Big Save, Big Family
Starting out as a soft drink wholesaler in Pretoria in 1989, Big Save Group has adapted and grown as the industry has evolved, today employing more than 1,350 people
Writer: Tom Wadlow
Project Manager: Lewis Bush
The dawn of South Africa’s democratic age in the mid-1990s brought with it tremendous change across almost all areas of social and
A newly-elected government, end to apartheid and liberalisation of the economy created fertile ground for business to thrive, an environment which saw new wholesalers and retailers like Big Save Group emerge.
Cornering its own niche in the Pretorian market, the next decade saw the family business thrive thanks to low operating costs, high margins and a lack of serious competition.
However, fast-forward to the present day and Big Save’s more recent story is one of adaption, growth and innovation, sparked by a transformation in South Africa’s wholesale and retail scene.
“From 2005 onwards then all the dynamics started changing within the townships and informal areas,” explains Tony Ferreira, Director of Operations and son of company founder Johnny Jardim Snr.
“Massive infrastructures were built such as shopping malls. Many of the corporates were then chosen as the preferred tenants to fill up these huge developed sites and this type of development impacted the local stores like us and our customers, who were already trading in the area.”
This prompted a shift in strategy, the family deciding to join major buying groups with national footprints in a bid to compete with the larger players. Big Save also entered the realm of retail, serving consumers directly.
Today the company comprises of seven owned outlets, four liquor depots and two hybrid franchise stores.
These stores are based in the northern Gauteng Province area of Pretoria and Tshwane, the southern Gauteng Province area of Evaton, Limpopo Province in the Marble Hall area, North West Province in Rustenburg and Mpumalanga Province in Komatipoort, all of which are served by a centralised Big Save distribution centre.
“Today we occupy over 60,000 square metres of space and employ over 1,350 people,” Ferreira says proudly, “and our journey continues as we still see the opportunities that this great country has to offer.”
While recent years have seen a marked rise in Big Save’s footprint, the company’s priority now is to consolidate this growth and support local traders through extensions of its existing larger stores, staying true to its family-owned principles.
“We believe we stand apart from other cash and carry providers in South Africa because we still maintain a family business structure, and from this structure we are quick to execute decisive decisions,” says Ferreira.
“Big Save also sees the importance of ploughing back into the community by not only funding certain events and projects, but on bringing the business element to the community.”
This community cohesion is vital to Big Save’s identify and purpose, proven by the fact the company provides financial knowledge and training support to local people so they can run their own businesses. Learnerships are also offered to younger generations who are interested in pursuing a career in wholesale or retail.
In its own stores, Big Save stocks shelves with products made by local producers, giving them a platform to compete with larger corporates.
“Making these types of investments and caring about our communities and their wellbeing definitely gives us recognition and sets us apart from being just another cash and carry in this country,” Ferreira adds.
This is reflected in Big Save’s own strategy for its next phase of development. “Instead of broadening our footprint we have strategically planned that our growth going forward is to service and assist the local trader in trading,” Ferreira continues.
“In today’s tough economic climate, a lot of our local traders have either sold or rented out their stores to foreigners who have entered our country for easy access to money.”
Part of this will involve supplying them (and Big Save’s own stores) with more fresh produce, Ferreira noticing a heightened consumer demand for fresh meat, fruit and vegetables.
Consumers are also favouring convenience in the form of smaller stores closer to home, another trend that Big Save is adapting to with a push to open more of these outlets.
“These types of stores require less capital to set up and customers want easy access, in and out type of shopping with fresh goods at discount prices,” Ferreira explains. “We have noticed that these small stores also bring intimate service, better ranging and better pricing to attract the customer.”
Another central part of remaining relevant in South Africa’s changing wholesale and retail landscape involves embracing technology and introducing new, improved products.
“We have noticed a huge increase in consumers using tech to search for a product, and there is a big interest in online shopping through smartphones and applications,” identifies Ferreira. “Loyalty programmes are also now a big part of most retailers and this can only work if the right systems and technologies are in place.”
Responding to this, Big Save is about to launch a new loyalty scheme based on a brand new, simplified point of sale system, a much more advanced way of tracking loyal customers than store cards and phone numbers. The development involved three years of experimentation and feedback, bringing together the best of technology and simplicity.
Further, new products will be appearing on the shelves, with Ferreira explaining how Big Save plans to build on its own-brand range which currently has 22 product lines across numerous categories.
“We have noticed how our customers trust our Big Save brand,” he adds. “We use our customers’ feedback on which category or product to increase and introduce the next product based on this.
“It’s a process that gets everyone involved, from the customer and the supplier to our working staff – we all come together for testing of products and packaging.”
Built on trust
This cohesion, especially internally, relies on trustworthy and loyal staff who care about their customers and ultimately the business.
Ferreira admits that finding the right individuals to join the family enterprise can sometimes be challenging, so Big Save’s focus has been on what it can do to train, develop and keep staff for the long term.
“We want to encourage those who come to work with hope to improve themselves, and those who are survivors who work to provide for themselves and their families,” he says. “We try our utmost to make sure we keep our staff happy.”
Likewise, Big Save’s supplier network is also built around trust.
“This is crucial in any business,” Ferreira continues, “especially when you rely on certain brands from suppliers that make your business run. We have a dedicated team at our distribution centre which are further split up into teams of buyers, and they are each allocated various suppliers to deal with daily.
“We have a model in place that means we make sure that our buyers are aware of the outside trade on pricing, and that our suppliers know that we will not accept any deal pricing without being negotiated. Our transparency and loyalty to brands is what makes our business smooth running.”
A bright future
Ferreira is thus an optimist for the future, both in terms of his company’s fortunes and the wider development of South Africa as a young democratic nation.
He calls on political and business leaders to be transparent and work towards the betterment of the country as a whole, and is confident that positive development will ensue if this happens.
“We have a diverse range of people who are wanting to go forward and are willing to work hard to achieve together,” he says. “Even though we have been through turmoil, we are still very optimistic as we can see change coming – we just hope that all the issues will be addressed.
“If this happens South Africa will be a great country for business and investors to trade in, regardless of the timeframe it takes for change to happen.”
And what of Big Save’s future? Ferreira concludes: “We still believe we have a lot more to offer and we believe we can bring the Good Life! to our customers. Good Life! is our company motto or slogan and we notice how this impacts a lot of people within our business. Opportunity is still alive and well, we can only prioritise in keeping up with growth and staying positive.”