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June 2005

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What do they regard as their key success factors?

  • They regard themselves as a technical shop, where customers can be served by people knowledgeable about the products. In the sports department they, for instance, employ a provincial tennis coach, a person who ran the comrades seven times, as well as a Freestate rugby player.

  • They offer value-added services such as the knocking in of bats, stringing of rackets, and even ball repairs.

  • They sell recognised, well established, brands that customers know and trust – no house brands or sourcing of their own products.

  • They price all goods very competitively, are willing to negotiate, and will better any price of a competitor.

  • The business is run in terms of their family values, in an ethical and trustworthy way.

  • All the brothers are on the shop floor at all times. They don’t have offices, and stay hands-on at all times - yet can be contacted at all times via the cordless phones they always carry.

  • They know a remarkable number of their customers by their first names.

  • They believe that distributors form part of their team delivering value and satisfaction to the customer. They therefore treat them with deserved respect and loyalty, and believe that they should be paid as soon as possible.

  • Klop-Klop. Who’s there?

    Kloppers in Bloemfontein is an enigma in SA retailing. This family concern has broken ground where others feared to tread, and in many ways rewrote the retailing text books, reports NICOL DU TOIT

    Bloemfontein’s Kloppers is in many ways the antithesis of the archetype independent retailer: six brothers working together in evident harmony towards a common goal; customers lending massive support to an obviously successful business; and even distributors, often the harshest judges of retailers, are unanimous in their praise, admiration and expressions of loyalty.

    Quite a few distributors confidentially admitted that Kloppers is their single biggest customer, and that includes chain stores.

    Yet, Bloemfontein is far from being South Africa’s largest and richest metropolis.

    We went to look at what they are doing right.

    Soon after Willem Klopper finished his articles for chartered accountant in the early 1950s, his entrepreneurial spirit drove him to start his own business. He, and his wife Skat, opened the Centenary Café in 1952.

    Over the years he gradually grew his business into different retail areas, selling a diverse product range. In 1967 he saw an opportunity in the market and started SAs first discount store, selling furniture and electrical appliances. He called this business Kloppers. He was also a founder member of Sentra Co-op, a buying co-operative for independent retailers.

    Initially, the distributors were very resistant to the idea of the discount store and refused to supply him. He was forced to buy through other wholesalers, but soon ran such a successful enterprise that the distributors had no choice but to supply him directly.

    Their first venture into sport came in 1970 when he hired Colin Bland, who at that stage coached the Freestate team, to run a sport shop for him. The shop was run separately from Kloppers for six years, but in 1976 they brought the shop into the main store as a division of Kloppers.

    Once again, they encountered fierce resistance from the sport distributors, who feared that their brands would suffer under the "discount" image. But again they proved themselves to be such good retailers that they soon convinced the distributors to support them.

    The business was so successful that Kloppers bought Greatermans in Bloemfontein in 1981. By that time, they owned one of the prime properties in Bloemfontein’s central business district. Christo Wiese of Pepkor wanted the property and bought Kloppers in 1984, signing a restraint of trade with Willem senior.

    A year later the three sons who had at that stage been involved in the business with their dad, Willem, Steva and Leon, decided that retailing was too much in their blood to sit on their hands, and started a new store, which they called Juniors. They were immediately successful and bought the original business back from Pepkor two years later.

    What is remarkable about the six Klopper brothers is that they all went into different directions after finishing their school years at Grey College — yet all joined the family business. Willem studied accountancy and obtained his CTA before joining his parents in the family business. Steva became an attorney and practised for a short while before joining Kloppers. Leon studied social work before joining the family business. Wouter obtained a B. Agriculture and farmed for a few years before joining. His twin brother, Anton, became a medical doctor and had his own practice in Bloemfontein before joining. Dirk became a chartered accountant and worked overseas for a few years before also joining the family business.

    The only director that is not a brother, Filip Naude, joined the business in 1985 as accountant. Anton says that they regard him as one of their brothers.

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