South Point continues to embrace South Africa’s transformational agenda by tackling the progressive and challenging student accommodation sector
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Kane Weller
As a proudly 100 percent South African-owned entity, South Point has, for the past 15 years, made it a concerted focus to contribute to the transformation of the country’s student accommodation outlook and infrastructure.
Currently catering for areas of letting and debtor management as well as marketing, student programme management, facilities management, cleaning, security, maintenance, IT infrastructure management and financial management; the Company has evolved and diversified from its initial vision to provide quality tertiary student accommodation located within easy walking distance of South African universities.
“Under-investment in infrastructure by universities over the past two decades is and continues to be most acute in respect to on-campus housing stock which spawned an often unscrupulous student housing industry that was plagued by unattractive and substandard accommodation,” recalls and introduces the Company’s Chief Executive Officer, Ndumiso Davidson. “In contrast, South Point sought, from its very inception, to shed the prevailing and largely deserved perception of exploitative practices by private operators by developing a safe, attractive, comfortable and professionally-managed student accommodation out of distressed commercial properties.
“South Point pioneered a new industry while quickly establishing itself as the market leader without any of the residential displacement that so often underscores global urban renewal programmes.”
Subsequently and consequently, the Company evolved to embrace small retail, commercial and hospitality divisions to round its portfolio more wholly, and now boasts a status as the country’s leading and largest provider of student housing solutions outside of the universities themselves.
In a landscape that is increasingly formalised and competitive, the South Point student experience – rather than the largely commoditised accommodation product – is now its principle point of differentiation, but this stems from a perhaps more poignant differentiation that was earmarked originally.
Davidson continues: “South Point has fully embraced the country’s transformational agenda in a sector of the economy that is one of the least progressive and transformed in South Africa. The ownership structure is not only driven by socio-political factors but operational and strategic considerations. With the overwhelming majority of students in higher education being first-generation university-goers, black and from low-income families, it’s imperative that the product and experience resonates implicitly with these students with respect to culture, product and affordability.”
Much more than a landlord
All-told, and courtesy of such pertinent ambition, South Point currently houses as many as 11,000 students across Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth.
And in each case, the Company strives to place great emphasis on continuous improvement, whether revolving around finance, human capital, design, infrastructure, or the aforementioned element of student lifestyle and satisfaction.
“South Point is celebrated as much more than a ‘landlord’ that simply supplies a room key and a monthly invoice. It has established itself as the continent’s industry leader, providing innovative student lifestyle solutions, driven by imaginative and far-reaching urban renewal concepts, creating student-friendly districts that, in turn, support and grow small businesses,” Davidson explains. “In the dynamic youth market, populated by restless millennials living in a world where technology-enabled business model disruption is a constant threat, complacency and stagnation are luxuries we can’t afford.
“We are acutely aware that we must embrace advances of any nature that improve service, convenience and value to our customers in every aspect of our business.”
To this end, the Company is specifically excited about its new bespoke App which is set to launch in 2018 and will digitise its operating platform; resultantly enabling 24-hour real-time engagement.
It is this level of proactive thinking, entrepreneurship, and targeted innovation that has also lent itself to South Point’s own structural diversification over the past few years; epitomised by the development of numerous iconic, headline-grabbing projects over the years.
“Projects include Randlords, a double-storey rooftop event and bar space that offers sweeping views over Johannesburg; a hotel property; and The Grove, a restaurant-lined public space that serves as Braamfontein’s de facto village square,” Davidson notes. “Our head office, South Point Central, was designed by award-winning architects Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, and has also been featured in a number of prestigious design publications.
“[Furthermore] we’ve just completed the renovation of South Point Cnr, a nine-storey office block that has attracted an interesting mix of South African and international NGOS as well as a range of small and medium enterprises, mostly in the communications, financial and creative industries.”
A market we understand best
Upcoming projects include a 17-storey Jorissen Street student residence in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, as well as a new 1,200-bed student residential facility in Cape Town, which will comprise four three-storey blocks with occupation expected in February, 2018.
Needless to say, therefore, that South Point certainly hasn’t fulfilled its entire vision for South Africa just yet, as Davidson enthuses: “The alignment of the scale of the opportunity, macro-economic factors and the sustained policy and fiscal emphasis on higher education makes South Africa the most compelling investment case for student housing across the continent. Importantly, it’s a market that we understand best.
“Notwithstanding, we continue to explore opportunities across the continent that provide opportunities for risk-adjusted returns with an investment case that is similar to those in South Africa and where we can best leverage our experience and skills.”
Evidently contributing greatly to the national economy as a result, one of the Company’s key missions is to maintain a positive impact in a country that is now growing to depend on the corporate sector’s transformational capabilities.
As such, local builders, contractors, architects and designers are all called upon in favour of international artisans within the Company’s supply chain.
Davidson continues: “Virtually all of our construction and furnishing elements – from cement, steel and sanitary-ware to tiles, paint and furnishings – are South African-made. We also work within legislated governmental frameworks and ‘best of’ business practice, which places emphasis on the use and support of small and medium enterprises whenever possible.
“Importantly, this includes BEE Codes of Good Practice, which also places emphasis on the transformation of the supply chain and empowering black and emerging suppliers and contractors.”
The final piece in this particular jigsaw inevitably brings personnel into the equation, which is inevitably not lost on South Point. With an entirely South African team to call upon, national enrichment beams from all corners of the Company, and is, in-turn, rewarded by relatively low turnover rates, and strong levels of employee retention.
“Our emphasis is on growing talent in-house so today’s cleaner might be tomorrow’s receptionist. Up-skilling is key,” Davidson affirms. “We are also investing in formalising our skills development programmes, exploring the establishment of a training academy that sources and grows artisanal skills like plumbers, electricians, painters, rope-access teams, etc.
“Looking ahead, there are exciting longer-term opportunities with local college and university partnerships. Of course, being the home-away-from-home to some 11,000 university students at any given time provides us with a vast skills-pool of young, hardworking talent.”
Many former residents have gone on to carve out viable careers within South Point, working their way up the ranks to complete the cycle from satisfied customer to satisfying provider.
This also fosters a positive DNA, culture and attitude from the top, down, with all understanding the regional and local nuances of the industry and indeed the country, before applying that knowledge where they feel it is most applicable.
Perhaps manifested through another development, or a strategic acquisition, or a newly hired member of staff, or even through one of South Point’s many charitable initiatives, the end result always stems back to its overriding goals of national upliftment and in operating beyond expectations.
“South Point has quickly developed a reputation as a company that always does things a bit differently. We are firm believers in creating a 360-degree ecosystem that incorporates student lifestyle initiatives, urban renewal, retail and office curation, and staff welfare support,” Davidson concludes. “So, you’ll find that we choose office tenants that can offer internship opportunities to students, while the office workers in turn support surrounding businesses that we hand-pick to create ‘complete-street’ neighbourhoods. This curatorial approach cannot be underestimated in the company’s success, creating a student-friendly ‘lifestyle-stay’ rather than a mere ‘convenience-stay’.
“As we often say, ‘we don’t fill space; will fill strategy’, and in the future we will further entrench our position as both the largest and leading accommodation provider in South Africa, ultimately aiming for more than 30,000 owned and managed beds.
“What we will also retain in the process though, is a relentless pursuit of an unparalleled student experience, as a catalyst of urban regeneration initiatives driven by continued innovation and an adoption of leading technology advancements.”