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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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Stormers’ Siya Kolisi: On Being An Entrepreneur And Employer In SA

Many sportsmen only begin thinking about other sources of income after their professional sporting careers draw to an end, Springbok Siya Kolisi has opted for a head start.

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Stormers captain Siya Kolisi has branched out into small business ownership with Frankees: A designer underwear brand with a South African spin. This is Kolisi’s first business venture, which adds him to the ranks of many South African ‘slashers’ who have alternative sources of income to their day jobs. With a current unemployment rate of 26.7%, SME business owners play an increasingly important role in uplifting South Africa’s economy and tackling unemployment.

Ahead of Workers Day on 1 May, Kolisi chatted about being an entrepreneur and employer at the Cape Town Live Better Talks sponsored by Capitec Bank – a bank that partners with business owners to offer smart banking solutions to employees. In SA, SMEs comprise 90% of formal businesses currently and could catalyse 90% of all new jobs in the country by 2030 – especially if President Ramaphosa delivers on his promise to remove current barriers to small business growth. So ventures like Frankees have the potential to make a big difference.

Related: 8 Lessons Rugby Can Teach Us On Achieving Peak Performance In Business And Life

Here’s what Kolisi had to share:

Tell us a bit more about your new business venture and why you decided to found it?

SK: I founded Frankees, a designer underwear company, with my former class and teammate Tim Whitehead. He originally approached me to be the face of the business, but when I looked closer at the business model I saw the opportunity that existed and brought my full skillset on board in exchange for 50% ownership.

It was an easy decision because Tim and I have walked a long road together, I can trust him, and, after a good business model, trust is the most valuable business commodity.

How do you balance playing rugby and managing a business?

SK: I’m not going to lie, it’s tough. You’d think that investing your money in a good business model is sufficient but that’s only the starting point. I’ve learnt that you have to work hard to make your money work for you.

Tim and I split up our roles based upon what comes naturally to us – this makes it less taxing. I focus on marketing and networking. It’s taught me perseverance and persistence. Having someone famous post a picture in your underwear on social media can have a big impact, but they are also usually very busy so it takes a lot of effort to get the photo out of them.

It sounds like you’re learning a lot along the way, what has been your biggest lesson?

SK: You need to set boundaries about who you listen to. There’s a lot of negativity out there and if you’re not careful people can talk you out of your business idea. I’ve chosen a select few people to walk this journey with me and their advice is the wisdom I value.

Do you think an employer has a responsibility to financially upskill employees?

SK: I do, but only if they’re open to having the conversation. I think there’s a lot to be said for transparency: As an employer, you need to be open about what’s working and what’s not. When things fail, you need to talk about the lessons you learn from the experience. From a financial perspective, I try to ask my staff about their future plans – whether they want to start their own business or pursue an educational venture of some kind, etc. – and offer gentle advice from my own experiences, if they’re open to this. I think, as always, there’s a lot to be said for leading by example. I talk about the way my family is saving and investing in our future. I also am open about the company finances: The importance of cash flow, plus insurance, emergency funds and all those key components to getting a new company off the ground.

Related: 5 Things Businesses Can Learn From Rugby

What role do you think SME’s play in the economy?

SK: Small businesses are very important not only for providing job creation, but they drive innovation and efficiencies in our economy. They have the largest potential to move people out of the poverty cycle of structural unemployment but one must be brave starting up a business because it’s not easy.

Personally I’ve been driven by the need to ensure I can always provide for my young family, even after I hang up my boots. I’m also passionate about being a change maker – running a successful business at scale will result in the ability to employ more staff thus creating jobs and empowering people.

What’s one lesson you hope to impart to your employees and other hopeful entrepreneurs?

SK: Always be on the lookout for creative ways to diversify your income; it is possible to hold down more than one job or to begin something small on the side to add to your income. Don’t wait until you’re confronted with a problem – begin now and be proactive.

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Attention Female Entrepreneurs In SA – Fairlady And Santam Are Looking For Entries!

Entries are now open for the FAIRLADY Santam WOMEN OF THE FUTURE 2018 Awards.

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FAIRLADY and Santam are once again calling for female entrepreneurs: three amazing women who have taken the leap to work for themselves and are now creating opportunities for others – and boosting our economy!

‘South African women are such an impressive bunch – each year I’m blown away by what our entrants have achieved, and not only in “traditional” female businesses like design and PR. They’ve done everything – from starting giant construction firms to filling transport gaps with innovative ideas and a whole host of other genius businesses along the way. They are amazing,’ says FAIRLADY editor Suzy Brokensha.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

The FAIRLADY Santam Woman of the Future 2018 award goes to an entrepreneur, 30 years of age or older, who has overcome the challenges of the first three (3) years as an entrepreneur and made it beyond 1 000 days in business. The prize comprises R50 000 cash, an invaluable mentorship session with one of the judges, an Issey Miyake fragrance hamper worth R6 990, an IMM Graduate School short course worth R15 000, a Michel Herbelin watch worth R10 500, a Karissa Biz Bailhandle and Spinner from Samsonite worth R7 298, a Madrid ladies handbag and purse from Jekyll & Hyde valued at R4 799, a Cross pen worth R2 500 and one media training session.

Mokaedi Dilotsotlhe, Chief Marketing Officer at title sponsor Santam says, ‘As a company that has been in the business landscape for 100 years, we support entrepreneurship as it is vital to the growth of the country’s economy. Entrepreneurs are the bloodline of economic growth – they are the source of job creation and engines of innovation. We value our partnership with FAIRLADY in the Women of the Future initiative – now in its fourth year – as it gives us a platform to honour entrepreneurs who are positively impacting our nation.’

The FAIRLADY Santam Rising Star 2018 Award goes to an entrepreneur between the ages of 16 and 30 whose business is older than six months but still within its first 1000 days of business. The prize comprises R20 000 cash, an invaluable mentorship session with one of the judges, a Issey Miyake fragrance hamper worth R6 990, an IMM Graduate School short course worth R15 000, a Michel Herbelin watch worth R10 500, a Karissa Biz Bailhandle and Spinner from Samsonite worth R7 298, a Madrid ladies handbag and purse from Jekyll & Hyde valued at R4 799, a Cross pen worth R2 500 and one media training session.

‘There’s a new optimism in South Africa, but at FAIRLADY we have always been optimistic. We’re all about the future, and we believe in the extraordinary power of women to create the future we want for ourselves and our children in this country. We award success, but we also award potential (the Rising Star award). This year I’m delighted to say we’re also including the social entrepreneurs who are using their businesses to contribute to their communities.’ says Brokensha.

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

The FAIRLADY Santam Social Entrepreneur 2018 Award goes to an entrepreneur whose business is making a real difference in her community. She must be 30 years or older, and her business must have survived its first 1 000 days in business. The prize comprises R20 000 cash, an invaluable mentorship session with one of the judges, an Issey Miyake fragrance hamper worth R6 990, an IMM Graduate School short course worth R15 000, a Michel Herbelin watch worth R10 500, a Karissa Biz Bailhandle and Spinner from Samsonite worth R7 298, a Madrid ladies handbag and purse from Jekyll & Hyde valued at R4 799, a Cross pen worth R2 500 and one media training session

Entry forms and terms & conditions are available on www.womenofthefuture.co.za.
Entries close on 8 June 2018.


fairlady-magazine-cover-for-mayThe general public can now nominate a female entrepreneur for entry into the Woman of the Future,
Rising Star or Social Entrepreneur Awards. Nomination forms can be found on https://www.womenofthefuture.co.za/nominate-now/

For full details, get the latest issue of FAIRLADY magazine, on sale now!

Follow FAIRLADY on Facebook www.facebook.com/fairladymag, @FairladyMag on Twitter, and @Fairlady_Magazine on Instagram.

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The Big Issues Facing SA’s Small Business

There’s no lack of entrepreneurial spirit in SA, but start-ups and small businesses need skills, social capital and a supportive environment in order to succeed.

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It’s a popular misconception that funding is the biggest hurdle in the way of small business success: in fact, knowledge and networks may be more important. This is according to small business experts and members of the Small Business Expo expert advisory board, speaking ahead of South Africa’s premier small business development platform – Small Business Expo 2018.

The expo, taking place from 6 – 8 September at the TicketPro Dome is an annual opportunity showcase and knowledge-sharing platform for local small and medium sized businesses, is presented by Reed Exhibitions in partnership with the Eskom Development Foundation. It is further supported by the Randburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Minara Chamber of Commerce; endorsed by the Black Management Forum (BMF) and approved by AAXO.

Related: The Next 5 Steps To Take After You’ve Been Denied A Small Business Loan

According to Langa Manqele, FinTech businessman and chairman of the Black Management Forum (BMF) in Gauteng, entrepreneurial spirit is flourishing across South Africa, including in the townships and rural areas.

“A trend we’re seeing emerging is for entrepreneurs to launch small scale manufacturing and agro-processing operations around the country.” This is in line with the government’s hopes for a more industrial economy, and presents many opportunities for job creation, he notes.

“Unfortunately, though, many start-ups are failing to break through into big business, and many are failing to comply with testing and safety standards. This may be partly due to a lack of awareness and information, and also because safety and standards infrastructure is out of reach of rural business, as well as being prohibitively expensive.”

Manqele believes that stepped up information sharing, skills development and networking, such as that available at the Small Business Expo, may help these start-ups break through into the big business league.

“This is why the BMF is endorsing the Small Business Expo,” he says. “Because of its focus on the development of black business in particular, along with its three days of in-depth workshops and opportunities to network, we believe it’s an invaluable platform for small businesses to gain the knowledge and social capital they need to grow. Capacity building is a major challenge, and the number of startups able to be absorbed by incubators doesn’t meet the national needs; therefore events like these fill the gap for critical business skills development.”

Linda Blackbeard, CEO of the Randburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), which represents businesses in Randburg, Fourways and Lanseria, echoes this sentiment. “Small businesses need partner networks in order to grow. Joint ventures, for example, allow them to take on bigger projects than they might manage alone. And through partnerships with large business, they stand to gain viable income streams.” But many do not know how to tap in to this ‘social capital’ or partner networks.

Blackbeard says belonging to an industry body such as the local Chamber of Commerce is a key first step to expanding partner networks. Another is to participate in industry events.

Related: Get Your Small Business VAT-Ready Without The Headache

“The Small Business Expo is a very important platform for networking, learning and skills development,” she says. “No matter how long you’ve been in business, systems and markets change and there’s always something new for us to learn so that we can operate more effectively.” She notes that marketing is another area where many small businesses fall short, making the networking and exposure opportunities at the Small Business Expo invaluable for small businesses.

BMF and RCCI will be present at the Small Business Expo, where small business can discover the benefits of joining the organisations.

Carol Weaving, MD of Reed Exhibitions, says building social capital and business capacity is the primary function of the Small Business Expo and co-located #BuyaBusiness expo. “Empowering small businesses to grow, has always been the focus of this event, which is closely aligned with the work of show partner, the Eskom Development Foundation. As the expo has evolved, we have increased our efforts to deliver a practical development forum that delivers tangible results for all participants. This year, the programme has been shaped with input from business experts across small business umbrella bodies, chambers of commerce, banks and entrepreneurs, all working towards a common goal of growing businesses in South Africa.”

Small Business Expo will include multiple development forums and workshops, including the Creative Business Cup, Nedbank Money Matters Workshops; Standard Bank Women in Business Theatre; Eskom  “Powering your World Indaba” and a Business Services Theatre.  In addition, the expo will showcase the Business Services Expo & #BuyABusiness Expo as well as offersa #THEClub VIP investors’ programme, business speed dating, online business matchmaking and dedicated networking areas.


About the Small Business Expo

The Small Business Expo, showcasing the Business Services Expo and #BuyaBusiness Expo, is devoted to the development of small and medium sized enterprises, providing an invaluable platform for small and medium businesses to market themselves, network and connect with entrepreneurs and interact with prominent business leaders and representatives from a number of corporate companies. The Small Business Expo is presented by Reed Exhibitions in partnership with the Eskom Development Foundation and will be held from 6 – 8 September 2018 at the Ticketpro Dome, Northgate.

The expo is supported by the Randburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Minara Chamber of Commerce, and is endorsed by the Black Management Forum (BMF) and approved by AAXO.

For more information, visit https://www.smallbizexpo.co.za/

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