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Investing in South African heritage brands

Small and medium-sized businesses contribute significantly to the economic growth of South Africa by creating jobs, alleviating poverty, distribution of income and innovation. Yet, data from New World Health and Henley & Partners shows approximately 4 500 high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) have left South Africa over the past decade, some leaving businesses that would have contributed to growing the economy.

Fortunately, there are many business leaders who are bucking the trend and staying put. And for very good reason. There is much to be excited about. Deloitte estimates that by 2025, African household and business spending could hit $5.6 trillion, and by 2030, a half-billion Africans will have disposable income. Business owners who are currently invested in South Africa are well-placed to see Africa’s economy rise.

Owner and founder of The Graphic Ballroom (GBR), Jason Forbes, is one such entrepreneur who is very optimistic about the future. For the past 25 years his agency has designed and re-designed packaging for brands that have become so ubiquitous in the lives of South Africans that they are now embedded in our heritage.

Thanks to an opportunity with Indigo Cosmetics that began at age 24, Forbes now employs a professional team of designers and client service managers, with offices in Cape Town, Johannesburg and London. His measure of success is not about building a business, only to walk away and have someone else run it, but to rather empower others by sharing knowledge and skills, and to invest back into the country’s economy by creating employment opportunities.

‘I can understand why people want to leave. But after seeing the opportunities I can provide for my employees, I feel I have a responsibility not only to them but also to the country that gave me my success, through having built my business on iconic South African brands,’ says Forbes.

Statistically, it is rare for businesses to make it past the five-year mark, with one third of new business ventures failing within their first two years, and half exiting within their first five. For GBR to reach 25 years, still securing big wins and successfully walking the innovation journey with legacy brands is a massive feat.

Forbes says his approach has been to grow the business slowly. As with all agencies there is a tendency to grow too quickly, which can have damaging effects on a brand that is as people orientated as design is. By growing slowly one can still emphasise that personal touch that clients demand. It’s also often easier with a smaller team to build a company culture that is driven by purpose and passion, which also helps to retain staff.

In June of this year, GBR expanded globally by opening its first office in London. ‘Opening our branch in the UK has been a global vision of mine for some time, and not as an exit strategy for me or my family, but rather to reinvest foreign currency back into my South African business for the benefit of my current and future employees. My designers and teams are now able to gain international exposure and build on their experience, and as a company we can continue to grow and offer employment opportunities thus contributing to the greater South African economy.’

So how does one go about building a brand that can stand the test of time? While many companies set their sights on attention rather than retention, having a shared sense of value is the main reason why clients and employees remain loyal. GBR appears to have got this right and Forbes admits their values and authenticity is what has helped them to retain repeat clients.

‘I love what I do and I want to be able to share this with others. I have learnt a lot by making mistakes along the way, but I do know that to succeed and become a brand that stands the test of time, takes time and leadership that breeds loyalty. For I am truly nothing without the people who make my business what it is today.’

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