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Inkwazi Shopping Centre, Air Street, Malelane, 1320, South Africa
33,400sq ft of retail space
What does a supermarket owner from rural South Africa have to teach retailers from Aberdeen, Barnsley or Cardiff? Award-winner Lex Hollmann thinks quite a lot, actually. He speaks with Chris Dillon
There are hippos, cheetahs and elephants roaming free just a few miles from Lex Hollmann’s 33,400sq ft Malelane-based Superspar. Extreme poverty, too, exists on its doorstep.
Yet, as South African store owner Lex Hollmann explains to RN after his speech at the Spar Retail Show last month, there is a lot that this independent retailer shares with businesses everywhere.
First, there’s the fact that Malelane’s 3,500 residents rely on his store as much as farming communities in the UK.
Lex has therefore put the community at the heart of his operation, carefully developing a strategy that uses the store to generate long-term benefits to his community.
“We’re often asked for one-off handouts and donations, but you have to do something that has a longer use than that,” he explains.
Instead, Lex empowers his staff to lead initiatives. “Your staff are part of the community, so they know what it is needed,” he says.
Strikingly, the most popular community work the store does is donating shoes to children on the first day of school. Lex says his staff led that idea at the start and he agreed to match the number of pairs they donated. The store also donated 48 Spar-branded water tanks to schools and provides free sanitary towels for girls that would otherwise have to stay home from school.
And like businesses everywhere, Lex and his team are working hard to develop a successful social media strategy. For him, the store’s community work has to be front and centre of this. “We don’t put any information about products or promotions on Facebook. I don’t believe it’s the right place – it annoys me when I see it from other businesses and I know I can’t be the only one,” he says. It’s a strategy that seems to be working – the page has attracted over 19,000 likes, more than five times the town’s population.
Like most stores, Lex’s team can use social media to highlight giveaways in the store – the only difference being the fact his size and budgets mean these giveaways regularly include cars and fridges.
And the scale of the business really is breathtaking. Since the store opened in 2002, it has grown to become a hub with a range of businesses moving close by, sharing and increasing the footfall for the area.
The strategy came about after Lex and his family sold off their previous business.
“There was no other space to expand,” he says, “but the council was selling off a piece of land where we could build our own shopping centre, so it was either rent somewhere else or do that.”
Sixteen years on, this is now an independent local shop that boasts 38 checkouts.
We don’t put any information about products or promotions on Facebook. I don’t believe it’s the right place
And this growth meant that when Superspar was threatened with direct competition from a multiple – Shoprite – Lex’s hub strategy put him in the driving seat.
“I thought if they were going to do that, we’re going to put them right next door.”
The team built a new centre close by and convinced them to become the first tenant. “They anticipated taking a much bigger portion of the market. We thought that Shoprite would impact us by about 30%, but it never happened, we never went backwards in the whole process,” he says.
Instead the store has been able to focus on regular “little projects”, which have gradually updated the business and allowed it to keep up with trends. In recent years, these have included moving the location of its hot deli, investing in LED lighting and even introducing an in-store fried chicken franchise – Chikka Chicken.
So, not only has Lex’s business given his community much need charitable help, he’s also created a successful and vibrant business environment.
He says: “Over time, the town has grown around both Superspar and Shoprite, and this end of town has become a real destination for shoppers.”