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‘Clients are the best people to position your brand’

Theo Baloyi of Bathu Shoes discusses building a solid, sustainable label; brand-building; and the value in Africans building products, value chains and ecosystems for the rest of the world.
Consumers are the best people to brand a business. Image: Shutterstock

Now is the time to press the reset button to redefine your business models and brand promises.

MELITTA NGALONKULU: A very warm welcome to the Small Business Conversations podcast. I am your host Melitta Ngalonkulu. When starting a business it’s all good and fair to have a structured business model that will lead your business to greater heights. But, at the same time, no brand can survive in the marketplace without a strong brand position – no matter how organised your business is or how active you are on social media. It’s what people think of your brand that matters the most.

Theo Baloyi, the founder of Bathu Shoes, joins us in this episode to talk about the importance of brand positioning, and on how to build a solid brand that will stand the test of time. Theo quit his accounting job and started his shoe business at his home in Alexandra township in Johannesburg. Today his bright mesh sneakers are well-positioned in the market. Theo, it’s a pleasure to have you joining us.

So, as an entrepreneur, how do you get out of the bubble of just focusing on the day-to-day operations of running a business, and actually get to build it into a solid brand?

Theo Baloyi, founder of Bathu Shoes. He says his products are “the only shoe that greets.” Image: Supplied

THEO BALOYI: Thank you for having me. It’s such a privilege to be on this platform. I really, really appreciate the invite.

I try by all means to delegate wherever necessary so that I can focus more on the structure and growth of the business. And to do that you need to have the right people on board, to have the right people doing the right things in the business, and understand how to build the value chain.

I’ve been blessed in the sense that I’ve got great leaders in the business, great managers to whom I can easily delegate tasks in terms of the day-to-day operations of the business. That gives me room to go out there and network and build new relations for the business. That allows us to grow and develop the strategy of the business. So I try to delegate as much as I can as far as the day-to-day operations are concerned.

MELITTA NGALONKULU: Speaking of day-to-day operations. How would you go about delegating them to your staff?

THEO BALOYI: We’ve got different avenues of the business. I think, first and foremost, before you can even talk about staff and people, you need to make sure that your human capital and your human resources identify the right talent with the right skills, and then also place them in the right avenues of the business. So I try by all means to ensure that we’ve got the right people in the right avenues of the business, and people that are well capable of running with different tasks in the business. I mainly delegate on a basis of priority, number one – as to what priority projects we’ve got in business, and what line of savings those projects are running in the business. And I try to delegate like that as well, to say this is of utmost importance and therefore I can delegate it to marketing, to HR, to finance and so forth. So that’s how I go about delegation.

MELITTA NGALONKULU: Would you say that brand positioning is the process of positioning your brand in the mind of your customers, so that whenever your name or your product comes up they recognise it immediately?

THEO BALOYI: One hundred percent. And then I think there are different ways of positioning your brand, either through social media or through your product. And sometimes I think the best way to position your brand is to allow the client to position it for you, to talk about your brand more often than ever, to experience your brand promise, and to have a better customer experience. In that, the customers will position it and advocate for a brand more than any other one, or any other platform. So we, as brand holders, have got a responsibility to put the brand out there and to communicate our brand promise and ensure that our clients are aligned and they can resonate with what we send to them.

… I feel clients are the best people to really position your brand, because those are the people who advocate for a brand in new markets, in existing markets, and keep on telling their friends and their loved ones about your brand and how great it is.

So we have the mandate to communicate our brand promise to clients….

MELITTA NGALONKULU: Theo, how did you do it? I know that whenever I see those bright sneakers, I immediately identify them with you and Bathu Shoes. So how did you go about it?

THEO BALOYI: I think, for us, from the foundation of our business, in the depth of our business one thing that we wanted to do is that we didn’t just want to borrow this sneaker brand, telling an African story. We wanted it to be unique and different. So we did about 18 months of research and development, proof of concept, quality control, quality testing and so forth. And one of the things I identified was that in 2015 there was a trend happening around colourful socks, mainly dominated by a brand called Happy Socks. We wanted to develop a ‘happy shoe’. For us, colour was the new in-thing.

Oftentimes in footwear manufacturing, people don’t play with colour. So we wanted to have an identity, to say Bathu is about colour, that it’s about (being) funky, it’s about being cool enough – while telling a proudly African story.

That’s one of the things that really helped us and was our unique selling proposition in terms of a product that differentiates us as well.

MELITTA NGALONKULU: So is that how you would say that you were able to differentiate your sneakers from the rest of the market – because of the brightness and the fact that you chose an idea that mainly stems from those Happy Socks?

THEO BALOYI: Yes, definitely, because I think with our shoes we always say that it’s the only shoe that greets. I’ve worn a lot of sneakers over a number of years, and at the time I couldn’t find a sneaker that could blow some air, because on a really, really hot summer day your feet or some peoples’ feet tend to sweat a lot. So one tended to have an idea of building or creating a sneaker that can have ventilation blow some air into your feet – and that’s how it came about.

MELITTA NGALONKULU: And what sacrifices would you say are actually involved in the brand-building process, and how did you go about it?

THEO BALOYI: I think there are a lot of sacrifices that go into that. And, as you all know, sneaker manufacturing or footwear manufacturing is a very capital-intensive business, meaning that with each and every process…when you are starting off, you need to be able to reinvest back in the business, meaning that you need to sort of build healthy working capital so that can grow your business, either from footprints in brick-and-mortar stores, or e-commerce, and product development, brand building and so forth. So you have to make a lot of sacrifices in that you have to build a beautiful end-to-end customer experience and value chain.

Oftentimes what that means is that from the beginning you need to really sacrifice the finer things, the vanity projects, so that you can build this value chain. We’ve had to reinvest for the first two years of our business.

We had to reinvest almost every cent that we got in the business, in different avenues, to build the brand and to build our footprint.

MELITTA NGALONKULU: Theo, I’m sure you’d agree with me when I say that, as an entrepreneur, you can do all the right things but, with the current economic climate, things might be stagnant for a while. So what advice would you offer to small business owners to ensure that they find unique ways of growing their business despite the current challenges?

THEO BALOYI: I think what has happened during the pandemic is that it has given a lot of businesses a chance to press the reset button, and redefine our business models, to redefine our brand promises. It has given us a chance to really innovate. There’s a saying that crisis breeds innovation. And I think what has happened in the pandemic is it has enabled a lot of businesses to match different models and different processes together and make them one.

For instance, in our business, the pandemic has given us an opportunity to merge and to integrate our e-commerce store, our online store, with our brick-and-mortar stores, sort of finding a synergy between the two and best help deliver our brand promise and enhance our customer experience.

I think now we need to start thinking beyond Africa because Africans have often been at the receiving end … of the latest app, the latest technology, the latest product, the latest trends. So, the pandemic has really given us an opportunity to press the reset button, and think about how we build products and value chains and ecosystems that the rest of the world can receive, because we’ve seen that nothing is constant.

The world is evolving, things are changing, we’re going into the new normal, and we see a lot of people now doing more e-commerce in online stores.

What does it mean to build an e-commerce store in an African ecosystem? How do we best integrate it and make sure that we reset the rest of the world because it’s a reset button for not only Africa, but for the rest of the world. Things are changing. And I think that’s where innovation comes in. There are big businesses that have been born and bred during crises – your Uber, your Airbnb, your Facebook and so forth. So what are we doing now that, since we’ve got a crisis, since the world has pressed the reset button, what does it mean for us as Africans in terms of telling our stories and…available, value chains and businesses?

MELITTA NGALONKULU: I like how you touched on us actually building our own names and building our own brands – not just as South Africans, but as Africans as well. So when I utter the words “proudly made in Africa” or even “South Africa” – what do those words mean to an entrepreneur? What should they mean to them?

THEO BALOYI: I think it means a whole lot more. Number one, it means diversity, it means inclusion, it means telling an African story with authenticity, because as Africans we are often known to be a very ‘rainbow’ continent with different ways of speaking, different ways of eating, different ways of engaging. But oftentimes we don’t package that into a uniform business model or uniform product or service that the rest of the world can receive.

So I think, for us, we should really show the world what it means to be ‘Made in Africa’. It means creativity, it means innovation, it means inclusion, it means diversity….

So in a form of services, products really change an ecosystem. That’s what it’s about. It’s about that authenticity, diversity, and being a rainbow continent in a nutshell.

MELITTA NGALONKULU: Thank you so much, Theo, for your time.

THEO BALOYI: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

MELITTA NGALONKULU: That was Theo Baloyi, the founder of Bathu Shoes, talking to us on brand positioning in the mind of the customer.

To listen to other Small Business Conversations podcasts, click here, go to Moneyweb.co.za, or follow Moneyweb News on the Moneyweb app, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for updates. 

Watch: Baloyi spoke to Tumisang Ndlovu on the SAfm Market Update with Moneyweb in 2016

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