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I was recently asked this question by Matt Brownell, the Head of Brand Marketing at Yoco. I hadn’t really thought about that yet, because I knew that when the public found out about what had happened, Woolworths would really have no choice but to discontinue stocking the product, because well, social media.

Never the less, this question got me thinking. What would actually have happened to my business if they did continue to sell?

So let’s pretend I didn’t go to social media.

Let’s pretend I just sent Woolworths the initial email in December and they continued to ignore me. The 3rd of January deadline that I set came and went and they continued to sell their product. And I had no way of actually challenging them, because taking them to court was not an option for me.

  1. There was definitely a loss of sales during the December month, because that is the month the news hit the babywearing groups on Facebook as well as the Mommy WhatsApp groups, that you could now purchase a Stage 1 carrier at Woolworths for just R450. (Ours sells for R1390).
  2. There was much praise for Woolworths finally bringing a comfortable and affordable baby carrier to the market which meant Moms started recommending it over the Ubuntu Baba Stage 1 for affordability.
  3. Then came the accusations that Ubuntu Baba were supplying Woolworths and why were we able to sell to them for so cheap to them and then sell on our website for 3 times the price, which equals reputation damage, because just like social media can work in your favour, it can also work against you.

So if I had allowed the above to continue, I do believe it would have had a snowball effect on our sales and our reputation in the babywearing market space, which is very niche so news travels fast.

However… being an entrepreneur means rising above situations like this, innovating and ‘pivoting’ when you need to and doing what you have to do to stay alive.

Would our business have closed down? No. Would we have lost clients? Yes. What would that mean? Less sales = less turnover and we need to sustain a certain turnover to pay the bills so we would have had 3 options:

  1. Raise our prices (which would put some clients out of the price bracket which would mean less sales again)
  2. Lower expenses (very difficult at this point in the business)
  3. Sell more (best option but how to do that without spending more money?)

Option 3 would’ve been my plan. Sell more products. I would’ve gone back to square one, back to the way I built the business from the start which was treating each and every one of our customers as if they are they only customer we have.

But now I realize, we do do that. We can always do that better and maybe this was that reminder we needed.

And then I came to a conclusion.

That is why we were able to stand up to “the big guys”. That is why the “strikingly similar” product is no longer on their shelves. Because the people we put first, our customers, stood up for us when we needed them too. Because they know we really care about them, so they really cared about us.

And that is how SME’s in South Africa will continue to grow and thrive in this economy. By staying ahead of the game and doing things the way only an SME can.

We don’t need to go to court to prove our point because we build tribes of human beings who care about what is right and what is wrong. We’re willing to make mistakes, admit it, learn from them, recover and move on.

Bigger isn’t always better. But caring about people is.

These last few weeks have been insanely insane, I think that’s the only way to describe it right now. And I’m still trying to process it properly and catch up with all the admin that it’s left in it’s trail, but mostly, this has been a very positive experience that I am very grateful for, because it’s opened many doors and we’ve been exposed to some really inspiring human beings who make us excited to be a small business in South Africa in 2019.

And we’ve learnt. A lot. Like Intellectual Property is actually quite a beast, and it’s not just about “having a patent” like everyone thinks. But more on that in a future post.

Despite all the noise and negativity in the media surrounding the economic climate of our country right now (which I must admit I know very little about), there are so many positive things to talk about and concentrate on and what you focus on, grows, so that’s what I’ll be doing for this year.

If you’ve got this far you’re probably still wondering what the final outcome of the Woolworths / Ubuntu Baba situation is, and in a few days time I’ll be able to share that with you… lawyers 🙄

So for now, just a little encouragement that if you’re a worried entrepreneur, please don’t be. Keep doing what you’re doing for the original reason you started doing it and look after your customers because they’re the people who you need the most.

Happy 2019! Yay I can finally say it!

One Comment

  • xdoomx says:

    I think the main lesson is intellectual property. It can’t be that difficult because every business and new product does it if they’re serious about themselves.
    Interested to see your next post on this.

    Shannon Mary, Ubuntu Baba, etc can also be used by others if you don’t register those as a trademark.
    One may think one has started a cool brand and selling rad products ticking along nicely, but without formalising the business it’s essentially an informal trader.

    Hopefully you have a CC setup for tax purposes as well.

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