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Small Beginnings
Zweli Mokgata

1 October 2007

Effort won 2003 Nedbank/BWA regional business of year award

Kim Vermaak from Belle Regalo making up corporate gifts.

Business Correspondent

MANY businesses fail simply because of a lack of drive and direction, but Kim Vermaak has managed to grow her corporate gift supply business, Belle Regalo, to have an annual turnover of almost R5 million in just six years.

“We have a strong element of creativity in our business and thus match client profiles to gifting strategies,” says Kim.

“We target corporate clients. Over 62 percent of our business comes from event coordinators, public relations and communications firms.

“These intermediaries outsource their corporate gifting requirements to Belle Regalo because they trust us with their clients’ brands and because we take the pain out of corporate gifting sourcing and management,” she says.

The company specialises in branded corporate items such as pens, folders, calculators, key-rings, clothing, and a wide range of unique-themed gifts for special functions.

In 2001, when Belle Regalo was first launched, there were 900 corporate gift suppliers registered with most wholesale suppliers.

“This was an extremely competitive environment for us,” Kim recalls. “We started out with no capital or equipment, just a vision of the future.”

In the same year, Kim became pregnant and being a single mother this triggered a tenacious drive in her to establish a business from scratch regardless of the obstacles.

“Cashflow issues were the most pertinent and finding a way to manage the full spectrum of being a one-lady show at the time,” she says. “A friend of mine would loan me the difference between the client’s deposit and the balance of the supplier’s invoice until we got paid.”

In the early days of the fledgling business, orders of only R1000 caused huge excitement at the company, but this eventually grew to over R250000 per transaction.

“We grew in bite-sized portions and we had support from our network. For example, our first website was designed for free by a personal friend. Our initial office equipment was also on loan.”

As the business grew, so did its cash flow needs and the risk exposure faced with each new order.

“At the beginning I was the only employee, but the company then went on a growth strategy, and I now have a partner working with me,” Kim says. “We subcontract to several firms, allowing each to specialise in their chosen area of expertise thereby offering our clients the best service from industry specialists.”

Belle Regalo won the 2003 Nedbank/BWA regional start-up business of the year award, a remarkable feat by a single, unsupported parent. The company has done work for some of South Africa’s biggest brands including Anglo American, Bosch, Nandos and Primedia.

Kim says that part of her success is that she empowers women.

“We actively select suppliers that provide income earning potential to women through their projects,” she says.

“With every hand-made box or beaded work that you purchase, you know that these will be purchased from a local non-profit organisation that trains women in the community to provide them with income producing skills.”

FACT BOX: Effective Marketing

IF YOU cannot present your product or service to your customers in a way that makes it more attractive than your competitors, your business has little chance of success. Marketing includes sales, advertising, promotional activities, pricing, packaging, the location and even the name of your business. Improved marketing skills and increased sales are interrelated.

Here are some of the methods used by Kim to source clients and market her business:
l Networking: In the beginning of our business this was the main drive of our business strategy. It yielded very good results. However, as the business grew, the time that was required to use this strategy diminished, we then had to become more selective in the type of networking that we became involved in.

l Proactive web strategy: Our stats only allow for the initial order of any client gained through the website to be recorded, therefore our stats are quite conservative at between 18 to 31% per annum. The types of clients acquired through the web have included divisions within Anglo American, SABC, and Group 5 Projects.

l Client retention strategies: Over 65% of our business comes from existing clients. Our referral business from existing clients ranges between 12 to 31%. These percentages can be affected by the size of the orders.

Source: Daily Dispatch