Getting into franchising
“I used to be in corporate banking where I was friends with Ashira’s husband. Through our work we learnt about Levingers which was owned by property management firm, Accelerate. We agreed that it was a great investment opportunity and so Ashira and I decided to become business partners and buy two stores, while her husband remained in corporate,” says Naicker.
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“We didn’t know at the time, but Accelerate was franchising Levingers, so we were very happy to learn we could buy the Kyalami store, which had been in operation for six years already. Another surprise came when we identified a small, nine-year-old dry cleaning business at The Wedge and made an offer to purchase with the understanding it would be rebranded as Levingers. We discovered that Accelerate was already in the process of converting it, so we happily bought it too,” laughs Francis.
“Our business philosophy is to treat customers in a way that we’d like to be treated. We know our customers by name, and they love the personal interaction and knowing that they matter,” says Naicker.
“If something is within our means we’ll go out of our way to try to make it happen and we’ll communicate openly with our customers. Building relationships is important to long-term business, so if we’re faced with a loss-making exercise, or lose a short-term sale from being honest, it’s with the knowledge that it’s for the long-term gain.
“For example, we can clean suede shoes for R285, or we can sell you DIY shampoo for R64. We’re transparent about this and it leads to a good relationship because you give the customer a choice. It’s not about the quick sale that many succumb to,” says Francis.
An unexpected change
”We’d been in operation for a short time when Accelerate sold the whole brand to Yadhir Mooloo, who was a Levingers franchisee and businessman. The change in ownership caused some challenges and concerns, particularly because in the change-over there were delays on items and dealing with customer complaints, but it was temporary and in the time since Mooloo has taken ownership of the brand it has improved significantly and doubled in footprint,” says Naicker.
The daily routine
“I’m usually at the shop by 06:30 so that I can do admin before customers start arriving at 08:00.
I check the till, follow up on repairs, deliveries, any delays and other business because we devote our full attention to customers once they arrive,” says Naicker.
“We go between the two shops, manage sales and cross-selling, visit haberdasheries and suppliers, and run business errands. Some days can be 12 hours long, and there are stressors, but it’s satisfying growing your own business.”
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“Systems are very important to avoid mistakes, especially when there’s a long line of customers waiting to be served. Don’t rush things because that’s when mistakes are made. Pay attention to the routines and procedures,” says Francis.
On picking the right spots
“We were very particular about buying existing stores because we knew they had a track record of several years before we bought them. We also spent time watching the areas for volume and type of traffic to evaluate their potential. That’s not to say we just opened doors the minute the sale went through. The Wedge store is tiny and needed a facelift so that it was more attractive and professional looking for clients, and we also discussed mall revamping with the Kyalami landlords,” says Naicker.
Relationships with your service providers
“Relationships with your suppliers are very important. We’ve got a great relationship with the factory supervisor and he helps us when we have something urgent, lets us know when there are delays or problems, and we’re then able to inform our customers,” says Francis.
“Kuven also has strong relationships with haberdasheries who go out of their way to help us source particular items for fussy customers, for example.”
“Some customers can be very difficult, but always be friendly. Understand that it’s not personal, and kill them with kindness,” laughs Naicker.
“I’ve done that with a few grumpy customers and now they smile and chat every time they see us.”
“You must always ask customers even the obvious things,” says Francis. “For example, the receipt says dry cleaning will take two days, but we make a point of asking if they’re travelling or need it urgently. It prevents unhappy customers because everyone is aware. And with load shedding causing delays, we communicate this. 99% of the time customers are accommodating, they just want to be informed.”
“We prefer to under-promise and over-deliver, or even ask for time to evaluate an item, so that we always offer what’s best for the customer,” says Naicker. “And when it comes to going the extra mile we’ve been known to drive to the factory to collect items and meet a customer at the airport! It’s not just about business; it’s about the relationship.”
On making the partnership work
“Kuven became a full-time franchisee a year after we bought the stores, so before then I was managing both stores. It was challenging, but manageable, and when he became full-time we tag-teamed responsibility – it has never been ‘this is my store, and this is yours,’” explains Francis.
“What makes our partnership work really well too is that my strength is customer relations, and Kuven’s is finance.”
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“What drew me to Ashira as a business partner is her integrity, and we communicate well with each other. It often happens that friends go into business and it’s a disaster, but we’re able to bounce ideas off each other and see things from a different perspective. We leverage our strengths for the benefit of the business and our customers,” says Naicker.
“Many think we’re just dry-cleaning, mending and shoe-repairs, but we’ve actually got over 300 line items that we can charge for, and of course special projects.
“This one time a customer’s Rottweiler destroyed his very expensive dog bed and we were able to repair it like new, and that’s not a line item. So while the franchisor supports us with national marketing and brand awareness, we’re responsible for educating new and existing clients of all the many things we can do,” says Naicker.
“We made a pamphlet that lists our many services that are relevant to our local market that even impressed our franchisor,” says Francis. “You’re ultimately responsible for letting your local market know you exist and what you offer.”