Keeping an Eye on What’s in Store
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Callum Philp
SPAR Lowveld Distribution has enjoyed yet another 12 months of successful progression and expansion as it once again leveraged the wider SPAR brand’s reputation to maintain its Southern African momentum.
Overseeing logistics services for 29 SPAR stores, as well as 18 smaller SUPERSPARS, 27 Tops Liquor stores, 11 Savemore outlets and two pharmacies in the region in 2014, the Company’s continuous improvement strategy comprised the ambition to introduce an additional eight new stores by the end of 2015; a drive which is well on the way to completion across South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique.
As one of six main distributors for SPAR South Africa, the Lowveld operation may be the smallest, but still carries the weight of a brand name which is among one of the most prestigious in the retail sector in the wider region. As a consequence, the necessity to continually develop and seek new value propositions for its clients is of paramount importance.
Subsequently, the operation comprises not only the expected logistics services, but also a full marketing function, advertising and promotional activities, retail operations, management consultancy and store development assistance.
The result is an all-encompassing portfolio of services to not only aid the main SPAR brand, but also a range of independent small, medium and large retailers in a position to either tackle the convenience markets or compete with the major chains, respectively.
Of course, the core business aims of SPAR Lowveld Distribution revolve around product procurement, warehousing and distribution services, but the focus is very much balanced across this staple offering, and the work it consistently carries out alongside independent operators; instilling heightened levels of product offering, customer service and community involvement in each case.
In recent years, the primary goal of the Company has been to not only hone this model, but to carefully and strategically replicate it on a widened footprint; namely into Mozambique.
Rob De Vos, Divisional Managing Director for SPAR Lowveld explained: “When it comes to bringing the SPAR brand to new regions, we do not just walk into a new area and set up shop.
“We spend a great deal of time strategically looking at the best locations and places where the SPAR brand can flourish, and of course sourcing suitable store owners.”
While this process got underway in earnest back in 2009, this steady migration continues to this day, with eight stores earmarked for the country by the end of 2016.
Overcoming a series of social and logistical challenges along the way, SPAR Lowveld’s development in the country has mirrored the infrastructural development of Mozambique itself since the turn of the decade, but the Company has placed much of its emphasis on creating a strong local influence in its operations to ensure the transition was - and continues to be - as smooth as possible.
“It has been a big learning curve for us, but when we look at what we have achieved after moving into the country, it was worth the early setbacks,” De Vos said. “Like any good brand, we soon won over the locals with our competitive prices and stores offering many high quality goods, services, and a superior shopping experience.
“All of our store owners in Mozambique are natives to the country and we think this is very important to the success we have seen. With native owners and managers, we already have a degree of understanding of what products and requirements are needed.
“Being able to comply with laws, legislation, procedures and different systems was made that much smoother by tapping into the local expertise we had in terms of our business owners and their staff.” staff,” he added.
Powerful, well-known and loved
As one of the most trusted brands in Southern Africa, the ability to replicate models and successes across countries is more expectation than hope, but SPAR still looks to remain entrepreneurial and agile in the market, utilising its distribution arms’ experience and scope to facilitate new business propositions.
In recent years, this has incorporated its new Pharmacy division, applying its efficiency and convenience attributes to a relevant sector in need of innovation in the region.
Although there are only two outlets at present, De Vos acknowledges the role that SPAR and SPAR Distribution can play in the sector and has already earmarked significant expansion.
“With new additions to stores like the Pharmacy at SPAR being very well received and used by the consumers, I think it is only a matter of time before we double or even triple the number of SPAR pharmacy stores in the Lowveld region,” he affirmed.
Alongside new market offerings, the Company also continues to enhance and expand the capabilities of existing services, addressing advanced technologies in making payment options more refined, while also improving its own supply chain efficiencies.
De Vos continued: “The introduction of warehouse management software, RF scanning and a more streamlined process has contributed hugely to improved performance at the Lowveld warehouse.
“We also see major advances in transportation with the application of scheduling and routing software and telemetrics. This results in considerable advances in service level and reduction in running costs and CO2 emissions.
“The investment has allowed for significant growth in the volume delivered to SPAR stores. This was achieved by increasing the capacity of the existing distribution centres and constructing new perishable facilities.”
Ultimately, this internal optimisation has a knock-on effect on the ongoing influence it has externally, preserving the reputation of a Group which De Vos describes as one of the most “powerful, well-known and loved brands” in Southern Africa.