Members of Cohort 8 from Stetson University’s Executive MBA program visited wholesaler SPAR Western Cape for their second business tour of the day, June 23. The executives who guided the students through SPAR were Solly Engelbrecht, distribution director; Brenton van Breda, finance director; and John Warren, IT director.
“The entire SPAR company was gracious during our entire visit,” said Wendy Lowe, Executive MBA program coordinator. “We walked the distribution floor. We saw first-hand how inventory is stacked five stories high, and how produce is kept at temperatures to ensure freshness and quality. Brrr … the below-25-degree Celsius cooler was frigid, but it does keep the perishables in the best condition for the stores.” After the tour, the directors treated the students to a light lunch and a bottle of Cape Town red wine.
SPAR’s core business is wholesale and distribution, with the buying power directly at the store level. SPAR has had a successful run in the retail market for more than 45 years. It has 850 stores across South Africa and beyond, servicing more than 60 million customers per month.
SPAR purchases goods in bulk and uses state-of-the-art technology to distribute these items to various store locations based on specific requests. SPAR is driven by relationships; therefore the distribution centers have a vested interest in delivering first class service and products. SPAR store owners remain 85 to 90 percent loyal to SPAR distribution centers for the acquisition of items to sell.
One of SPAR’s competitive advantages is that one truck delivers both frozen and dry goods, rather than various trucks delivering based on product type. Each SPAR store allocates 70 percent of its retail space to product displays and only 30 percent to storage of extra stock.
Student Raul Herrera asked if new items are picked up based on geographic or cultural needs. “Absolutely,” said van Breda. “We track items carefully, and once the thresholds reach a level that sensibly we can buy for multiple stores, we do.”
“Technology is a critical piece,” added Warren. “The stores use the SPAR technology systems to place orders, track progress and communicate with the distribution center actively.”
SPAR invests in its stores’ success, including helping finance new stores, assisting with store design, employing and training workers, and collaborating on marketing efforts. SPAR does not set franchise fees; instead, store owners select their pre-approved location and join the SPAR “family” like a one would join a golf club, explained Engelbrecht.
SPAR is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and has six regions in South Africa. The Western Cape distribution center, the site of Cohort 8’s visit, is the company’s third-largest. SPAR offers different types of stores, such as the Super SPAR (Kroger) with aggressive pricing, SPAR (neighborhood-based) with competitive pricing, Kwik SPAR (convenience-based), TOPS (liquor-focused), Build-It (building materials-focused) and Pharmacy at SPAR (in or near SPAR stores).
Although SPAR can start out in a less populated area, SPAR remains competitive even when the area’s density grows, and it is not being pushed out by its larger rivals. In the West Cape region, Checkers/Shop Rite has 34 percent market share, Pick & Pay has 32 percent market share, and SPAR comes in at 29 percent, which is an astounding figure compared to overall corporate size.
Student Denise Edelmaier asked the executives if they were concerned about Wal-Mart coming to South Africa. “We don’t anticipate a major effect,” answered Engelbrecht. “We don’t underestimate Wal-Mart’s overall power; however, we are far ahead logistically in South Africa, and our focus again is being a wholesaler and delivering to the retail market.”
When student Wesley DuBose inquired about SPAR’s efforts in reducing its carbon footprint, Warren said SPAR has quietly participated in many cost-saving and environmentally friendly initiatives, such as starting a school recycling program, which has recycled 500 tons of plastic combined from all SPAR stores in the past year, recycling cartons used in their distribution center, and obtaining oil from all store locations to reuse in trucks for future deliveries.
Engelbrecht said his goals for 2011 and the near future are to enhance the skills of SPAR’s employees, increase the use of technology, obtain a closer cooperative with suppliers, reduce lag time across the total supply chain, and build trust in processes and controls that focus on cost-drivers. Student Lofton Barnes asked if these goals support the South African “human-model” of a life-work balance. Engelbrecht commented that SPAR employees have great pride and ownership in the company’s success. “Employees who stay two years retire here,” he said. SPAR provides competitive salaries, training and excellent working conditions for its employees.
This visit provided the cohort a clear understanding that unique business models can be extremely successful and that creativity and openness to provide service and support to a company’s “internal” members and “external” customers can reap rewards both in the short-term and the long-term.