On the 15 June 2017, managing director of Boxer Superstores, Eugene Stoop, celebrated his 26th year of working at the company.
Stoop says that he has had "an incredible journey with the brand". His passion for the Boxer Superstores success goes beyond profits but is evident in his commitment to the brand's goal of being Africa's Favourite Discount Supermarket, a real understanding of the numerous stores' customers, an investment in the company's employees as well as a vision for the future.
Of significance is that Boxer Superstores celebrates its 40th year of operation in 2017. Boxer started its journey as a wholesaler in the very early days, but has continued to evolve itself over the years. The company's beginnings were as a family run business; trading in essential commodities such as maize meal, rice, samp, sugar, oil and beans. KwaZulu Cash & Carry was established in Empangeni with three stores, KwaZulu-Natal in 1977, followed by stores in Pietermaritzburg and Pinetown.
In 1988, a small group of prominent KwaZulu-Natal investors acquired the business. Consequently in 1991, the trading stores were re-launched under the name of 'Boxer Cash & Carry'.
As Stoop's entire early working career had been in the wholesale and retail industry he was offered a position in the then Empangeni based business. After a six month period their offices moved to Pinetown to be more centrally located close to its supplier base.
Over the years, Stoop's Boxer journey has seen a number of highlights, which have marked the evolution of the brand and the growth in the number of stores and divisions.
One of Stoop's first priorities was to put structure into this retail business. The company needed a proper buying department and a basic stock control system, which was a big focus area with the aggressive roll out plan that was expected from Boxer.
At this time the stores had a limited range of about 300 items, which was expanded, as part of the initial goal was to change the stores image from a wholesaler to that of a retailer business, which it successfully did by the middle of the 1990s.
Stoop added, "Opening the first bakery in Pietermaritzburg was, a big day in the life of Boxer. The bakeries became a huge success and are still one of the pillars of Boxer's business today.
Following from that success and on the urging of its customers, Boxer then included butcheries in its offering. "The butcheries," said marketing director Andrew Mills, "were a natural progression and part of repositioning the brand as a fully fledged retail store, with everything under one roof."
Stoop said, "The protein journey has been incredible, people change their shopping habits due to price
constraints. It is important to give customers value for money at prices that they can afford."
A highlight, Stoop said, was the establishment of a formal administration system in the company. "Computerisation was a big issue for us especially as many of the growing number of stores were in, then, rural areas distant from the head office. Boxer employed an IT specialist who developed the BoMM system (Boxer Merchandise Management System); the core of which is still being used twenty years later," said Stoop.
Another noteworthy event was the opening of the first Mtubatuba store. Over the first day the mass of shoppers who rushed in resulted in the store's turnstiles at the entrance being ripped out of the floor and pushed to the back of the store! In addition, the opening day store turnover figure was a record that
stood for many years to come.
However, growth and change does not happen without stressors. The expansion of the business and
entry into other provinces meant a change in the brand identity was necessary. In 1997, a new corporate
identity logo was adopted and the trading retail name was changed to 'Boxer Superstores' in order to
better reflect its role as a retailer.
The image of the 'Boxer man', which had initially been chosen to personify the brand as someone who would aggressively fight and knock down prices also went through various changes. The 'Boxer man' remained as part of the corporate logo until April 2012. Removing the 'boxer man' totally from the logo caused Stoop some sleepless nights as he was not sure what the response by customers would be to the decision both he and the marketing director made. However, the evolved brand logo was received favourably by consumers showing the Brands' strength in the market.
The need to remain modern and relevant to shoppers has meant that Boxer's marketing and community involvement is totally different from 20 years ago. "As we have evolved as a brand so have our customers and it has been imperative that we have grown with our customers' ideals and aspirations in order to remain relevant. This means that we have had to grow with them, however, we have also wanted to maintain a strong grip on being the low price champion for the shoppers it serves. We know that there is a lot of choice for shoppers and that Boxer is but one of those supermarket options to shop at. R100 notes do not have Boxer's logo on them - customers have a choice and its our job to ensure they choose Boxer," commented Mills.
In 2002, Boxer was acquired by Pick n Pay as a subsidiary and has enjoyed the benefits of its parent company to enable growth while also having the freedom to operate independently. Pick n Pay has fully endorsed Boxer's continued growth in its store numbers and full service offerings.
The company now numbers over 240 Boxer stores across its many formats. In 2012 Boxer opened its own meat factory in Salt Rock and is the only South African retailer its size to have a meat processing plant, which provides a competitive advantage by giving its shoppers affordable protein.
In order to deliver on customers' expectations when it comes to stock availability, a distribution centre was establishment in KwaZulu-Natal. Stores are located in all provinces of South Africa as well as in Swaziland with room for an increase in store numbers to continue due to customer demand. It is not uncommon for communities to approach Boxer to open stores in areas our shoppers are demanding us to and all requests are carefully evaluated.
"For Boxer it is all about bringing the Brand to the shoppers who deserve to never pay more than the Boxer price" said Mills.
Boxer Superstore branches are being upgraded on a phased approach to be "new generation stores" which meet the needs of the customer as well as enable Boxer to offer that much more -- a fantastic looking store underpinned by low prices.
By the end of 2017, 70% of the refurbishments will be complete. Although Boxer has grown, its family owned ethos is well evident. As the business leader, Stoop is direct in insisting that there are basic rules and regulations, which apply to all of Boxer's employees from the directors to staff at all levels. However, he said, "Once these are understood all employees are valued, treated as assets, and are welcome to provide input into the running of the business." In this regard there is an 'open door' or as Stoop says a 'no door policy' in place!
The value of their staff is apparent in that employees live in areas and suburbs where the various stores are located. Consequently, as most staff resides in the communities, they are ambassadors for Boxer as well as have a good understanding of the needs of the clientele they serve. In fact many important decisions are made in discussion with employees in an open forum.
Boxer employees are offered many opportunities to build careers in the business. It is not uncommon to find that a staff member who is now a regional manager has grown through the business from trolley porter to packer to cashier to supervisor and then on to different management levels. In order to facilitate this empowerment process, training programmes at Boxer are offered as well as learnership opportunities.
Consequently, their training department has received many awards for its achievements and is a W&R Seta accredited institution.
Boxer is a leading force in the South African recruitment of unemployed graduates. Despite having qualifications many graduates are required to work through the various divisions of the business so that they have solid understanding of all aspects of retail; seeing the importance of the store operations in the Boxer career journey.
Stoop concluded, "We like to say that we are forty years young; there is so much that we are still working on for the future which is exciting. Everyone talks about change, in Boxer change is constant; we change every day to meet our customers' needs. We are not scared to try new things and to make things better, simpler, more efficient, more cost effective. The journey now is the most exciting time in Boxer's story."