HomeChoice makes progress in difficult retail environment

HomeChoice International PLC, the leading participant in southern Africa’s retail homewares and financial services sectors to the expanding urban middle-income mass market, announced steady growth despite a tough second half for the year ended 31 December 2018. Revenue increased by 8,5%, and headline earnings per share remained largely unaltered from the previous year, at 507,7 cents. The group declared total dividends for the year of 194,0 cents per share, up 1,6%.

Chief executive officer South Africa, Shirley Maltz, commented: “Notwithstanding the challenging retail environment, we are seeing the benefit of our continuous investment into improving our customer experience and accelerating our digital transformation, which are both key strategic focus areas for the group. Credit extended via digital channels increased by 43,9% to R1,6 billion.”

Maltz expanded: “Another highlight for us is that the group continues to attract more than 20 000 new customers monthly, attracted by our curated product offers. The group’s active customer base increased by 10,0% this year.”

Capital expenditure, at R126 million, has increased notably in this period and has involved rolling out four additional showrooms and two ChoiceCollect containers, opening a second distribution centre in Gauteng to provide quicker, more convenient deliveries and re-platforming and upgrading technology across the business.

Financial results exhibit moderate growth and strong investment

Group revenue increased to R3,2 billion (2017: R3,0 billion), benefiting from a solid contribution from the financial services business, with loan disbursements up 21,5%. This was tempered by weaker retail sales of 6,3%.

Group EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) increased by 3,6% to R821 million. Despite significant cost focus, the group could not sufficiently mitigate weaker top-line growth in the second half of the year. Headline earnings increased by 1,3% to R529 million. The group declared a final dividend of 99 cents and a dividend cover of 2,6 times was maintained.

Retail disappoints in H2

Retail revenue increased by 7,4% to R2,5 billion. After a strong sales growth of 18,9% in H1, trading in the second half of the year was impacted by operational challenges at the South African Post Office (SAPO), with delays in the delivery of catalogues and parcels. The non-delivery of monthly catalogues had a substantial impact on sales. The group spent significant effort to assist SAPO and has also sped up the roll-out of showrooms and container hubs to provide additional channels for customers to collect their products. Increased marketing expenses to stimulate sales and additional courier charges to deliver the products to customers were incurred, translating into an EBITDA decrease of 2,9% to R453 million.

The business is however well-positioned to continue its strong historical performance in 2019. Digital sales contribution increased to 16% and will be further enabled with the launch of new e-commerce site. Supporting the much-loved HomeChoice private label, there are now 120 external retail brands on offer which provide variety to existing customers and attract new customers looking for quality homeware, fashion, furniture and personal electronics. The group has also had very positive customer response from the showrooms and ChoiceCollect, with further rollouts planned for 2019.

“Longer-term targets are for 20 showrooms and up to 100 ChoiceCollect containers across the country,” said Maltz.

Financial Services generates solid performance

Loan disbursements in the financial services business increased by 21,5% to R1,8 billion. Pleasingly, loans to existing customers increased to 84,5% of total disbursements, with strong acceptance of MobiMoney, our three-month, digital-only facility product. Revenue increased by 12,2% to R746 million and EBITDA grew by 13,7% to R357 million, highlighting the annuity aspect of the financial services business. Over 40 000 new customers were acquired during the year, increasing the base by 11,4% to 176 000.

Insurance has demonstrated strong growth in funeral products. Gross written premiums increased by 70% over 2017. “The opportunity remains to add more personal insurance products to the portfolio. This vertical represents an attractive growth opportunity to diversify income and increase customer share of wallet,” added Maltz.

At least 86% of customers are now registered on our digital platforms and a third of loan transactions concluded, are done outside of normal trading hours. The richer Mobi platform creates a portal for a multitude of products and value-added services to be offered to customers via their smartphones. The introduction of airtime, data bundles and electricity sales has indicated the potential opportunity to increase customers’ digital engagement with the group.

Stable credit

The group continued to expand a quality credit book with gross trade and loan receivables increasing by 7,5% (on an IFRS 9 comparable basis) to R3,5 billion. Group debtor costs at 17,2% of revenue was marginally above 16,8% in 2017, and remains within the group’s acceptable risk tolerances. Non-performing loans declined, while NPL cover was bolstered by increased provisions.  The improving performance metrics are testament to the group’s ongoing conservatism in managing its credit book.

Strong cash generation

Cash generated from operations increased by 32,0% to R474 million, driven by a decrease in retail credit growth in H2, good cash collections, a reduction in loan terms and actively managing cash requirements in working capital.

“The strong cash generation capability of the business is evidenced by the fact the group has managed to grow a credit book of more than R3,5 billion while maintaining a net debt to equity ratio (excluding property) of 22,2%,” Maltz said.

Outlook

“We will continue to position ourselves as a leading digital partner in the mass market, with an omni channel offering that provides an attractive and seamless retailing experience across all channels,” concluded Maltz.

The group has serviced this market for more than 30 years and has built up a loyal customer base of more than 870 000 active clients. This base, together with our established digital platforms, offer enormous opportunity to extend our product ranges and service offerings.

About HomeChoice International PLC

HomeChoice International plc is an investment holding company listed on the JSE Limited. The group provides retail and financial services to the mass market in southern Africa. HomeChoice services its large, primarily female and middle-income customer base through two trading operations, HomeChoice (Retail) and FinChoice (Financial Services).

 

Better life decisions with AI

Better life decisions with AI

By Vaughan Rowsell, CEO of Vend

When you think about artificial intelligence (AI) and how it will impact our daily life, what are the images you conjure up? Intelligent robot companions that clean and cook and keep you company? A disembodied voice that controls your car, home, TV and your life? You can relax in the afternoon by demanding “Computer, turn the lights down, run me a bath and play death metal”. We all relax in different ways. Or are you being really dark and the image of a robot army coming to retire all humans one at a time is how you imagine AI? Isn’t it exciting to think about how technology is going to change (or end) our lives?

Artificial Intelligence is in its basic form when a computer is able to make “intelligent” decisions that a human would otherwise make. So, lights that automatically turn on when it gets dark is a form of AI. Google maps finding you the fastest route to drive somewhere is a more advanced version of AI, and several levels up from there are self-driving cars that can not only turn on the headlights automatically and plan the fastest route, but can also drive you there without killing anyone along the way. Soon your Tesla can express its anger at passing human motorists with a robotic finger at which point AI has completely replaced us when it comes to driving.

AI is also now starting to appear in our homes as smart devices like Alexa or Google home, where they listen to our every word in hope we ask it something, like what’s the capital of Turkey, what’s the best Jason Statham movie and what’s a recipe for a good vegan lasagne. The “AI” is able to understand human speech and then, basically do a Google search on what we just asked and find the best result. When it can solve oxymorons like what’s the best Jason Statham movie then it can truly do more than what is human. As more of our devices we surround ourselves with get “hooked up” to the internet, these smart speakers can also interact with our TV, lights, doorbell and even the washing machine. So Alexa can blink the lounge lights when the washing is done, or turn the TV up really loud when it detects a door to door sales person via the video doorbell.

Computers are learning so much about us and learning new tricks to pretend to be us. They can listen, talk, give us advice and drive complex machinery. Soon the AI can be with us wherever we go to, like our own personal guardian angel, or virtual life assistant reminding us when to leave home to make it through traffic to our coffee date on time.

Vaughan Rowsell

The AI I imagine and want is like one of those spy handlers. The girl of guy in your earpiece, who lurks in a bunker at Langley or MI6 somewhere monitoring your every move and vital statistic, whispering to you the names of old school friends you have forgotten as bump into them at the mall and providing you the fastest route to escape an awkward conversation about their poor life choices.

My hope is we’ll all retain some semblance of free will in the AI driven world. So we can all make better life decisions, and have more time to bump into old friends.”

As technology becomes more and more portable, so do we become more and more mobile. As our lives become more automated, as cars drive themselves, as supermarkets predict and deliver the groceries we need, this all frees us up to have more time to do fun things. Like shopping.

But wait, isn’t automation and Amazon killing retail?

The retail industry is set to benefit immensely from technology and AI, and retail is an industry I know a bit about having helped it adapt to technology over the last 10 years. Technology and AI could do all our shopping for us. Technology and algorithms can find the right sized clothes and automatically pick items based on our preferences, AI can do this right now. But I don’t think we want to be dressed by our AI or have the gifts we buy our friends automatically picked for us based on their Facebook activity. That can lead to some really awkward “Make America Great Again” themed gifts. But mainly I don’t think we will delegate all this to AI because this takes away our free will and our ability to make choices. You can drive my car, and pick the route but please don’t pick my underwear.

Instead I think our personalised AI assistant will be there in our ears helping us find and navigate to the stores we are looking for, give us in depth product information as we hold an item, manage our finances asking us if we really need that new pair of shoes and finally have someone honest at the changing room to tell us if our ass looks big in this.

AI will automate the chores in life, like grocery shopping, making more time for us to cherish things and have new experiences.

More practically if you are the retailer then the time that AI will save you will be the difference between business failure and amazing growth. In small business this is where you will see AI make the biggest impact today. Every day small business owners are facing make-or-break decisions. Decisions based on data and 9.72 times out of 10 rely on solid analytical skills. Exactly the sort of thing that a computer is great at. Smart business assistants are already popping up, powered by AI, that can process all your key business data in real time and make sensible suggestions, like what your next supplier order should be based on how sales have been. AI can help you identify the profile of your best customers and give you tips on how to best engage with them. Every morning your personalised store AI can greet the store owner with the summary of yesterday’s sales and what to try different today. Try discounting these products, and these customers are slipping away so perhaps run an online campaign to re-engage with them.

I imagine AI as being that smart friend you want to hang out with because they make you smarter. Technology isn’t going to replace us, it’s going to free us up for the more important things in life, like meeting friends, going shopping or seeing our family. It will become our trusted advisor, it won’t run our lives or businesses, but it will give us some pretty good advice.

This, I guess, all depends on whether or not our personal AI assistant is provided “for free” by Google or Facebook. Nothing is ever free, and you will end up with an annoying friend trying to convince you to buy vitamins and matrices all day. My hope is we’ll all retain some semblance of free will in the AI driven world. So we can all make better life decisions, and have more time to bump into old friends.

Mirror, Mirror…in the Mall

Mirror, Mirror…in the Mall

The Foschini Group recently set out to highlight the natural beauty of women through a fun and interactive digital activation at Sandton City Mall.

Experiential activations agency, Living Masks, tasked Moving Tactics, South Africa’s leading digital signage solutions company, with the job of providing a solution that would attract shoppers’ attentions and encourage participation and interaction. There also had to be a way that mall-goers could quickly and easily share the interactive digital activation experience via social media.

The concept, developed by Living Masks magic-maker, Zelia Michaels Shangase, saw Moving Tactics’ Digital Impact division design and manufacture a custom-made mirror that would give women the opportunity of seeing their reflection on a specially treated glass panel that was concealing a 55-inch touchscreen. Combing these two elements in a custom-made housing, together with a DSLR camera and a wide-angled GoPro camera, we were able to create an experience for the ladies where they could see a full-length image of themselves in the mirror as well as a scaled-down version in the digital display.

“We used software designed and developed by the Moving Tactics Digital Impact team so that shoppers could take photos of themselves and then share them via various social media platforms. The GoPro camera was used to record photographic stills in the time-lapse function so that the entire campaign could be viewed in a high-speed replay,” says Andy Higginbotham, Creative Director at Moving Tactics Digital Impact.

According to Shangase, “Working on this campaign with Foschini has been an extremely fulfilling experience. The activation brought to life an amazing concept but more so a message that all women should have affirmed daily, which is ‘I AM PERFECT’. The interactive mirror that Moving Tactics developed was central to the interactive digital activation combining two winning elements, selfies and social media! What it truly did though, was allow women to see themselves as they truly are, in all their splendour and to share that with the world (via Facebook) #Nofilter”.

The #IAMALLWOMAN #IAMPERFECT Foschini campaign, which was inspired by the power and perfection of women, proved to be a success and a great way to honour the women in South Africa.

Moving Tactics is a leading South African digital signage solutions company that develops customised digital signage technologies and is constantly creating innovative communication solutions.

Revolutionising cash management in Retail

The Cash Connect N10K can process up to 300 banknotes per minute

Revolutionising cash management in Retail

Cash Connect, a leading retail cash management and payment solutions company, has just announced the launch its new N10K cash vault.

According to Richard Phillips, joint CEO of Cash Connect Management Solutions, the N10K is designed to provide top-of-line functionality for retailers and wholesalers requiring to secure large volumes of cash through high-speed, bulk cash deposits. The N10K is the largest model in Cash Connect’s cash vault range and is designed to withstand the most forceful attacks.

Cash Connect’s Operations Risk Manager with Joint CEO Richard Phillips at the launch of the N10K

 

Built to minimum SABS category 4 standards and weighing 950 kg, the N10K provides a formidable deterrent. Its innovative design includes a keyless sliding door feature that removes the old swing door that traditionally intruded on available retail space.

Additional features such as biometric user identification, a diagrammatic, touchscreen interface and a fool-proof bag loading system promotes easy and intuitive user operation.

A high-speed validator with a mixed denomination acceptance rate of up to 300 notes per minute makes depositing cash quick and easy. The N10K also offers scalable capacity of up to 10,000 bank notes, with notes being conveniently deposited into a single, disposable bag.

The N10K is the largest model in Cash Connect’s cash vault range – all of which are designed to withstand the most forceful attacks

The N10K is supported by a cloud based, real time, financial management and payments software network that facilitates supplier payments and fast deposit settlement into multiple bank account destinations.

 Features:

  • Built to minimum SABS category 4 standards

  • Unique floor bolting fixtures

  • Biometric user identification

  • Host to Host automated reconciliation

  • Unique, secure and fully automated door locking mechanism

  • Barcode bag identification

  • Dual SIM GSM/GPRS modem (communication)

  • Capacity of 10,000 banknotes

  • Up to 300 banknotes per minute processing speed

  • Unlimited users and unlimited destination accounts as well as a multi-business partner capability

 

The N10K is the very latest in high-end cash vault technology available on the market,” says Phillips “It was built to address many of the short comings that traders with large volumes of cash have historically encountered with old styled devices. This cash vault extends our product range and meaningfully improves our ability to enhance the safety and efficiency of our client’s trading environment, as well as provide an effective deterrent against most determined criminals.”

Cash Connect Management Solutions offers an end-to-end cash management and payments solution that encompasses cash in transit logistics and cash processing. Established in 2006, Cash Connect’s specialist solutions for retailers remove risk and maximise cash flow through swift settlements.

The company is one of the largest suppliers of cash to the banking system and boasts in excess of R50 Billion a year that it manages on behalf of its diversified client base across the country. It is an approved service provider to blue-chip companies such as Spar Group, Shell, Engen, Pick ‘n Pay and OK to name but a few.

SKIDATA GEARS UP FOR GROWTH

SKIDATA GEARS UP FOR GROWTH

Having initially entered the South African revenue generating parking market in 2013 and after four highly successful years of providing commercial property owners and landlords with world class vehicle and pedestrian access solutions to the parking and stadium event markets, SKIDATA are planning for further growth with a dual strategy to leverage the opportunities in the specific and respective markets of South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa as from 1 May 2017.

The SKIDATA management team: Bradley Lovell – Managing Director; Matome Ramphele – Financial Manager; Derek Morris – Head of Sales and Marketing; Bernhard Steindl – Service Manager and Trevor Fletcher – Area Manager, sub-Saharan Africa. –   Insert: Francois Cantin – Regional Manger, Coastal Sales

Francois Cantin, Coastal Sales

 

 

INTRODUCING THE NEW SKIDATA MANAGEMENT AND SALES TEAM

Trevor Fletcher, with over nine years of parking technology sales experience, with the last three being as the Head of Sales, Marketing and Project Implementation at SKIDATA South Africa, has been appointed Area Manager, sub-Saharan Africa.
Reporting directly to SKIDATA AG in Europe, Trevor has been tasked to increase sales to dealers, distributors and partners in countries outside of South Africa located in sub-Saharan Africa.
Derek Morris, with over 14 years of sales and marketing experience in the Southern African parking market – the first five years of which as the Sales and Marketing Director with a parking technology vendor and the last nine years as the head of Business Development and General Manager Sales at a leading parking management operator – has been appointed as the new Head of Sales and Marketing at SKIDATA South Africa.

Included in Derek’s sales team is Francois Cantin, Professional Coastal Sales, based in Cape Town. Cantin is also a highly experienced parking operator and is tasked with the sales effort in the coastal areas of Western and Eastern Cape, as well as KwaZulu-Natal.
Commercially supporting the new sales team is Bradley Lovell, who was appointed as Managing Director of SKIDATA South Africa in 2016. Lovell, despite his youthful appearance, is also a veteran of the South African parking market, having held various executive and directorship positions with two parking management operators for nearly 20 years.
Providing technical support to the sales team and directly to SKIDATA’s customers, is Bernhard Steindl who is the Manager, Services at SKIDATA South Africa and heads up the technical department. Steindl’s team provides project implementation, maintenance and service.
This dynamic and experienced team has a clear and special focus on clients with a service agreement, known as the “SKIDATA. Care Package”.
Watching the pennies and ensuring good corporate governance is Financial Manager Matome Ramphele, a qualified Chartered Accountant. Ramphele is currently studying towards his MComm (Taxation) and LLB Degree.

For further details on the changes at SKIDATA South Africa please do not hesitate to contact Bradley Lovell on +27 11 447 8698, or bradley.lovell@skidata.com

SKIDATA parking and access management system, Ballito Junction Regional Mall

Property management software to suit every need

Property management software to suit every need

In today’s tough economic climate efficient management and streamlining of the administration of properties and tenants is crucial. Automated software tools and processes designed to exactly that are not only a a prerequisite for efficiency, but simultaneously save property owners both time and costs.

When selecting a property management software vendor, it is also crucial to ensure that a high level of dedicated support is available and effective locally to ensure ongoing smooth and efficient operation.

Such a vendor is PropSys Property Management Software Solutions, a Johannesburg based company offering property software solutions for real estate agents, property management companies and property owners. “Our software enables you to efficiently manage invoicing, receipting, payments, reports, electronic communication and more – all from a single interface,” says Marius Vermeulen, CEO of PropSys. “In addition, our clients receive dedicated and unrivalled support from our consultants through personalised online and telephonic assistance.”

PropSys provides three specialised property software solutions, catering for a wide range of needs:

Nikita: A compact solution for a smaller property portfolio. This is a concise, effective and affordable system for managing small to medium property portfolios, catering to both property owners and agents. The functionality covers all aspects of leasing and includes a direct interface into the Pastel Accounting package for the financial management of the portfolio. It also provides sophisticated email/SMS functionality for improved communications between property manager and tenants.

The software is licensed for a single user or multiple users on a Local Area Network, and is compatible with Windows 7 and Vista. Detailed help and ‘How To’ manuals are available in the application.
The Nicor client: this is PropSys’ flagship and top-of-the-range offering for large corporations with extensive property portfolios.

This software solution comprises integrated property management (PropPro) together with financial management functionality (FinPro). The core system also houses a Workflow Engine for process control.

Features include: real time updating of data to other applicable parts of the system; full system security including password protected login codes; data audit logging for a full history of changes; online help for every screen and on-screen tool tips for input fields.
The Workflow Engine provides business procedure flow and control, with the user defining a sequence of steps (workflow) that needs to be followed, including authorisation requirements, notifications and before/after actions for each step.

The Dashboard feature keeps the indicators and controls visible on the desktop to highlight trends and fluctuations for monitoring arrears, receipting, vacancies and so on.
Alerts generate Microsoft Outlook tasks based on user defined triggers while the Scheduler can be used to set up automated reports and processes at a specified time
Improve access control software integration for managing tenant access to buildings with a tag system or biometrics.

PropAcc: is a comprehensive property management suite built on a SQL database with full accounting functionality, facilities management, integrated banking, report writers and online document viewing, among a variety of other features.

PropAcc encompasses full management of the following functions bulk procedures: electronic funds transfers; debit orders; scheduled payments; bulk meter readings via hand-held devices; future invoicing; interest calculation on arrears; bank charges recovery; auto monthly account invoicing and creditor payments.

The system also incorporates:
PropFMS, a facilities management system for a comprehensive call centre;
PropCom, an email-based post office together with an SMS communication and billing system;
PropCloud, which hosts PropAcc as a cloud-based solution; and
PropWeb, a web interface for the entire PropAcc system. PropWeb is can be customised for property owners, trustees and debtors to view and update their details, statements and other relevant information. The system includes a payment portal and provides clients with secure 24/7 access to accounting information on creditor and debtor level without needing to contact the managing agent. In addition, a new website can be created for the property owner or the functionality can be added to their current website. Here trust creditors (body corporate or landlord) are able to view debtor statement history and submit queries by email to the PropSys client as well as viewing and downloading the following documents in PDF format:

South Africa is first to test new generation Mastercard

South Africa is first to test new generation Mastercard

Mastercard has announced the next generation biometric card, combining chip technology with fingerprints to conveniently and safely verify the cardholder’s identity for in-store purchases.

South Africa is the first market to test the evolved technology, with two separate trials recently concluded with Pick n Pay, a leading supermarket retailer, and Absa Bank, a subsidiary of Barclays Africa.

The new card builds on fingerprint scanning technology used for mobile payments today and can be used at EMV terminals worldwide.

“Consumers are increasingly experiencing the convenience and security of biometrics,” said Ajay Bhalla, president, enterprise risk and security, Mastercard. “Whether unlocking a smartphone or shopping online, the fingerprint is helping to deliver additional convenience and security. It’s not something that can be taken or replicated and will help our cardholders get on with their lives knowing their payments are protected.”

How It Works
A cardholder enrols their card by simply registering with their financial institution. Upon registration, their fingerprint is converted into an encrypted digital template that is stored on the card. The card is now ready to be used at any EMV card terminal globally.

When shopping and paying in-store, the biometric card works like any other chip card. The cardholder simply dips the card into a retailer’s terminal while placing their finger on the embedded sensor. The fingerprint is verified against the template and – if the biometrics match – the cardholder is successfully authenticated and the transaction can then be approved with the card never leaving the consumer’s hand.

Benefits
Authenticating a payment transaction biometrically – in this instance via a fingerprint – confirms in a very unique way that the person using the card is the genuine cardholder.

Merchants can easily maximise the shopping experience delivered to their customers, as the card works with existing EMV card terminal infrastructure and does not require any new hardware or software upgrades.

For issuers, the technology helps detect and prevent fraud, increase approval rates, reduce operational costs and foster customer loyalty. Additionally, a future version of the card will feature contactless technology, adding to the simplicity and convenience at checkout.

Trials Underway
The recent South African trials mobilised employees from Pick n Pay and Absa Bank to test the potential ways convenience and security could contribute to the checkout process. Over the next few months, additional trials will be conducted with the biometric card. A full roll out is expected later this year.

Said Richard van Rensburg, deputy CEO of Pick n Pay: “We are delighted that this innovation has been trialled for the first time at Pick n Pay stores in South Africa. Biometric capability will mean added convenience and enhanced security for our customers. The technology creates a platform on which we can further our strategy of personalising the shopping experience in a meaningful way. We have been extremely impressed with the robust and secure nature of the technology.”

For Absa, the biometric card forms part of the bank’s strategy to test and develop sophisticated technology capabilities designed to improve its payment operations and client service, reduce risk, and make banking easier and even more secure for its customers.

“We are very proud to be the first bank in Africa to test – in a real payment environment – the single-touch authentication technology that will unlock the benefits of biometrics,” said Geoff Lee, head of card and payments at Absa Retail and Business Banking. “The technology will effectively enable our customers to rely on their unique fingerprints to make payments in a face-to-face environment. Following the test period, we will make it available to our customers in a way that is affordable, reliable, convenient, and, most importantly, secure.”

Additional trials are being planned in Europe and Asia Pacific in the coming months.

The specialised art of signage production

The specialised art of signage production

A company profile:

AE Plastics, masters of signage in the retail and petro-chemical space.

Seldom does one have the privilege of working with a group of people, or company, with such a deeply entrenched set of ethical standards, skills development programme for its own staff, close attention to customers’ needs and expectations, and a core staff of which many have over 20 years of service.

In February 2017 Shopping & Retail SA did indeed have the privilege of visiting such a company. And this company, as to be expected, is a family business, where the term “family” naturally extends to encompass not only all staff, but is loosely seen in the culture of the organisation to ultimately include suppliers and customers alike.

Des and Brendan Geraghty

AE Plastics was founded some 40 years ago by Des Geraghty in 1976 with a staff of four. At the time the need for signage was for “point-of-purchase” products, where vacuum formed packaging and creative display shelving was the main priority – thus the name “AE Plastics”. Des’ son Brendan joined the business 19 years ago and is now the Managing Director of the business.

In the ’70s and early ’80s, as demand began shifting steadily towards signage, the plastics aspect soon fell away. In a short space of time AE Plastics became synonymous with high quality signage. “Edgars was our first big client – since 1980 – and still is today,” said Des. “And securing this account put the business firmly into the retail space.”

Des’ statement really says it all: “…and still is today.” Only companies with true dedication, strong depth of capability, and a deep understanding of their clients’ needs is capable of retaining clients of this calibre over a period of decades, and is ongoing.

In terms of capability, AE Plastics is proud of its unparalleled set of in-house skills, coupled with a modern well equipped 10 000 m2 factory complete with overhead cranes, warehousing for bulk storage, and offices – conveniently located in Wadeville, Gauteng, between the N3 and N17 highways.

On staff and skills: “Our primary mission is to always supply the client on time,” said Brendan. “Our skill-set is growing all the time and many of our 110 staff have been trained up in-house over the years.

“Whilst welders and spray painters are recognised trades – and these skills are readily available – this is not so with signage skills which are unique and learned “on the job”. There is no “signage NQF” qualification, so we go to great lengths to train our staff in the skills specific to the signage industry, including fabrication and installation. Furthermore, we take care to look after our staff, most of whom have been with the company for over 30 years and include their own new generations joining and becoming part of the business.”

On this note, it is pleasing to learn that AE Plastics offers bursaries to its staff and their families. “We invest heavily in our staff, and always have,” continues Brendan. “An integral part of our vision is to help with the education of our people, to be a part of creating exciting opportunities for them to grow within the company. Ours is a “non-traditional” family business in which all participate with great pride.”

On customer service: “Few have the capability, the premises, the plant, the staff, and the knowledge and expertise that we have,” explains Des. “In order to be successful in this industry it is essential too, to develop a long term understanding of the needs and requirements of the client, and to ensure continuity in quality and service delivery over time. In our value system we spend a great deal of time communicating with our employees, customers and suppliers alike.”

The work pressures that come with signage manufacture can be significant, and as deadlines loom the close-knit culture within the company comes to the fore to the extent that everybody pitches in and stays until the job is done. “We keep in step with our clients,” continues Brendan. “And we have learned to move at the same pace as they do, anticipating their speed of requirement and growth.”

On plant and equipment: “Signage is very much a “hand-made” process,” explains Brendan. “At our new premises here in Wadeville our artisans are able to apply their skills to the full, as each job has its nuances. Processes always vary slightly – depending on design and customers’ specifications – there is very little repetition. Each sign is a little different – even for the same client.”

The AE Plastics production line has a quiet air of purpose about it. A sense of organised calm prevails. “Much time and effort is spent on pre-production planning and preparation,” said Des. “Our strength is in how to make the best product as quickly as possible in the most efficient and cost-effective way.”

Quality checks are in place at every stage of production, be it the CNC letter bending machine, framework and fabrication, wire work, spray-painting, final assembly or lighting and testing. The end results speak for themselves – and have done for decades.

On technology: “At one stage we had several of our own neon glass-blowers, and although there is still a small and specialised requirement for neon, that and fluorescents are now only maintenance contracts,” said Brendan. “Today LED is the main lighting technology, and quality is paramount.”

On geographic footprint: “AE Plastics operates throughout Southern Africa and in many African countries. All operations are fully managed directly and hands-on right here from our head office,” continued Des. “And all installations controlled and managed by our own teams on all sites.”

Regarding future direction: Brendan tells us that the market is changing slightly, and always is. “ACM (Aluminium Composite Material) cladding of buildings is becoming a practical way of revamping the exterior of older buildings – and is a natural extension of our business, which of course enables us to develop even more skill-sets,” explains Brendan. “So we are doing a fair percentage of that too.”

“Another direction of interest is the incorporation of renewable energy sources into the illumination of our signage. This will not only be of particular interest to our clients in keeping running costs down, but of course maintains our competitive edge with regard to leading the field with sensible application of modern technologies.”

In forthcoming editions of editions of Shopping & Retail SA we’ll be bringing our readers insight to some of AE Plastics’ installations and on site capabilities through a series of case studies, and we’ll be spending more time with them on the production floor getting to know the artisans and their skills developed through this exemplary company.

Sites where projects are currently in progress for various clients include:
-Springs Mall
-Ballito Junction
-Alexander Mall
-Kyalami
-Musina
-Tamboti

G4S open day expo wows the market

G4S open day expo wows the market

In March Shopping & Retail SA attended a special open day expo staged by G4S Electronic Specialised Solutions at its offices in Centurion, Gauteng.

Tim Timmins, Business Development Director, G4S Electronic Specialised Solutions

The event was conceptualised by the company’s Business Development Director, Tim Timmins, to showcase the full range of systems and integration solutions it makes use through its technology partners. “This will become a regular event,” explained Timmins. “Through the hands-on displays and product exhibition, our customers and potential customers can appreciate at first-hand the full scope of our significant system integration capabilities, and at the same time meet and network with the various specialists in these fields.”

Timmins elaborated to say that each G4S open day will host different vendors to provide visitors with a broader overview of what the company can do for them. And while the company is part of the larger G4S group, Timmins says it runs independently and is not tied into other divisions.

G4S Electronic Specialised Solutions is presently overseeing a variety of projects ranging in value from R1 million to R400 million.

Companies with stands at the open day included a variety of well-known as well as a diverse range of security operations, including:

-Axis Communications: video surveillance systems
-Access and Beyond
-Bosch Security
-Brigit Systems
-Hikvision
-Milestone
-Paxton
-Pinnsec
-Skycom
-Turnstar

The June 2017 issue of Shopping & Retail SA will feature an in-depth look at the full scope and capability of G4S Electronic Specialised Solutions and its partners.

 

G4S Electronic Specialised Solutions is a system integrator of security systems, protecting customers with various security requirements. G4S secures a range of facilities including shopping centres, malls, small standalone businesses such as restaurants and offices, schools, large multi-national organisations and even high security government facilities.

Black Friday: The key to retail success is ensuring a positive shopper experience across all relevant channels

Taj Elkhayat

Black Friday: The key to retail success is ensuring a positive shopper experience across all relevant channels

By Taj Elkhayat, Regional Vice President Middle East, Turkey and Africa for Riverbed Technology

In the build up to this year’s November 25 Black Friday – and the lesser known Cyber Monday – experts predicted that shoppers would spend double the amount they did in 2015. And they were right! In some instances (see news reports below) this year’s retail shopping bonanza exceeded 300 percent.

At the same time PwC forecast that online sales would account for 77 percent of spending, versus 17 percent in stores, meaning that competition for stores to attract and retain as many shoppers as possible will be all the more fierce.

However, in order to stand out, as customers’ expectations for optimal service continue to grow, it’s no longer enough to simply offer the best prices. The key to retail success is ensuring a positive shopper experience across all relevant channels.

For traditional brick and mortar stores, this means ensuring having the latest pricing database, staff have the latest training, and customers have the latest messaging about special offers. It also translates into being agile and flexible – for example, being able to react to local demand by quickly setting up fully outfitted “pop-up” stores just for the duration of the sale period.

Most important, it’s about guaranteeing shops remain open for business and are able to serve customers even if the network to the head-office or the Internet is down. In the cloud, staying ahead is about scaling up resources in order to support an increased demand from online shoppers, and being able to quickly update applications in order to correct problems, or add new features so that customers and retail staff receive those updates automatically, wherever they are.

This is why most retailers have turned to cloud technologies in order to improve employee productivity, increase time and cost savings and improve customer satisfaction. Today’s businesses are storing information in the cloud as well as on local systems – creating what are known as hybrid environments – with 93 percent of retailers using cloud-based enterprise apps at work today.

Just about every business operation is enabled and mediated by applications, so it is easy to see why 96 percent of retailers believe app performance plays such a relevant role in productivity. However, business applications do not always perform optimally. 62 percent of retailers say the poor performance of enterprise applications has negatively impacted their work on a weekly or more frequent basis. This can lead to retailers’ failure to meet customers’ demands for a reliable, time-effective experience. Slow apps present retailers with a number of pitfalls which can have serious repercussions for a company’s bottom line, including dissatisfied customers (36 percent), contract delays (35 percent), critical deadlines missed (35 per cent), and loss of clients or customers (29 percent).

The risk of application performance failure is particularly high with flash and anticipated online sales such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, where retailers have been unprepared for the spike in website traffic from the increased volumes of shoppers visiting their sites. If a store doesn’t have the monitoring and diagnostics systems in place to detect where network issues lie, it can take much longer to resolve and have the website back online as normal, frustrating customers and employees alike.

To deliver superior application performance in today’s hybrid environments, retailers should consider using technology that provides end-to-end application visibility, optimisation and control, allowing them to quickly – and remotely – detect, analyse, and fix any network and application performance problems before they impact business revenue and customer experience.

In times where online shopping is the norm, companies cannot afford to lose customers over poor application performance. Only by optimising and monitoring the end-to-end performance of their applications and websites can retailers deliver the seamless service that shoppers expect – and ensure they make the most of the upward trend in sales.

Takealot’s website crashes on Black Friday

In a TMG Digital report by Roxanne Henderson, the newsline states that although the Takealot online shopping website went down in the Black Friday frenzy it still predicts its current sale will be the most successful in its history.

According to Henderson, although Takealot had planned for five times the usual traffic the site still experienced checkout problems as the payment gateway was affected by nationwide Black Friday pressure and slowing down checkouts.

In her report, Henderson notes that IT company Snapt says that site crashes such as Takealot’s‚ caused by high traffic volumes‚ can be avoided with proper IT infrastructure.

Takealot however, remains upbeat, as web traffic continued to grow throughout the day. Exceeding 300 percent of the usual traffic expected on a Friday in the festive season.