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February 2006

Retailer showcase:

Reason's for Skipper Bar's success

Their biggest single success factor had been their ability to change with the trends in the market.

While competitors fell by the wayside, Skipper Bar went from strength to strength.

Saks maintains that SA is quite unique in that the customers in the market segment they serve actually develop and dictate fashion. In the rest of the world textile producers and garment manufacturers decide what will be fashionable in the coming seasons — and then produce the garments which the consumers buy. Here, he says, fashion develops on the proverbial street.

Successful retailers follow the trend that is set by their customers, and ensure that they obtain and stock the fashions demanded by their customers.

Saks believes it is essential to stay in close contact with the customer. Even today, Skipper Bar’s head office people must spend at least one day a week in one of their outlets on the shop floor, in order to keep in contact with their customers.

Skipper Bar is very much part of the community it serves. A recent survey conducted by the company shows that 70% of black consumers in Gauteng know the Skipper Bar brand.

Saks also believes that a business must get involved in and contribute to the community, and consequently they get involved in community projects such as the sponsorship of a youth soccer league in Polokwane.

He also believes that they have a responsibility to develop and assist their staff and consequently they started their own school where they provide in-house training and send people on courses at outside institutions.

This allows them to promote from within, whenever necessary.

Adapt — and succeed

By listening to their customers, instead of telling them what they should wear, Skipper Bar has flourished where others had floundered, NICOL DU TOIT found

Skipper Bar was founded nearly fifty years ago as a small knitwear store in the centre of Johannesburg. Today, it has grown into a chain of more than twenty stores that sets the pace for Jo’burg street fashion … but the core values still remain the same.

In 1958 Yank, the father of present day owner, Arnold Saks, decided to start a knitwear shop in central Johannesburg. At the time he was in the knitwear manufacturing trade, but believed that there was a better and more exiting future in retail.

A large part of their merchandise was T-shirts, or skippers, as it was better known those days. To furnish his first shop, he bought a bar counter at an auction of hotel furniture, which was set up as one of the main displays in the shop. The name Skipper Bar was born.

Arnold Saks joined the family store in 1961. He felt that they needed to expand the range of products and started to import shoes from the US. The store flourished on a rather limited range for a number of years.

In the early seventies they introduced men’s trousers — and it was such a success that they decided to bring out their own range under the Skipper Bar label. This was followed by a number of in-house brands such as LL Bean, Nikos and Sergio. In addition to their own brands, they also stock other major brands that fit their target market.

To reach their target market, they initially located their outlets mainly in CBD areas such as central Johannesburg, Pretoria and Vereeniging. With the massive social changes experienced in SA over the past 15 to 20 years, shopping habits have changed so much that they have opened a number of highly successful outlets in shopping malls mainly in the Gauteng area. Today they define their market wider across all racial barriers.

The eighties and nineties saw their biggest expansion, when they started opening a chain of stores which today number 22. They are currently starting to open franchise outlets.

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