36 of 2023

Newsletter No 36/15 September 2023                              


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Why everybody loved Raymond

By Adele Shevel

Raymond Ackerman and his wife. Picture: Hetty Zantman

Many words have been used to pay tribute to the Pick n Pay founder since his death last week. Perhaps the most common has been ‘kind’

Raymond Ackerman was a trailblazer. He was fearless, single-minded, warm, kind, generous, inspirational, modest and competitive. He was “universally positive”, a “visionary” with an unwavering belief that he was doing the right thing; someone “who rewrote the chapters of a lot of South African history”.

These are just some of the words used to describe the Pick n Pay founder, who died last week aged 92. In fact, few have left as indelible a mark on South Africa’s business and social landscape.

Ackerman pioneered the supermarket concept, took on entrenched monopolies to offer better prices on staples, and took to task politicians over inequitable laws. He created a business that generated thousands of livelihoods, and he made an impression on people as they went about their daily lives, speaking readily to shoppers and employees at every turn.

Tamra Veley, who worked with Ackerman for 34 years as head of public affairs firm Corporate Image, talks of how he would walk into a store and not only know a cashier’s name, but start talking about their relatives and children.

It wasn’t just employees; he made the time to talk to everyone. That included those who didn’t even shop at Pick n Pay. If he saw someone carrying a competitor’s bag, he would introduce himself, asking why they weren’t shopping at his stores. It was “vintage Raymond”, says Veley. It worked, too. “Having met and interacted with him meant they would be shoppers for life.”

Picking a path

It’s no surprise Ackerman went into retail; it was in his blood. His father, Gus, had founded clothing group Ackermans in 1916, growing it to become a benchmark retailer in the country. So much so that when businessman Harry Herber launched a department store in 1931, he named it Greatermans — greater than Ackermans.

It was here that Ackerman, fresh out of the University of Cape Town (UCT), would land his first job. A shy young man, he would stand at the door of the Greatermans store in Salt River, Cape Town, and greet customers — a perhaps inauspicious start to a great career.

At the age of 35, having worked his way up to become MD of Checkers (part of the Greatermans group), he found himself summarily dismissed because his profit margins were too low. Only, he knew that high volumes and low margin were key to growing a grocery retailing business.

At that point, he and his wife Wendy made a list of possible options; top of the list was starting a company. The decision saw him buy four Pick n Pay stores from Clicks founder Jack Goldin in 1967. Within two years he listed the company on the JSE, and by 1999 it had a greater market share than all its rivals put together.

Altogether, Ackerman’s efforts were enough to make Pick n Pay the gold standard in retailing for decades. In more recent years, though, the company has suffered setbacks; today Checkers parent Shoprite is about five times its size.

Critics argued that Pick n Pay fell behind rivals such as Shoprite partly because the Ackerman family couldn’t let go, and allow new talent to steer the business.

In any event, losing market share to Shoprite was something Ackerman apparently didn’t take lightly; he had an almost lifelong rivalry with Checkers, the group he had helped grow from three stores to 80, before being booted out.

Still, Whitey Basson, the man who built Shoprite into a retail behemoth, reckons he’d “recognise [Ackerman] as one of the 10 best businessmen I worked with in South Africa”.

“Raymond and I got on very well, I always respected him. He was sharp, he didn’t play all his cards the way most people would play them — he was in business to make Pick n Pay better,” he tells the FM.

Basson learnt a lot from Ackerman — copying the delis in the Pick n Pay stores, for example. “I didn’t have time to think about it, I thought: ‘He’s the best, we can always change it later,’” he says.

 ‘Doing good is good business’

Ultimately, Pick n Pay’s success came down to Ackerman’s energy and marketing talent: he understood what people wanted, and supplied it. “Retailing is quite a simple business — you just have to do it well,” says Hugh Herman, a long-term business associate and Pick n Pay’s first MD. “He was meticulous about details.” And, he adds: “The values on which he built a business were an ethical and honest approach to business, to give every customer a square deal”.

Part of that was pioneering the “no-name brand” concept to make essentials more affordable, and establishing a R1m subsidy scheme to support bread prices. It was an easy fit with his business ethos: doing good is good business.

In short, Ackerman believed that the more you give the consumer, the more they will give back to you.

You could probably say the same about his relationship with his employees. “He listened to people and didn’t lay down dictates,” says Herman. “If you create a climate in business where people feel valued, people thrive.”

Sean Summers points to Ackerman as “tough-minded”, “single-minded” and “steely”. “But this was [tempered] with compassion, empathy and finding his way through complex situations and always looking for positives,” he tells the FM.

A Pick n Pay “lifer”, Summers worked his way up from trainee manager to become the first CEO after Ackerman stepped back from the position.

“To walk sort of in his footsteps — to be appointed as the following CEO was the most extraordinary honour of my life and we had extraordinary times together. Obviously these things never happen without your fair share of constructive engagement, but that’s all part of building and taking the company forward.”

He adds: “He wasn’t only my boss, I loved him. I spent more time with him than I did my own father.”

Taking on the state

Herman sums Ackerman up as a tough businessman who “dealt fairly, equitably and with morality. What made him stand out is he wanted to be someone who made a contribution to society and help people.”

And so he put effort into other people, from paying school and university fees to helping others start businesses. He even paid for old-age care for a destitute former employee, according to a story on radio station 702.

It was indicative of his compassion. As his son and Pick n Pay chair Gareth Ackerman said at his memorial this week, Ackerman’s defining qualities were kindness, and a caring and sincere interest in other people and global events.

It also put him at odds with a system that ran counter to his personal philosophy of inclusivity.

“He would always approach from an entirely human and logical point of view,” says Veley. “When he engaged with the apartheid government he had a number of furious rows with [prime minister] BJ Vorster.”

On one occasion, he took up with Vorster the issue of not being allowed to promote nonwhite workers into management positions. As Veley tells it, he nagged and made a nuisance of himself, “and eventually Vorster said he could use one store as an experiment and see how it would work … He picked Rondebosch because that’s where all the parliamentarian wives shopped. He did it to prove a point.”

It was the same with housing. He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t provide housing loans for his staff. And so, in 1978, he persuaded Vorster to introduce 99-year leasehold rights for black employees in urban areas so that he could do just that.

He was also among a group of businessmen who met FW de Klerk soon after he was appointed president and called for the release of Nelson Mandela.

“There’s nobody with that degree of moral certitude or certainty who can speak truth and be respected for it,” Veley adds.

A life in three parts

After retiring from the Pick n Pay board in 2010, after 43 years with the company, Ackerman maintained an active interest in Pick n Pay and his philanthropic projects. It was for these, along with his social responsibility in business, that he was awarded the Order of the Baobab in 2014. It was one of numerous accolades, including honorary doctorates from local and international universities, including UCT, Rhodes and Rutgers in the US.

But Ackerman was no social high-flyer. As Summers explains it, there was just one world for him — “the family, the business and his beloved Clovelly golf course. They were all integrated together. His family came first, but right alongside were the business and golf.”

Central to it all was his wife, Wendy. Ackerman had met her while studying at UCT, and theirs was very much a partnership in life and business. He described her as his constant friend, tireless champion and fiercest critic. (She, of course, was a force in her own right, supporting education and the arts, and working on company-assisted housing schemes for staff in black and coloured areas, one of the first of which was “Wendyville” in Soweto.)

In Summers’s view, their relationship is one of Ackerman’s extraordinary legacies. “In the world today there are so few examples of that,” he says. “It was an extraordinary thing to witness how they complemented each other and walked through life together”.

Ackerman is survived by Wendy, children Gareth, Kathy, Suzanne and Jonathan, 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

The retail pendulum is shifting in SA and it’s encouraging

By Joanne Gould

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

It can be a slippery slope – load shedding, the economy, post-pandemic aftershocks, communities facing hardships and even the chill of winter. However, as we ease into Spring the retail pendulum is shifting as an optimistic breeze starts blowing in South Africa.

There are some huge positives in retail from the increased adoption of e-commerce and digital platforms reaching a wider customer base and providing convenience for shoppers. Physical stores expanding their online presence. Consumers becoming more conscious of the environmental impact of their purchases and retailers responding to that.

More responsible manufacturing and packaging practices becoming the norm. We’ve seen innovations in payment methods. Tech and data analytics are being leveraged and retailers are understanding their customers better.

Don’t get me wrong – we can go down a rabbit hole of doom and gloom and at times with due cause, but there are some positive shifts happening and that’s very encouraging.

Retail in SA in 2023 is indeed seeing enhanced convenience, sustainability, and personalised experiences for shoppers. Changes that reflect evolving customer preferences and the industry’s response to meet these demands. The preference for said convenience combined with fresh competition has pushed some retailers to merge their products into one space.

As reported by Mail & Guardian, The Foschini Group (TFG) partnered with Superbalist to develop Bash, their online store where all the TFG-owned brands are conveniently sold in one place.

On the other side of the coin, there are retailers that instead have chosen to nurture their brick-and-mortar experience such as Zara with renovations at their Sandton City and V&A Waterfront stores to give shoppes a more luxurious experience. While ‘We Are EGG’ opened their “next-generation department store” filling empty spaces left by previous brand giants and instead creating a “high-energy, integrative, experiential shopping experience”.

Recently PwC published the first-ever Retailer Sentiment Index for SA, measuring how consumers feel about the country’s biggest retail brands such as Woolworths, Spar, Checkers, Shoprite, Food Lover’s and the like. Woolworths emerged as the clear winner “lauded for its house brands and high-quality goods”.

Interestingly when it came to customer service though, all brands saw an overall negative sentiment, indicating that this remains a big point of contention in our retail sector with room for improvement. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel with Spar emerging as the top retailer when it comes to great deals and driving positive sentiment.

Left of centre in terms of future forward, as reported by www.cointelegraph.com saw Pick n Pay accepting Bitcoin payments in more than 2000 stores nationwide at the start of 2023. Customers can pay for items using cryptocurrency via a smartphone app or by scanning a QR code and accepting the rand conversion rate at the time of payment. Buying airtime, electricity, plane and bus tickets and municipal bills is made simple and convenient at the tills using #BitCoin. According to the stats, Chainanalysis’ 2033 Global Crypto Adoption Index, estimated that about 10% to 13% of the SA population holds crypto assets.

Online marketplaces are thriving, the popularity of which continues to increase in SA, with various ecommerce platforms expanding their presence such as Takealot, OneDayOnly and Superbalist. Offering a wide range of products and deals to cater to diverse consumer preferences. So too, sustainable, and eco-friendly stores are making their mark in response to environmental concerns, with several retailers focusing on sustainable practices. From eco-friendly products to a reduction in packaging waste, or newly established recycling programmes.

Pioneered by the likes of Faithful to Nature and The Refillery as they prioritise the ‘healthy people, healthy planet’ ethos. While pop-up shops and temporary retails spaces gain popularity offering unique experiences and limited time offers. Showcasing local artisans, emerging brands, and niche products, keeping the retail experience fresh and relevant.

As we moved past the halfway mark in the year – our focus should be on collaborating, building a customer-centric culture, playing to win, embracing, and integrating technology, personalising experiences, supporting local businesses, integrating online and offline and increasing convenience. Navigating the challenges and shining a light on the positive as we move forward.


Africa is the future of black culture’s influence on fashion

By Sandiso Ngubane

Loxion Kulca at SA Fashion Week 2021. Image: Loxion Kulca

As hip-hop celebrates its semi centennial, black culture’s imprint is undeniable and continues to spread

As a child growing up in an SA township, my style references were mostly through my fashion-loving mother, who had huge collections of titles such as Cosmopolitan, ELLE and the occasional issue of Vogue. On the walls of the small bedroom I shared with my two male cousins were posters of Yves Saint Laurent fragrance ads and racy Tom Ford-era Gucci campaigns.

On the streets, however, it was kwaito music and pantsulas dressed in Dickies work pants, spotis and Converse All Stars. Gradually, we started seeing Kangol penetrating the culture, as did the likes of FUBU and others brands that one associated more closely with hip-hop music than kwaito. What was true then, as it is now, is that black music determined what was in style for many of us.

When I started collecting magazines myself, my go-to was GQ, which gave me a global outlook on culture, and men’s fashion, specifically. It was through those pages that I developed a palette for the luxurious, but it wasn’t lost on me that black faces like my very own were largely absent from those pages. So I also spent my saved-up pocket money on Y-Mag, which was, at the time, a sister publication to youth radio station YFM. What a time!

My first Y-Mag had former president Thabo Mbeki and afro-pop/kwaito pioneers Bongo Maffin on the cover. I remember it like it was yesterday. Y-Mag gave me a sneak peek into the world of black youth culture in a way that not even SABC 1’s Selimathunzi did. I cherished reading about the who’s who of the Joburg music, literary and fashion scenes. I was introduced to the likes of Stoned Cherrie, Magents and Loxion Kulca — three brands that did not exist in the pages of ELLE, GQ and all those international titles. It made me proud to be young and black.

The likes of Stoned Cherrie, Magents and Loxion Kulca had parallels to the likes of Baby Phat, Phat Farm, Sean John, RocaWear and other brands that the US hip-hop community created out of necessity in a world of luxury brands that frowned upon black artists and, according to many reports, even declined to dress rappers and other black musicians.

Dapper Dan. Image: Supplied

Black designers and stylists like the legendary Dapper Dan used luxury brand motifs to make custom looks for these stars, arguably giving the likes of Gucci a street edge they really did not possess. Back in SA, it wasn’t the black community’s struggle for acceptance in mainstream culture that brought about a fresh aesthetic. We were a nation healing from its apartheid past, forging a new identity. One that was true to us.

Stoned Cherrie tapped into Sophiatown nostalgia while Magents and Loxion Kulca tapped into the energy of the streets, their efforts running parallel to the proliferation of kwaito music into the mainstream, the early days of SA hip-hop going mainstream, and the rise of a new generation that embraced its own indigenous cultures culminating in the arrival of such stars as Simphiwe Dana and Thandiswa Mazwai of Bongo Maffin going solo. What they wore was at once modern and simultaneously African. It would later be dubbed Afro-futurism.

What started then gave rise to what we see today through the likes of Sho Madjozi’s xibelani-wearing ways, Maxhosa and even Thebe Magugu and the Afro-centric storytelling their brands imbue. Indeed, on the streetwear side, Loxion Kulca precedes the likes of Tshepo Jeans, and this is something we ought not to forget (with our very bad tendency of ignoring those who are the actual pioneers).

In the future, it’s not just black culture that fashion will seek to draw from. If Pharell Williams’ appointment at Louis Vuitton signals anything, it’s that black culture is culture on a global scale. The rising profile of designers such as Magugu and others from across the continent, is a sign that, as the stock of blackness increases in value, so will stories of black origin. We are already seeing this by way of the much-talked Victoria & Albert Museum’s Africa Fashion exhibition, currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. Here, decades of liberated African expression that has swept through the continent since Ghana became the first colonised nation to gain independence is on full display. The evolution continues.

Sure, local fashion titles are all but nonexistent on store shelves today, so I doubt there are walls plastered with posters of today’s trendiest brands and faces, but it’s nonetheless exciting that the influence of black culture on fashion is far more abundant today and the children growing up now are not just looking at almost-naked white models in Gucci ads. They are looking at people who look like them on social media feeds celebrating Tshepo Jeans, Maxhosa, Rich Mnisi, Wanda Lephoto and others.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, its influence on culture in general more apparent than ever, we are also watching African music stars like Tems and Burna Boy lighting up global stages, and amapiano rapidly encroaching on the 808-drum’s territory in music. It doesn’t seem very farfetched to me that Africa’s influence on popular culture more broadly, and in fashion, specifically, is the wave. 

The China Home Life Trade Fair is back in South Africa

Johannesburg – The China Home Life and Machinex Trade Fair – the largest exhibition of Chinese producers in South Africa – will happen at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand from 20 to 22 September 2023. Now in its seventh year, the fair will once again showcase a variety of high-quality Chinese products.

China Home Life South Africa is a platform for leading Chinese companies seeking to do business in Africa and African businesses seeking to import or do business with China.  Business owners, sourcing managers and supply chain officials will have the opportunity to engage with approved world-class suppliers and manufacturers from China. The event brings together significant players from major industries and enables visitors to view a large number of products to evaluate, compare, see demonstrations and ask detailed questions. It will provide visitors with a comprehensive overview of the entire China sourcing process.

Binu Pillai, Meorient International’s Chief Operating Officer, says China Home Life suppliers go through a thorough verification process. “We select only the best for our trade shows to ensure our buyers get top quality products,” he adds. “This helps us ensure we build strong relationships in all the countries we work with.”

The event takes place in 13 cities across the world each year, namely Sao Paulo, Istanbul, Dubai, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Cairo, Amman, Warsaw, Mexico, Lagos, Nairobi, Tehran and Almaty.

Run in partnership with Machinex, China Home Life is the largest China sourcing event on the African continent. Over the years, it has welcomed visitors not only from South Africa but also from Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.

The 2023 edition of the trade fair will feature 570 verified Chinese exhibitors at 750 booths showcasing over 10 000 qualified products. There are many benefits to attending the show including it being a great opportunity for South African importers and wholesalers to find out about the latest, qualified, cost-effective products directly from Chinese manufactures.

Additionally, it provides a platform to network with leading companies and experts, find new opportunities and learn about business processes regarding importing from China. As a market leader in the exhibition market, China Home Life connects visitors to high-end Chinese companies with the most innovative, cutting-edge products.

The expo is an effective platform for Chinese manufacturers to showcase their latest products and visitors will enjoy exploring its wealth of variety. It’s also the most efficient way to know the competition in your industry.

To ensure successful networking, China Home Life and its onsite Match-Making Programme will arrange on-site meetings, affording every buyer the chance to engage in face-to-face communication with exhibitors and stay up-to-date with the latest products for their business needs.

The focus for this year’s edition will be Energy. Although entry is free for all visitors, pre-registering for fast-track entry and avoiding long queues is recommended.

The main product categories at the 2023 show will include: Energy/Machinery/Household/Building Materials/Textiles and Garments/ Consumer Electronics/Home Appliances/Auto Parts/Beauty/Food

By attending this awesome trade fair, you are guaranteed a wide variety of the best quality products either to sell in your business or for your own personal use.

To register for the 2023 China Home Life Trade Fair and for more information, visit: www.chinahomelife.co.za

The highest-status toga, the solidly purple, gold-embroidered toga picta could be worn only at particular ceremonies by the highest-ranking magistrates. Tyrian purple was supposedly reserved for the toga picta, the border of the toga praetexta, and elements of the priestly dress worn by the inviolate Vestal Virgins.


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