Franchising has become one of the most common routes businesses are taking in Africa. With giant franchises like McDonalds, KFC, ColdStone and the likes, who have their tentacles around the globe, gradually spreading across the continent, it is pertinent to understand that to succeed as an owner of a franchise takes the same business principles as it does in any other business.
One of very successful franchises in South Africa is Verimark. They sell home cleaning equipment, cook ware, and children toys. This franchise also offers an after sales service – repair and servicing of the appliances and vacuum cleaners they sale to their customers.
Ventures Africa had an opportunity of interviewing Mr. Mark Liebenberg, the owner of the Kolonnade franchise of Verimark in the North east of Pretoria to give an insight into franchising as a profitable business model in Africa. Mark bought this franchise in 2000 after working with his father in the same franchise from 1997. Mark, who desires not to brag about it, has won the number one franchise award so many times since he started his shop in 2000. We caught up with him at the Green Fields Restaurant in Centurion, south of Pretoria. We asked about what led to the success he has enjoyed at his shop which propelled him to win the number one franchise award more than once. With such success his views would definitely act as inspiration to up coming entrepreneurs who want to start a franchise business or those who want to start any other type of business as the principles of success are the same.
We asked Mark what he thought to have given him good business training as he was growing up. Having a father who has always been in business was and still remains one of Mark’s sources of business savvy. “My father used to run a shop and I worked in the shop after school,” says Mark with a smile remembering those early days of his development as a businessman. This obviously helps those who want to go into business to know that it is worthwhile to have a role model.
He attributes his sales skills to his experience at Labners and Joshua Doore, furniture shops where he worked as a sales executive for three years. Mark mentioned to me that “Many times I sold furniture and had to sometimes even deliver to Customers as drivers were mostly on strikes during the time I worked there. I learnt a lot about sales there.” When asked whether he has any formal business training, he said he has a diploma in marketing from a College within Pretoria; “I did a diploma in Marketing, but I don’t feel like furthering my formal education to acquire a degree although am capable of doing that” he said. This is an indication that not only formal training brings business success, there are other important forms of learning that are just as important as we will be able learn from this successful businessman.
Here is what Mark said about Marketing which is is quite enlightening. “Many people think of marketing as selling and advertising. That is not marketing, it is part of marketing. Marketing is discovering your customer, knowing how their income levels, what their spending habits are and what really attract them. When you have that information, you need to come up with how you can communication to them to introduce them to the service or product you have for them. That is marketing”, Mark said it with a smile on his face as if letting me know that he is sure of what he is saying. It was quite humbling to know that selling and advertising are just part of marketing, because according to mark, marketing is bigger and more complex than just selling and advertising. To sum up the marketing concept, Mark said, “Marketing is offering your customer what he needs and is willing to buy, and finding a proper medium of communication that will make him aware of the service or product.”
Important things in business
We asked Mark what he thought were the most important things in business, to which he replied, “Passion about what you want to sell or offer as a service is key to business success. People buy into passion.” It seems that when people see how passionate you are about your service or product they are bound to believe in you and spend money on what you are selling. One of the things that he said that made much sense to me, not that the other things he said didn’t is that, “you don’t have to do business just for money. Find your passion and something worthwhile to pour self into.” He said it in a way that made me feel that he was a man with a passion for what he does.
In answering questions about how he over came obstacles in his business, Mark said that three things are true about overcoming obstacles in business just like in any other area of life. The first is that, “you need to decide to make things happen. You can not go in with an attitude that may be it will or it won’t work; that won’t work.” He said. The second attitude that is important in overcoming obstacles in business is that, “you can’t be emotional. You don’t have to feel like doing something; you just have to do what must be done.” He said this with some authority in his voice (it sounds more like sports giant Nike’s motto. “Just do it.” ) What is the third thing I enquired, “Do what you have to do to survive. Many times it is a swim or drown situation in business.” It was becoming clear to me why he runs a number one franchise; he has what I can call a “do it” attitude. To succeed it takes such an attitude, the one that says; to succeed it is up to me, and failure is not an option.
As we wound up our interview, we asked Mark how he handled his staff. He said, people must always be treated with respect and that we should always know that people are not just pones in our business to be used to achieve business results. “You must connect with your people at the human level not just as a boss.” He continued.
Something of great importance about people management that he mentioned was that it important to always make the people working in your business know that what they are doing is important for the business. “Help people understand that their contribution is beneficial to the business.” He said. It is true that in any environment were there are more than one person there is need for clear communication. Talking about communication Mark mentioned to me that, “in communication you should not just be clear, you should also know that you can not always be right and you have to say so when you realize you are wrong. You have to be open to learn even from the lowest of your employees.” He emphasized. To bring the point home he mentioned how he encourages an empowering environment in his business by not wielding his power as the owner of the business but as a friend to those working for him. He encourages his employees to be self motivated by adding commission on top of their salaries. This makes them know that they can earn more and that it depends on them to do so. He also removes the fear of him as a boss which has made his employees work the same in his absence as they do when he is around.
Conclusively, Mark had this to share about lessons learnt on his business journey, “Learn from both right and wrong things; Have a game plan so that you can know what you are doing and adapt to the different things that happen along the way.”
We hope young and aspiring entrepreneurs can learn a lot from this humble successful business man.
Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained…