New 10 Minute Rule. Get to the Point or I Leave.

OK. I admit that I may be a bit intolerant. However, when someone invites me to an event, I expect it to start on time, and that whoever is in charge will get to the wheat without an excess of chaff first. Hence my decision to leave two events early…in two days. The first was hosted by SACCI, to announce the new head of the business organisation. Admittedly it started only slightly late, but the President of the organisation chose this occasion to demonstrate his Olympic-level skill at saying nothing in a very large number of words. Had I been hosting the event, I would have started with an information sheet (one was e-mailed several hours later) and allowed the new boss of this business body to give a proper assessment of the challenges facing business, and how he plans to handle them. As it was, I got to lunch early, and a damm good pizza it was, too.
Today’s event was the important release of new info on SMEs in SA, and my earlier piece on this is on the ZA Confidential website. I got there by 9.30, as that was the time on the invitation, but nothing happened until 10, when instead of IT expert Arthur Goldstuck, who is an excellent speaker, the event kicked off with an awfully boring business coach, whose droning ability would make him an asset in the US war against terror. After 10 minutes, feeling at threat of my vital organs shutting down in protest, I left. Once again I was early for my pizza.
I have recently decided on a rule for attending events. If they don’t get to the point fast, I point myself towards the car park. Unless the event is of vital importance, I wait 10 minutes and if nothing of value has happened, I then leave. Same if it starts late – and government ministers are the worst.
In coffee shops and restaurants, if I am ignored for 10 minutes or more, there is no tip. If I ask for the bill and there is no rush to bring it to me, it is the same story.
Now, I am not claiming that my campaign for rapid delivery of worthy info at events, and for even more rapid delivery of my morning coffee, is going to change the world.
But we all have a limited time on this planet. So if you do not get to the point fast, and control your presentations to the pithy, you will see my least attractive feature – my backside – as I pith off through the door.
After all, why get very bored when there is pizza calling?

Tweet of the Day:
Natalie Andrew (@NatalieAndrew): @mynameisjerm: So basically anyone can walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, the real challenge is someone else’s socks. 😋

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SME Survey 2015: Eskom is the Major Threat to ZA Small Business

It is said a lot, but that doesn’t make it less true: small businesses (SMEs, SMMEs or whatever abbbbbreviation you prefer) are the lifeblood of the economy, the key to future growth and employment. So the annual SME survey, headed up by my IT chum Arthur Goldstuck, provides some useful insight into the concerns of this vital sector of the economy.
The most worrying development is what Arthur calls the “dramatic shift” in what keeps ZA SME owners awake at night. Previously the answer was crime, for reasons that any South African will understand. Now it is the electricity crisis, which is of concern to 71% of respondents, twice the 36% who regard crime as the greatest external threat to their business.
Says Arthur: “While load shedding (rolling blackouts) has been punted as a temporary problem, it is clear that business fears that it is going to be with us for the foreseeable future.
“The impact of even short periods without power is greater on SMEs than it would be on larger companies that likely have generators and other fall-back options.”
He advised businesses to ensure they frequently back up their data”
“Unexpected load shedding is one of the events most likely to lead to a loss of data,” he warned.
The survey was sponsored by Standard Bank and by Forest Technologies.

Tweet of the Day: (@famousquotenet): Common sense, isn’t. – Will Spencer

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The importance of having a loud, forceful and effective business voice cannot be overstated. Whether it is on issues like the rolling electricity back-outs which are hitting South Africa, the planned Carbon Tax, barmy booze legislation, or persistent concerns about crime, there is a lot that government needs to fix.
So it is a bit strange that the most important business grouping – the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI) – has been without a full-time CEO since the departure of Neren Rau at the beginning of the year. His colleague Peggy Drodskie has done a fine job at filling in as acting CEO. But for SACCI’s voice to be forceful, it needs to have a full-time leader. So we welcome the news that a new CEO has been appointed.
We did try to attend the announcement, but left early in irritation at the boring old chap who was oblivious to the fact that he is the only one on the planet who enjoys the sound of his own voice, and droned on, and on, and on, and on……. Our premature departure meant we missed a presentation by our Nedbank Economist chum Dennis Dykes, which is a shame.
However, we are grateful to our journo chum Angelo Coppola (@angelo2711), who tweeted the news that Alan Mukoki is the new SACCI CEO. He has some experience, having run the Land Bank, but a background in the public sector may not be the best qualification to lobby on behalf of the private sector. We know his predecessor Neren Rau came from the Treasury, but this was probably more a disadvantage than an asset in his dealings with government. However, hopefully the new black SACCI boss will be able to perform well.
Certainly, there are signs that government is not getting the message from business – on issues like liquor laws, visitors’ visas, and a host of other issues.

Tweet of the Day:
Bruce Cooper (@BruceRelates): The love of books is among the choicest gifts of the gods. ― Arthur Conan Doyle

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Die Vine Intervention – CBC Amber Weiss & Lager

Fanatical foodie Michael Olivier introduces two South African craft beers – CBC’s Amber Weiss and Lager.

John Fraser is joined for the Johannesburg tasting by well known brander Jeremy Sampson, the Core Group’s RJ van Spaandonk, Barclays’ Chris Gilmour and IT legend Malcolm MacDonald.

There is also a chat on the growth of craft beers in ZA, and how this can be encouraged.

Check out the podcast:

Free Market Foundation Savages Planned Liquor Laws

Leon Louw of the Free Market Foundation has warned that planned new ZA liquor laws would make it almost impossible to sell the stuff, and would reverse all the reforms we have seen since the toppling of apartheid. He gave a very lengthy lecture to the media about the plans, and urged everyone to register their opposition to the Trade and Industry Department (dti’s) draft and daft legislation. Here are a few highlights from his talk.

– ANC in opposition was for tolerance and human dignity. That has changed, with intolerance, authoritarianism, puritanism, control, restriction, disrespect for human choice, erosion of civil liberties. This is a shift back to the past. The liquor laws were drafted by the ghost of Verwoerd.
– Soon we will be following N Korea with daily compulsory exercise (joke).
– Apartheid liquor policy was controlled by this same law which is being amended.
– Total prohibition on liquor sales to black South Africans until early 1960s.
– In the new SA there is a tolerance of taverns and shabeens. Now it is proposed that zoning will happen, making it impossible for a lawful liquor outlet to operate.
– Restriction of advertising will hit the consumer, and there will be a barrier to new entry
– This measure is close to a full prohibition of liquor throughout SA. May mean no lawful liquor trade in SA.
– We support education and awareness
– Proposals say there should be no trade within ½ km of schools. Same with places of worship – means the end of communion wine? Is there somewhere in SA which is ½ km from all of these? It includes rehabilitation centres, recreation facilities. So no licence for bowling clubs, sports stadiums. Or for residential areas. This will affect hotels and restaurants. Also mentioned in the draft law are public institutions – but these are not defined.
– Also not near petrol stations or public transport – a bus route? An airport?
– Did whoever wrote this think about it? It is a weird set of provisions.
– What about hotels? The hotel is liable if anyone gets drunk there.
– Same with black areas.
– Current legal outlets will have two years to close. But what if you operate legally and someone opens a church, establishes a bus route?
– This will have the opposite effect of promoting the entry of black South Africans into the liquor industry.
– The restriction of no sales to under 21 year olds is bizarre. I have been to Indonesia, and it is as if their restriction has disappeared. In SA this law will be ignored. This is a patronising and odd thing.
– Advertising and marketing will be restricted or banned.
– Unintended consequences include disruption to the catering industry, to small business. There are also constitutional issues. This would compromise human dignity.
– The obvious alternative is complete deregulation.
– We may see new restrictions on tobacco, sugar, salt, fast food and cars.

A lot of sense was spoken by Lowe, and his message would have been clearer if it had been double distilled, as he did tend to ramble a bit and then opened the floor of what was supposed to be a press conference to a series of tedious lobbyists. The hosts offered coffee and fizzy drinks, and no booze, but fortunately the ZA Confidential First Aid Kit (a hip flask of gin) was at hand.

Tweets of the Day:
Bill Murray (@BiIIMurray): I’m not saying I’m old and worn out, but I do make sure I’m nowhere near the curb on trash day.
Georg Grey (@Georg_Grey): How many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb? A fish.

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The Starbucks Stops Here

We can go a bit silly about fashionable brands. Now, I have drunk Starbucks coffee on several continents, and while it was at times an enjoyable experience, I have often found it weak and over-priced. So while I will watch with interest to see the quality and affordability of the new Starbucks shops which Taste Holdings will be bringing to ZA, I worry about the success of the venture.
Taste is already involved in court battles with a group of businessmen who believe they instead should have won the franchise to bring Domino’s Pizza to ZA, and I have written about this recently on ZA Confidential. It is no surprise that the winners of the pizza prize have also been awarded the coffee cup, as the two brands often go hand in hand in global franchise agreements, or so my friends in the food trade tell me.
Starbucks is unlikely to want to shed its premium status in the roll out in the ZA market, so I would expect Taste to target the affluent consumer – the type already being well served by the Seattle Coffee Company brand, which has for long been our local leader in fine coffee provision, at least as far as I am concerned, and which I believe took a lot of expertise from the US model. Were Seattle able to also offer hot food at breakfast time, I am convinced it would have an even brighter future, and would easily grab market share from many of the rival outlets which may know how to boil an egg, but have yet to produce an impressive cup of coffee.
Has Domino’s triumphed yet in the ZA market? I have tried their pizzas and they are good, and I would like to think their frequent promotions are just good marketing and not a sign of sluggish business.
Of course, the Starbucks experience is more than just about coffee. I have been known to linger over a few coffees for some time in the mornings in my own favourite coffee shops, taking advantage of the free wi-fi. If local Starbucks outlets can replicate this experience with a welcoming atmosphere and efficient staff, then they will attract a following. And I think that the trend in other countries to also offer wine in the evenings at Starbucks outlets is one we should hope for in SA, expecially given the scarcity of good local wine bars and the variety of superb local wines.
But do get it right. I have just had my first coffee of the morning in a Sandton coffee outlet attached to a Virgin gym. It was not nice. I did recently refuse to order coffee there for some weeks because it was not nice coffee, but wanted to see if there had been much improvement. Why they can’t get this basic offering right eludes me, as so many others do get it right.
The ZA Starbucks coffee shops cannot afford too many teething problems, especially as they will be likely to price their coffee well above the rates of the many fast food chains. Word of mouth and social media can do wonders for a new business, but can also kill it.
Starbucks is a brand which has been out of the ZA market – except in a few outlets such some Tsogo Sun hotels. Its real arrival will be welcomed, as is shown by some of the more hysterical media reaction to the announcement of the Taste franchise deal.
But, for me, the proof of the coffee will be in the drinking.

Tweets of the Day: (@famousquotenet): Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. – James Bovard
Mick Carter (@big_mick_carter): “Ladies & Gents.” Well, that concludes our tour of the toilets.

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Die Vine Intervention: The League of Beers’ Riot Session

Gastronomic guru Michael Olivier presents a craft beer from Cape Town – the Riot Session – in our latest tasting podcast.

John Fraser is joined in the Johannesburg studio by RJ van Spaandonk from the Core Group, IT supremo Malcolm Macdonald, branding legend Jeremy Sampson and Barclays’ Chris Gilmour.

Click on the podcast:

Die Vine Intervention: Groot Constantia Gouverneurs Reserve 2012

John Fraser and Michael Olivier uncork and salivate over the Groot Constantia Gouverneurs Reserve – a classic Cape masterpiece.
The studio tasters are Stuart Thompson from Loxton Lager, Gumtree Auto’s Jeff Osborne and leading Pretoria restaurateur Dino Fagas from Prosopa.
There is also a discussion about the moronic visa restrictions which are harming both the ZA tourism and the wine industries.

Check out the podcast:

Bargain Black Businessmen? At R1bn each.

I was quite good at maths when I was at school, but these days I sometimes find it difficult to comprehend large numbers. Hence my bafflement with an announcement at the Manufacturing Indaba this week by deputy dti Minister Mzwandile Masina. The Deputy-Minister told the conference that government has set a target of R100 billion to support its Black Industrialists (BI) programme.
Now we have been told that this is designed to transform South African industry, due to a concern that there are too many white faces, and too few black ones, at the top of SA manufacturing. Government’s target is 100 new BIs. A great plan, seemingly.
But wait a minute! Even with my fading mathematical skills, if this means they will be spending R100 billion for 100 BIs, then public spending will be at a rate of R1 billion per BI.
Of course, that is splendid news for the 100 BI candidates, whose enterprises will be projected to a level of prosperity which will make the average lottery winner seem like a poverty-struck peasant in rural KZN. (Nkandla residents are self-evidently excluded from this analogy).
Government plans to accomplish its BI billionaire boost by focusing State grants and incentives on black candidates, by making them better beneficiaries of public procurement, and so on.
Of course the success and justification for this scheme begins to crumble when one considers whether or not government is best placed to pick winners in business, and when wonders how many of the winners from this scheme will be closely connected to President Zuma and his ANC. The Deputy Minister did give an assurance there will be no nepotism or cronyism, but when there is a budget of R100 billion, temptation may over-ride integrity.
It goes without saying that we welcome every effort to foster the emergence of capable, entrepreneurial, successful – and black – business leaders.
It just seems that this R100 billion plan is going to cost the rest of us a hell of a lot.

Tweets of the Day:
Stephen Grant (@stephencgrant): My new thesaurus is not only poor, it’s really poor. Very very poor.
Mark Twain (@TheMarkTwain): It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.

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