The champagne flowed, men shopped as if there was no tomorrow and the disabled soprano sang love songs from a corner.
The launch last week of the first Mr Tekkie store on Strand Street in Cape Town was a bit like a Jewish family gathering – never forgotten aunties, uncles and cousins were remembered, included and celebrated – except in this case they were current suppliers, past suppliers, what seemed like half the senior counsel in Cape Town, casually attired friends, slick business partners, former competitors and, of course, media (looking less slick). The night would not have been complete without speeches and, lest I forget, a shopping discount – 10% off for the night, and 20% for the person who bought the most.
The launch of the new retail brand is not a recognition by the founder of Tekkie Town, Braam van Huyssteen, that he has lost the battle to win Tekkie Town back from Pepkor Holdings. Readers will remember that Steinhoff acquired the majority share in Tekkie Town in 2016 in exchange for shares. Steinhoff then unbundled Tekkie Town to Steinhoff Retail Africa (now Pepkor) in September 2017 and promptly imploded in December 2017, leaving shareholders holding worthless paper.
Read: The war of the Tekkies
Lawyers are charging hard
Since then Van Huyssteen has argued that the sale was fraudulent, and has been determined to claw Tekkie Town back from Pepkor. He says this process should take another two years – despite the fact that the “lawyers are charging harder than a wounded buffalo”.
In two years, says Van Huyssteen, “I will have 100 Mr Tekkie stores that will be complementary to the 400 Tekkie Town stores in the same way that Total Sports and Sportscene are complementary.”
Despite its name, Mr Tekkie sells more apparel than footwear.
The launch of the retail brand is also not an indication that Pepkor has given up the fight.
In fact, the litigation between the parties continues at a furious pace. In September Pepkor launched an interdict in the Cape High Court to enforce an alleged restraint of trade against five Tekkie Town former directors, including Van Huyssteen and Bernard Mostert, the new CEO of Mr Tekkie.
By the time the matter was heard on Wednesday the argument had reduced to what type of product Mr Tekkie would be allowed to carry. Judgment is expected at the end of November.
Pepkor also took the matter of the Mr Tekkie trademark to the courts. This was vigorously defended in replying papers and the matter will come before the court in the second week of December.
The story of the Mr Tekkie trademark provides a useful illustration of why one should keep friends close and enemies closer. The Mr Tekkie brand was established as a cheeky competitor to Tekkie Town in one of the Cape’s outlying towns several years ago. Rather than ferociously going after his new competitor, Van Huyssteen kept a wary eye on the business but left it to be. As happens with many small businesses, it sank as SA’s economy plumbed new depths.
“I thought about him nine weeks ago when we were considering a new business and just prayed he had registered the trademark,” recalled Van Huyssteen at the launch party. The trademark was registered, but the business was saddled with R210 000 of debt – unfortunately secured against the owner’s mother’s house.
“I called up my friend Roddy [van Breda] at Adidas and offered a full and final settlement of R105 000. He agreed to this. I then called and offered to settle this debt in exchange for the trademark and a job with us. So we are all happy.”
The next twelve Mr Tekkie stores will be rolled out between Acornhoek and Queenstown by the end of November.