Sunday, June 26, 2011

Visiting Bokkie Sport

Brian Basson of Bokkie Sport in Upington shares Anna de Villiers’ philosophy that you can only sell it if you stock it. “We carry a bit of everything,” he says.

Over the past 27 years, Bokkie Sport has become an institution in Upington, after Bokkie moved the business here from his hometown Hartswater, and prior to that his wife’s hometown Ventersdorp. The store moves were prompted by declining customer numbers, but “this is where we stay,” he says emphatically. As in many independent businesses, he is passing the baton to his son Brian.

Bokkie is a big rugby fan – he’s keeping a keen eye on a Super 15-match on TV as we talk – but soccer is now the main sport in Upington, with rugby participation dwindling to one team in town, he says. A quick finger count adds up to at least ten soccer clubs in the immediate area. Golf remains a good market. Of the two tennis clubs, only one is left. Badminton is dead. There is little interest in running, but school kids still participate in athletics.

The schools are very active in team sports like cricket, hockey, table tennis, rugby, volleyball and, of course, soccer, says Brian. “The schools are a big market for us.” These would not only include schools from surrounding towns like Keimoes and Kakamas, but also many farm schools.

Despite the small number of players, rugby support is still strong and replica jersey of the Cheetahs and Bulls are displayed equally prominently. As in most sport stores, the demand for clothes and footwear exceeds equipment sales. Apart from a few ranges from traditional sporting brands like adidas ( Upington forms part of the area covered by legendary Free State agent Pine Pienaar, who actually still visits stores) it is predominantly the lifestyle brands that catch the eye.

The competition in the clothing and footwear market is fierce, though, with chains like Tekkie Town, Totalsport, sportscene, Shoelette’s, Shoe City, PEP, Mr Price, other independents and a franchise like Trappers all competing for a slice of the cake. Which, as Bokkie reminds us, is not getting any bigger.

Petronella Titus, Jason Jacobs and Brian and Bokkie Basson of Bokkie Sport in Upington

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Visiting Upington

The floods in January washed away a viewing platform at the Augrabies Falls

As the business hub of the Northern Cape, Upington is a vibrant town with a population of about 72 000 people.  It is also the main shopping area for the surrounding towns, even Springbok.  In the lush Orange River valley grape farming – with off-shoots raisins and wine - is the main source of income. About 40% of South Africa’s export grape crop comes from the area and since the late 1960’s wine making from grapes supplied by about 750 farms have become an important industry. 

The river is also a tourist attraction, with river rafting, water skiing and yellowfish and barbell angling as the main drawcards.

But, the early floods in January have hit the grape farming community quite hard, with many farmers left without a crop. The loss of income is affecting the whole town, he believes. It has also been bad for the fishing trade, as anglers don’t come looking for the record breaking barbels that put areas like Opskeepkans on the map. 

The previous day, at the Augrabies Falls, we got a glimpse of the destruction that too much water in this arid region can cause, with the viewing platform closest to where the white water thunders down into the ravine, swept away. When that happened in January, 4 700 cubic meter per second rushed past, now it is down to 1 200 cubic meter per second of fast flowing falling water topped by a rainbow creating a mesmerising spectacle . 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Visit to Gassentrum, Springbok

Throughout our trip it is obvious which distributorships still send agents or catalogues to the Northern Cape, as their product range are well stocked and displayed.

One of them is WET Sports, who obviously also visit Anna de Villiers at the Gassentrum, as their product range is well represented there, even some rackets. Her main source of income is the sale of gas – and with regular electricity failures and the biting winter cold she is selling a LOT of gas – but the gregarious shop owner knows that if someone walks into a store and sees something they need, they’ll buy.

“We are busy, there are always people coming by – its hunting season, tourists travel through, it will soon be holiday camping season and we get a lot of demand from all over the Richtersveld,” she says with enthusiasm.

Her husband started the store in 1983, but she’s been trading on her own for more than 25 years after he died in 1985. Originally only selling gas and repairing gas appliances, she added quite an extensive range of camping equipment, fishing tackle and even sports equipment as customers started asking for these products. So close to the Orange River she wants to expand her fishing tackle stock, currently consisting mainly of accessories and baits, as this is a popular yellowfish and barbel fishing area.

Anna de Villiers has been trading in the Gassentrum for 25 years

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Visit to Snyman’s Outfitters

It’s the first shopping day after the government officials got paid and the streets of Springbok are buzzing. We battle to find a parking spot. 

“Many people, but little money,” remarks Kosie Grobbelaar of Snyman’s Outfitters laconically.

Apart from tourists, the more than 10 000 people of Springbok depend on the surrounding mining towns for prosperity – and when mines close or lay-off people, as have been happening over the past few years, business suffers. There is hope though, as people are talking about an Indian group taking over some of the mines, but, who knows…? Grobbelaar shrugs his shoulders.

When Snyman Outfitters was founded in 1976 by his father Grobbie and a Snyman, who died within a few years, the town en route to Namibia also benefitted from the patronage of neighbouring farming and mining towns like Pofadder, Garies, Kleinzee, Port Nolloth and Alexander Bay. Now those towns generate little income.

In the 1970’s Snyman’s Outfitters had little competition and after 17 years on the road as a representative for VEKA clothing, Grobbelaar snr enjoyed a relatively stress free retailing experience. Kosie, who left his accountancy job with Sasko and took over the store after his father retired 14 years ago, now have to compete with Totalsports, sportscene, Markhams, Shoelettes, PEP stores, etc. While the sport stores in town have closed down, he added sports product categories and is now looking at ways to expand his premises to include camping. But, he cautions, the cake is only this big …

He enlarged his slice by drawing feet into the store with cellular phone sales and an Internet Café, which attracts the Orange River rafters keen to catch up with news from home and the office at the end of a trip.

Trading has changed a lot over the years, says Grobbelaar. For example, the basket of goods will now seldom include suits, and definitely not striped shirts with collars, but most likely brands like Jeep, adidas, Quiksilver and Billabong. That is the advantage of an independent store owner who has been trading a long time, says Grobbelaar, you know what the customers want.

With his wife, Naomi, and son, Albie, involved in the store, the Grobbelaars have a vested interest in making it work.
In his father’s day, an agent would visit to show the latest ranges for most brands – now Grobbelaar travels to Cape Town every second month to select stock as few of the brands launch their ranges at the same time. He understands, he says, as many of the sport stores between Cape Town and Springbok have closed down. 

Naomi (left), Kosie and Albie Grobelaar of Snyman's Outfitters 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sports Trader in the Northern Cape

After the good rains of the past few days the veld is green and welcoming. Like the people of Namaqualand, where everybody is friendly and hospitable. Even the traffic cops are friendly - and polite.

Here and there splotches of purple and yellow reveal precocious flowers lulled into early bloom by the bountiful winter rains. It is going to be an excellent year, the people predict – referring to the spectacle that awaits flower tourists in spring, but also anticipating the resulting tourism boom.  

The reflection of the sun on the wet mountains looks like snow in the distance. 
The Northern Cape is the poorest, least populated and most remote area of the country.  But even in these tough trading conditions, independent retailers selling sport and outdoor equipment make a living. Despite an Agri Mark, Midas, China Shop and several other chain stores in just about every town, reports that the independent sport and outdoor retailer is dead, are vastly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain.