M U L T I S E R V
A SHOO IN FOR
B L AC K EMPOWERMENT Multiserv is a top brand for while-you-wait quality shoe care and key cutting. And as MD Wilna Swanepoel tells South Africa Magazine, it is also a striking success for start-up Black businesses. By Colin Chinery
tarting out in 1969 as a chain of heel bars in Johannesburg, Multiserv has developed into a leading national franchise and retail services chain, and an outstanding success-story for Black business owners. With nearly 200 stores located mostly at prime locations in retail centres, Multiserv’s core offerings are expert shoe repairs, leather repair services and key duplication. “It’s a complete business solution, in effect a onestop shop, and we’ve positioned ourselves as the leaders in providing a while-you-wait service,” says MD Wilna Swanepoel. But seven years ago this was a scuffed, down-at-heels operation. The company had moved through several ownerships and in 2000 was sold to a consortium for over R10 million. “That was a lot of money. Two years later, they’ve sold the company again to a group of investors, but it wasn’t successful either; there was a lack of direction and focus, and they took their eye off the ball.”
Two years on Multiserv went into liquidation. “It was such a well-known brand, everyone knew Multiserv and they were everywhere. At one time there were 340 outlets. But at this point the number had fallen with a hundred.” Eyeing the substance and potential of the Multiserv operation, Swanepoel, a former financial director of another large franchise, PostNet SA, and two associates bought the brand and assets in March 2004. With the corporate image under huge threat; with some 40 company stores and 64 very unhappy franchisees, they began rapidly expanding its franchise element, “and within two years we turned the company around and are now trading hugely successfully close on 200 stores.” The previous owners had begun to develop the franchise by empowering employees, enabling them to buy into the stores at a discounted rate proportionate to years of service. “It actually worked out well. They also wanted to expand the business quickly, penetrating the townships, areas where communities were more willing to support local owner operators rather than company-owned stores. “They got these two points right. There’s a huge market out there. People want to be in successful business and we are helping them do that, empowering rising Black entrepreneurs. 70 percent of our franchisees are Black entrepreneurs, and 30 percent are females.” Multiserv prides itself on providing the finest quality services through its highly skilled operators. “By providing quality products and services at reasonable prices for 42 years, Multiserv has established itself as the undisputed leader in the provision of shoe repair and allied services to the
full spectrum of the South African public.” Related services include remotes, dry cleaning depots, public telephones and carpet cleaning machine rentals. “Our unique “three month guarantee” policy and “while-u-wait” shoe repair service differentiates us in the shoe repair industry, and our recently launched “second key half price” offering has proven a huge success bolstering our key duplication sales.” Although the turnovers are not yet on target, profit margins at around 80 percent are high. “Where in the world do you find businesses with that kind of gross profit? The stores are relatively small, start-up costs and overheads are very low, and we have proper systems and controls in place. “So if you are a hands-on manager owning your own Multiserv outlet provides you with a reputable SME framework without excessive overheads and labour. We have a three-fold success formula: happy stock levels, happy staff and happy customers.” The capital input to acquire a Multiserv franchise is not more than R450,000, says Swanepoel. “Compared with any other franchise business in South Africa, that’s a very fair and affordable investment. It is a simple process to become one of our franchisees, once you come on board, we train you up -we have a training school on site here at our Franchise Support Centre– and this takes two to three weeks. In a further two to three weeks we manage the store build out for you – in only six weeks you can be up and running and trading, with our support from day one. It’s a turn-key operation, so all you have to do is to put the ﬂoat in the pool and start trading.” Market growth in the shoe segment of
Multiserv has established itself as the undisputed leader in the provision of shoe repair
the operation is shaped by current fashion trends. “The shoe retailing market is slowly moving back to its traditional style of shoes, with proper and repairable leather soles and heels, and moving away from cheaper, disposable shoes. “We constantly review world-wide industry developments and benchmark ourselves against best practices, keeping in touch with similar companies such as Timpson in the UK. We are very confident that there are plenty of opportunities for our brand- one of our longterm expansion goals are to take the brand up through Africa, ‘Cape to Cairo.’ In the short term, we are taking a sabbatical in respect of opening many new outlets, and focusing on the existing franchise base, nurturing and developing the potential at store level before spreading our wings further afield. “While we are at the forefront of an emerging market with the emphasis on offering a low cost/ high profit franchise opportunity, we are lacking a high turnover. This is a problem, and we have identified ‘low hanging fruit’ opportunities for our existing franchises which we will be developing with the network. Our target is to double average store turnover in the next two years.” Multiserv is a brand that has survived the changing retail landscape for over forty years, an incredible feat in today’s dynamics. “To run a business successfully you have to be hands on. Our business – and like all franchises – cannot be remotely operated. The best businesses are owned and run by the franchisee on the ground in the store. We also teach our Multiserv wisdom to our franchisees, reminding them that the strength of franchising lies in the symbiotic relationship between franchisee and franchisor – all for the benefit of the customers. To be a success story we need to be a team. If they follow the full-proof system they will not fail. Our challenge is to ensure they trust us and the system.” 4
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“The main reason behind the growth of The Electro Surgeon is simple... we treat customers better than anyone else!” We are convinced that when it comes to finding the best service, we are your only choice. Providing a superior level of customer service is an all-consuming passion for us and an achievement in which we take immense pride. We aspire to provide Quality Craftsmanship and Professionalism with every job to which we are dispatched. Customer Satisfaction on every job preformed is our company’s primary goal.
We are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week Your call will always be answered by our helpful staff – never an answer machine You do not pay extra for services outside office hours We will keep you informed throughout the process Our electricians will always be professional, highly competent and wear our easy recognizable uniform The Electro Surgeon van’s carry all the equipment to complete most jobs immediately We will leave all work areas clean and tidy When you call us we will endeavour to solve your problem quickly and professionally A challenge on the horizon for Multiserv and other smaller franchises is the new Consumer Protection Act. “Although South African consumers will now be among the best protected in the world, it will not be easy for all businesses to understand as well as comply with all its provisions,” says Swanepoel. “SME businesses may face a particular challenge. Unlike the large corporates we do not have either the capacity or the resources to have a fully-ﬂedged compliance department to implement the Act, and we are working to see how we can manage the whole process.” Multiserv has a slogan: ‘As Good as New and Close to You.’ “We want to give a service from our heart, treating our customers with the utmost respect and giving them the service they deserve. And as a leading franchise, Multiserv offers a lucrative business opportunity that is more accessible and affordable to the less advantaged entrepreneur. ” END www.southafricamag.com
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