not a hobbyist looking to make an extra buck but is a passionate businessperson who is committed to the values of quality and authenticity above everything else.

“Many of our franchisees own multiple stores and treat their investment as a serious business. We believe this strategy breeds a different calibre of franchisee – one who is driven and understands that the secret to success is hard work, respect and transparency.”

Innovation at all touch points

Underlying all of this is an aggressive approach to innovation, says Enzo. Innovation extends across product offerings and business models and it’s one reason why Simply Asia has maintained its relevance and appeal to new and existing customers.

“Innovation, to us, means delivering new experiences to our customers, whether that’s through more variety and flavours on our menus, our rewards programme that puts cash back in customers’ pockets, or through partnering with service providers like Uber Eats to bring convenience to our customers,” says Enzo.

In a market where customers are spoilt for choice and competition is high, the key to success is having access to the right information, at the right time, says Enzo.

Related: Key Franchising Trends To Consider For 2018

“We control the entire supply chain, from Thailand right to our stores. When you work in the restaurant industry, control of your business processes is important. Information must be real-time and reliable so that you can properly manage your inventory and quickly make the right decisions as situations arise. If you don’t have that information, you can’t see where you’re going.”

simply-asia1For Enzo, the various tools within the Sage Evolution and Payroll solutions give him access to that information and allow him to analyse data in real-time to easily pinpoint issues and opportunities.

“In June 2017, we added 15 new items to our menus across our network of restaurants. As these items were perishable, we needed to optimise the ordering and delivery of fresh ingredients across our production facility, three distribution centres and, of course, all the stores,” says Enzo. “Sage gives us the insights we need, when we need them, resulting in zero wastage and optimal stock levels across the network.”

Transparency, trust, respect

Taking the guesswork out of supply and demand has given Enzo more time to visit Simply Asia stores and to spend time with managers, staff and customers. “At Simply Asia, we’re building more than just restaurants. We’re building opportunities for others and that depends on strong relationships built on trust and respect.”

Related: Nando’s Adopts Technology; Focuses On Food & Funny

Enzo has the following advice for anyone looking to either buy a franchise in a chain store, or to franchise out their own businesses: “The key to building a successful franchise group is to fully understand your market and your customers. This is your starting point. If you want to buy a franchise, be sure to interrogate the business model in detail and to get a clear picture of the actual results.”

The people of Thailand place a lot of value on hard work, balanced with friendliness and hospitality. Traditionally, people would greet others by asking if they’d eaten yet. This sums up the Thai way of life, which revolves around sharing and enjoying delicious food in great company.

“When you bring the flavours of another country into your community, something magical happens; a culture is shared between strangers. At Simply Asia, we enjoy nothing more than sharing an authentic Thai experience with our customers.”

*For more on the story, please watch the video here.

 

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Entrepreneur Today

Inspiring A New Generation Of Learning – Education As A Basic Human Right

Access to education isn’t a privilege, it’s a basic human right – Mzwandile inspires a new generation of learners.

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Raised by his aunt and uncle after his parents passed away at a young age, Mzwandile Harmans attended a poor school in Cala, the heart of the rural Eastern Cape.  It was his matric year; but with limited resources at Masikhuthale Public Secondary school, the pass rate was low and the learning environment less than ideal for conscientious learners.

Then one day a teacher came round to talk about Engen’s Maths and Science Schools (EMSS) programme, and everything changed for this talented young man who was determined to realise his full potential.

“We were given a chance to take a test to qualify for the EMSS Cala programme. The programme offered supplementary classes in maths, science and English, which ran every Saturday morning, but was 25 kilometres away,” remembers Mzwandile. “Fortunately, I took it seriously and I got in.”

Making the long round trip every weekend to attend the programme saw a steady improvement in Mzwandile’s  maths, chemistry, and physics marks, so much so that he was awarded a full Engen scholarship to study Chemical Engineering at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

Mzwandile later impressed with his tertiary studies and after two-years was offered a one-year internship at the Engen Refinery in Durban, which he passed with distinction. On graduating from CPUT, he landed a two-year employment contract with Engen, as part of the company’s graduate development programme.

Today, Mzwandile is permanently employed as an Environmental Technician at the Engen Refinery.  “I am so grateful to Engen for all of this,” says Mzwandile. “I never thought it could happen to me.”

Engen’s Head of Transformation and Stakeholder Engagement, Unathi Magida says access to education is a fundamental human right.  “This resonates particularly with Engen as a company, as we believe in the value of education and know how important it is to ensure that young people have the opportunity to realise their full potential.”

Chwayita Mareka, Engen’s Head of Human Resources, says the company’s investment in young talent has focused on the Maths and Science Saturday Schools because they understand the bigger country agenda.

“As Engen, we try and play our part in helping to develop South African’s talent pool, as there is a scarcity of Science, Maths and Engineering skills. We offer bursaries for students to go to universities in these fields and we look after them, especially if they are from disadvantaged communities,” says Mareka.

“Later, they come into Engen as graduate trainees as part of our graduate development programme wherein we assign them a mentor that exposes them to the real business,” she adds.

Mzwandile’s journey is just one of many inspirational Engen stories that will be shared as part of a new TV series that aims to create a positive narrative around South Africa’s success stories.  The SA INC. TV series which launches on 7 April is a partnership between Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), Brand South Africa and producers, Regency Global.

“At Engen, we strongly believe that a country which is educated is a country that will prosper. We are pleased to play a part in helping to develop South Africa talent, especially our young learners based in rural areas,” says Magida

To watch Mzwandile’s story please visit the website: https://regency.global/engen/ and the following hashtags: #JourneyWithEngen #BusinessBelieves #SAINC #humanrightsday #awesomesouthafrica #sustainability #livesouthafrica #weheartsa.

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Entrepreneur Today

How SMEs Can Stand Out From The Crowd

A recently released SME Landscape Report: An Assessment of South Africa’s SME Landscape: Challenges, Opportunities, Risks & Next Steps’ 2018/2019, revealed that 40 percent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) find that the industry that they operate in is extremely competitive. It also states that considering the low growth environment, this is likely to continue further into the future.

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To assist struggling entrepreneurs, Byron Jeacocks, Regional General Manager at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), says that it is imperative for SME owners who find themselves in this predicament to determine and implement tactics to remain competitive in saturated industries. “A good example of how to do this, is Business Partners Limited’s client, Prashun Sharma, owner-manager of glass and aluminium company, Aluminium Doctor, who was faced with an overtraded industry teeming with informal operators when he started his business seven years ago.”

“This was because the glass and aluminium industry suffered a contraction following the Soccer World Cup construction boom in 2010, and as a result, many tradespeople were retrenched and subsequently started up their own informal glass and aluminium installation operations to make ends meet,” Jeacocks adds.

Explaining how he ensured a competitive edge in his business, Sharma, who was also retrenched from his senior management position at a large aluminium company, says that when he started his company he decided to make it formal, compliant and professional. “I wanted to incorporate my corporate and managerial experience to differentiate my business, and to elevate this, I enrolled in a business management degree.”

“My degree covered everything from strategic management, supply management, first-line management to directorship and it touched on everything from listing on the stock exchange down to conflict management and change management. This really prepared me for business and I believe it was a key ingredient to my business’s success,” he points out.

However, Sharma says that when starting their businesses in a saturated industry, entrepreneurs should not feel despondent if the process is slow at the beginning. “At first in my journey, there seemed to be no difference between Aluminium Doctor and the rest of the informal businesses in the industry, but I continued to lay a formal foundation, whilst consulting with my lawyer and accountant to make sure these foundations were sound. I also started to develop professionally made marketing material, a website, formal email addresses and a fixed phone line.”

Aluminium Doctor’s breakthrough came a year and a half into the business, when it won a substantial contract with the building of the Durban ice rink, says Sharma. “This is when I knew that it was time to formalise my business premises and I found a 1000 square metre factory in Brairdene, Durban.”

However, in order to purchase the building, I needed to obtain funding and I believed that it was clear from the financials that the company could afford to buy the building, but the banks were not sure whether our fast growth was sustainable. “I was then introduced to Business Partners Limited which considers finance applications based on the potential of the business, and also on the capabilities of the entrepreneur rather than just on the balance sheet and age of the business.”

Commenting on this, Jeacocks says that Sharma’s management style and his commitment to furthering himself as an entrepreneur by studying business management was also a contributing factor to the approval of his business’s property finance loan,” comments Jeacocks.

“Today, seven years since he started, Sharma’s careful attention to his business’s formal foundations is still paying off. Just in the last twelve months, in an extremely challenging economy, Aluminium Doctor grew by 35 percent, and the business now has a presence in KwaZulu Natal, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng where it will soon establish a permanent sales office in an expansion that is only possible for a formal, well run organisation,” Jeacocks concludes.

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Celebrating The Best Of The Best In Black Business

The 2019 Black Business Quarterly (BBQ) Awards, held at Emperor’s Palace on Friday, 15 March 2019, celebrated the champions of transformation of the South African economy.

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Established in 2002, the BBQ Awards 2019 honoured the best of the best in black business. South Africa’s top black business owners and rising stars arrived to the red carpet for a night full of glitz and glamour. Celebrity TV presenter, socialite, radio personality and Idols SA judge Somizi Mhlongo led the festivities as the evening’s programme director. He was joined on stage by A-list celebrities and prominent politicians.

Jeff Radebe, Minister of the Department of Energy, celebrated 25 years of South Africa’s democracy in his opening keynote address and emphasised the importance of transformation.

“Transformation is well recognised as a change management strategy, which aligns people, which aligns processes and technology initiatives, irrespective of the industry you come from, in order to survive and evolve in this business environment. Changing the structure of the South African economy will result in it being more inclusive, more sustainable… with opportunities for all, integrated value chains, and less barriers to entry. In South Africa, the transformation agenda is very critical in all our endeavours and all our decisions.”

Radebe congratulated the winners of the 15 transformation categories on this recognition of their inspiring dedication:

  • Platinum Award: Dr Nobuhle Judy Dlamini, founding chairman of Mbekani Group, is an entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist. Her passion for creating and adding value to society and humanity provided her with the overall platinum award for the evening, as well as the Comair Outstanding Woman of the Year Award.
  • Hennessy XO Businessman of the Year Award: Sthembiso Elton Nkomo, CEO of Abalandi Risk Management, was recognised as a professionally qualified, dedicated, and respected professional in the forensic investigation and security services environment.
  • The Innovation Hub New and Innovative Business Award: AET Africa, a manufacturer and supplier of energy efficient and clean technology products, developed various products targeting the commercial and residential sectors.
  • Emperors Palace Community Builder of the Year Award: Emmanel Bonoko, Founder of EBonoko Holdings and a social entrepreneur. He founded EBonoko at the age of 21 with the aim of serving others and fostering leadership, youth empowerment, and entrepreneurship.
  • Dormehl Phalane Property Group Transformation Champion of the Year Award: ICT-Works, an organisation that provides innovative technology solutions. At its core it also enhances the lives of millions of people.
  • Best Employer of the Year Award: Maredi Technologies CC, an 100% black owned ICT infrastructure solutions provider for the private and public sector.
  • Trade & Investment KZN Young Business Achiever Award: Pravashen Naidoo, Founder and CEO of e-Waste Africa, established Africa’s first light bulb recycling business at the age of 30.
  • Bentley South Africa Public Sector Visionary Award: Dr Ayanda Vilakazi, CEO of Lama Marketing and Advertising (Pty) Ltd. He published numerous articles on how to improve services and operations in South Africa. As a seasoned Executive he has expertise in corporate governance, financial management and budgeting, enterprise risk management and strategic development.
  • BET New Entrepreneur Award: Ms Thobile Nyawo, Director of Nyawo Civil construction. The 19-year-old construction entrepreneur founded her company in 2015 with no start-up capital.
  • CSI Ubuntu Award: Vukani-Ubuntu Community Development Projects, a non-profit organisation that is the largest mineral-beneficiation organisation in the jewellery sector in South Africa and a network off grassroots development projects across the country.
  • NHBRC Iqhawe Mentorship Award: Musa Zulu, Creative Director of Valhalla Arts, as well as published author, international artist, celebrated motivational speaker, and prominent disability activist in South Africa.
  • NYDA Outstanding Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award: Muhammad Simjee, Founder and CEO of A2D24 with a passion for building gadgets and writing software.
  • Nedbank Group Individual Transformation in Leadership Award: Karen Rademeyer, Fundraiser and Communications Manager at Go for Gold, having worked in the non-profit sector for 17 years She is passionate about education: Go for Gold as a dynamic Education-to-Employment programme that recruits school students from some of South Africa’s poorest communities and transforms them into technically qualified graduates.
  • LTE Holdings Best Established Black Business Award: Thata uBeke Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd, which offers turnkey solutions by designing, developing, manufacturing and assembling electronic and electro mechanical components for a variety of applications including aerospace, telecommunications, mining, commercial, and military specifications.

The BBQ Awards continue to be South Africa’s most prestigious transformation awards. For more information on the 2019 BBQ Awards, visit http://www.bbqawards.co.za/ or follow them on Facebook (@BBQAwards) and Twitter (@BBQ_Awards).

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