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 Retail tenant takes ownership of his environment


 Brett Venton's approach to retail is so customer-focused that he thinks not only about the inside of his shops, but tries to shape the environment around them as well.

The idea, says the 37-year-old retailer from Kloof in Durban, is to create an environment in which shopping becomes an experience. “The kids can come and have a frozen yogurt, dad can have a coffee and mom can do the shopping,” says Brett.

He believes so strongly in this principle that he started a coffee shop and a frozen-yogurt bar to complement his chain of shops, which includes a Superspar, a Kwikspar and two Tops bottle stores.

Usually, such thinking is the domain of large mall and shopping-centre managers, who spend a lot of time strategising over “tenant mix”, the right combination of shops and services to create an enticing experience for the shopper.

Brett is not a centre manager, nor does he own any of the premises in which his shops are based. But that does not stop him from proactively managing the environment around his shop. Rather than wait for the landlord to find the right neighbour for his shops, he came up with the concepts and convinced the landlord to let him open the complementary businesses himself. In this way he killed two birds with one stone: Not only do the coffee shop and yogurt bar strengthen his retail shops, but he profits from them as businesses in their own right.

Brett acknowledges that he is fortunate to have landlords who understand how important the mix is in a centre, and who take care to build deep relationships with their tenants.

It was not always like this. He recalls a time when he was still working as an employee in the shops which he later bought. The then landlord had the attitude of a mere rent collector, nothing more. Then Business Partners took over the Maytime Centre where the Kwikspar was situated. Brett says they were pleasantly surprised to find in Business Partners a landlord whose “whole focus was building a common goal and teamwork” between landlord and tenant. “The communication is exceptional. We really are ‘business partners’.”

He finds Business Partners not only open to suggestions and requests for improvements from the tenants, but the company often approaches its tenants for advice in dealing with the centre.

Brett says he is similarly lucky with his Superspar landlord at another Kloof shopping centre scarcely two kilometres away.

Considering that Brett bought the Superspar, Kwikspar and two Tops stores lock, stock and barrel from their founder in 2008 – just at the start of the recession – the more than 50% growth in turnover that he managed to achieve since then is no mean feat.

Apart from the good collaboration with his landlords, there is another element to his success, says Brett, namely the fanatical customer-focus of his team of no fewer than 230 workers. His secret to building such a team lies in his recruitment philosophy. Brett chooses his employees based on their attitude, not their qualifications. He is a great believer in the importance of the first impression that someone makes. If applicants make a good first impression in the job interview, chances are that they are capable of making the same impression on a customer in any of his shops.

Brett says he would not have been able to achieve the growth that he had without the support of his young, dynamic management team




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