Dean Jankielsohn has owned and operated the Boland Superspar in Piketberg for over three decades but insists he’s not really in the food business. “We always say we are actually in the people business and we just happen to be selling food,” he explains.
Jankielsohn says hard work and always putting customers first has been key to the success of his business. But his advice to focus on people goes beyond those who shop in his store. “We have a very strong culture within our store. We always have each other’s backs. We believe that culture is more important than strategy and we live by this daily.”
Catch people doing something right
When Jankielsohn opened his store, it had only 13 staff – including him and his wife. Since then the business has grown to now employ 200 staff members who are dedicated to giving customers a great experience. “We have to be hard and really pedantic on standards, but we are soft on people. Our people can make mistakes. We want to encourage them and catch them doing something right rather than catch them out doing something wrong.”
He says maintaining the strong culture within the business became easier as it grew. “We have many people who have been with us for a very long time and a very strong team at the core of the business. I like to delegate and to develop people to always try to pull people closer to that core. The longer-serving team members are integral in ensuring that our culture is strengthened and improved upon.”
The Spar family
Jankielsohn believes a strong and value-based culture is also what has allowed Spar to achieve such success in South Africa and around the globe. “As Spar retailers we are not in competition with each other. Everyone genuinely wants to help each other succeed. “You are never alone in Spar. Help and advice is always just a phone call away.”
Jankielsohn says the way Spar is structured helps to encourage this culture of collaboration. Spar is not a franchise, but a voluntary trading organisation. This means that all Spar stores are independently owned, and owners have a lot of freedom in determining their product range and business strategy. The Spar Group acts as a wholesaler to Spar stores only and uses its distribution network to supply each store with branded goods. The relationship between retailers and the distribution centre is very much that of a family and work very closely together.
Spar owners also benefit from advice, training and other support services from the Spar Group as well as its national marketing efforts. “Everything is a partnership. There is no top-down approach in Spar. The contribution that corporate makes and the contribution that the retailers make to the business is 50/50,” explains Jankielsohn.
Quality in tough times
This support and advice can become even more important in difficult economic times when consumers are cash-strapped, as they are now. “We can see people are struggling through what they buy. They try to buy down and will change from one brand of rice to a cheaper one.
“We used to do our back-to-school promotions in January. Now we have moved this to November, because people are buying school supplies as Christmas gifts.”
Jankielsohn says consumers across the income spectrum are more focused on living and eating more healthily. “People have realised that they can’t afford to be ill and want to eat healthily, and this makes being able to offer high-quality fresh produce very important.”
He says the same focus on quality applies in the butchery in his store, which is a very important driver of the business. “If you eat a good steak you won’t remember how much it cost. You will only remember where you bought it.”
Entrepreneurs get lonely too
Although he has always enjoyed the support of the Spar family, Jankielsohn admits that being an entrepreneur can sometimes be very tough. “Like most entrepreneurs, I have experienced difficult times – and then being an entrepreneur can be very lonely. But you must be able to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You have to be able to make a plan.”
Jankielsohn is also grateful to have had a bank that supported him throughout the difficult and good times his business has faced. “Nedbank has always been my bank. They have always been there for me and believed in me. We have had a good relationship and I deal with a business relationship manager who understands my business and cares about it.”
He says confidence and self-belief are crucial to becoming a successful entrepreneur. “As an entrepreneur you have to make a decision and run with it. Self-belief is extremely important. You can’t have a fear of failure. If you make a decision you have to put yourself behind it fully and go flat-out.”
Brought to you by Nedbank Franchising.