South Africa’s Trendsetters
Writer: Emily Jarvis
Project Manager: Joshua Mann
Working tirelessly to bring a vision for a quality South African food store to life over the past 20 years, Mark and Melissa van Hoogstraten are an entrepreneurial duo to watch. A Company closely intertwined with key events in their own family history, Melissa’s The Food Shop was founded on solid principals and a set of core beliefs that continue to drive the business to new heights today.
“We opened our first Melissa’s store in August, 1996 in Kloof Street, Cape Town; in a South Africa in stark contrast to the one we inhabit today,” recalls Melissa van Hoogstraten. “The opening of our first store happened very much at the beginning of our life together and the business mirrors our lifestyle, values and appreciation for the classic and quality things in life. And so the story of our family has become the story of our business.”
She adds: “Understanding the value of quality, where one appreciates that having less, but the best, more often than not leads to a richer experience. We value original, time-honoured principles and philosophies and it’s this value system that has driven our Company strategy. Melissa’s is therefore unique in that it is really selling a personal mantra rather than a brand. This is reflected in our stores and products which embody these values.”
Consisting of 12 stores, eight of which are franchises and four Company-owned, Melissa’s has evolved into a multifaceted business comprised of a number of key units, including Melissa’s Food Shops, offering an unrivalled retail experience spanning food, gifts, homeware and a restaurant experience; a hospitality range that is marketed and distributed to premium boutique hotels; and an extensive wholesale division which supplies and distributes products for its owned and franchised stores, as well as other business units.
Distributing throughout South Africa and internationally to the likes of Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Hong Kong, the UK and more, Melissa’s moved to a franchise model in 2013 and has big plans to expand exponentially over the next four years; placing emphasis on areas beyond the Western Cape.
“To the best of our knowledge, there is no other brand in the world like ours. We are trendsetters not followers; preferring to let our strong philosophy and deep customer knowledge – developed over 20 years – guide our decision-making. As a brand, we pride ourselves on being pioneers as opposed to following the latest fad or trend,” van Hoogstraten emphasises.
“On an aesthetic level, this philosophy also translates into our physical store design and fit-out. We continuously modify the look and feel of our stores by striking a balance between using materials that are classic and timeless and at the same time anchoring the brand in the present with details that appeal to the modern discerning consumer to create a slick and sophisticated retail experience.”
Pushing the boundaries
Over the next four months, Melissa’s will continue to grow the reach of its franchise model nationally by opening another two stores outside the Western Cape. Further complementing this has been the 2016 launch of brand extensions Melissa’s Mantra – a pure retail concept offering customers a more intimate retail experience – and Melissa’s Café & Bar, with strong emphasis on evening bar and dinner trade.
Moreover, in response to demand from areas where Melissa’s products aren’t yet readily available, the Company has recently invested in an ecommerce division. This rapidly growing area of the business will provide more customers with access to a range of food and homeware products that can be purchased online.
The use of the latest technologies to rapidly expand the business extends beyond its ecommerce model into Melissa’s internal investments, as van Hoogstraten details: “We are also migrating to a new software system and integrating it across the entire Company. This will help us drive greater efficiencies and synergies between our various business units and free-up valuable resources so we can focus on critical growth areas that will drive the business forward. Furthermore, we have a new and improved bookkeeping system as well as very comprehensive training manuals which are continuously improved upon.”
She adds: “We are constantly reinventing, researching and developing; pouring energy into remaining ahead of the curve and exceeding our customers’ high expectations. Their expectations motivate us to push the boundaries, to inspire, delight and in turn, raise the bar in terms of what our brand can deliver. Mark and I are still very much leading this process day-to-day.
“This year alone we have launched a number of unique new ranges including our exclusive tea range sourced in India, our new cordial range as well as home baking kits and, coming soon, a chutney range.”
The vast majority of Melissa’s branded products are sourced and produced locally within South Africa; which makes working closely with partners to develop new product lines a streamlined and efficient process.
“Logistically, our wholesale and distribution centre helps our suppliers deliver their products efficiently and avoid the barriers and complexity that so often stifles a company’s growth potential,” she further explains. “We are constantly establishing partnerships to facilitate the distribution of other world-class brands besides our own with companies that lack the necessary infrastructure and assets to manage that distribution themselves.”
With some members of staff having been a part of the business for close-to a decade or more, Melissa’s has not lost sight of the importance of the people behind the brand. Offering in-house training for new recruits as well as refresher training for longer serving employees; the team is fully-equipped and well-nurtured to serve the brand and drive the van Hoogstraten family vision for quality food and excellent service delivery to discerning customers.
van Hoogstraten firmly emphasises: “We have a strong philosophy of quality, originality and integrity in everything we do and our staff recognise this. The aforementioned mantra underpins the entire business and has determined our rapid evolution since day one. Distinguished from the competition by look and taste, the Melissa’s range of products are created with the best ingredients possible; with no artificial colorants and flavourings.”
Based on its unique, all-encompassing offering, Melissa’s plan to roll-out another five franchise stores in 2016, followed by a further five in first half of 2017 across its three brand pillars; Melissa’s, Melissa’s Mantra and Café & Bar. “The focus will be on expanding our footprint outside the Western Cape while in the meantime, our national sales footprint will have grown and we’ll be enjoying greater internal efficiencies as a result of our new software system,” she confirms. “Our brand awareness will continue to grow as we ramp-up our marketing efforts nationally. These are very exciting times for us and we can’t wait to see what transpires in the next 12 months.”
van Hoogstraten concludes: “My husband Mark and I strongly believe in the competitiveness and appeal of South African products on the world stage and we hope that in the near future Melissa’s can become a hallmark for South African-made products internationally; introducing the rest of the world to the quality, unique goods that we are privileged to enjoy domestically.”
For more information, please visit www.melissas.co.za.