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A successful maiden journey into the export market

During our visit to the Eastern Cape, the Trade Forward Southern Africa team had the opportunity to meet participants from the Export Readiness programme delivered in partnership with Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC). A particular highlight was the site visit to one of the training participants’ cosmetic  & amenities manufacturing company, Silver Emerald, where we met sisters Sandra Hansen and Charis Gratz, who founded the company in 2018. Silver Emerald is a proudly South African, women-owned company based in the Eastern Cape, with a focus on creating a world-class product in the Eastern Cape. Their registered brands are Spirit Essence of You and Spirit Amenities. Their brand of guest amenities – Spirit Amenities – is endorsed by beauty without cruelty

Utilising their amazing business acumen, the sisters conducted a systematic market analysis of the then retail trends, pricing, packaging and points of distribution to start their business. This approach has enabled them to successfully implement an effective go-to-market strategy for their product lines. During our visit, they shared their journey as a growing business and their export experiences and ambitions. It is evident that the sisters and their team strive for continuous improvement in all that they do.

How has TFSA assisted them in their export journey?

As participants of the export trade trainings offered by TFSA and ECDC, they found great value in networking with other locally based businesses. They now have relationships and insight into what other local players are producing and have identified points of collaboration, pools of skills and opportunities to share resources to reach broader markets outside of South Africa. Beyond producing and selling their own product line, Silver Emerald is a savvy business that utilises its factory to offer manufacturing services and white labelled products to other local producers. The sisters are currently in discussions with their cohort members from the TFSA/ECDC training, exploring ways of these businesses utilising their offering.  

An important learning from their training experience was realising how important access to export trade information is. Says Sandra, “With the knowledge that we took away, we understand that there is a big sea out there. We understood that we had gaps in our knowledge and needed access to more information. Unfortunately, East London is not a manufacturing hub with vast network of skilled suppliers on your back door to call on for assistance. From this training, we are walking away understanding the gaps we have in our knowledge and what areas we need to improve to access international markets.”

The export challenges they faced, and methods they used overcome them

Over the years, the company has worked with various courier companies to deliver their products across South Africa. Recently, Silver Emerald fulfilled their first export order to Botswana, of which the overall experience was good despite the issue of delayed delivery due to challenges at customs in Botswana. Silver Emerald was able to swiftly overcome the customs challenge with the assistance of their contracted courier company, who has experience delivering products within SADC countries.

Not only did the courier company assist them with customs but also assisted in providing guidance on the costs involved, and the necessary information regarding the customs fees which needed to be included to ensure profitable trade. Sandra mentioned her key learning was realising export success is highly dependent on having strong relationships with knowledgeable and reputable suppliers.

The hopes for the future

The sisters believe Silver Emerald can compete with international brands by providing a high-quality product at a competitive price for consumers, customer service and a value offering are critical. They say their competitive edge is due to their access-to-market strategy: By introducing their products through hair salons, they are endorsed by trusted professionals who use them on their valued customers. As such, potential Silver Emerald customers are able to experience the products first hand and purchase products at their local salons or independent retailers. Charis says that accessing shelf space in traditional large-scale commercial retailers is challenging and complex, which is why they chose the hair salon approach as the market entry strategy. Another distribution strategy is stocking their products on the shelves of independent retailers, cosmetic stores and local SPAR stores – a channel allowing for greater reach. Along their journey, the sisters realised their product were also well suited to service the hospitality industry. Their hospitality brand Spirit Amenities has successfully been servicing hotels,boutique hotels, bed and breakfast’s and Airbnb rentals within the Eastern Cape and all along the Wild Coast. Through the export tools and knowledge gained through the TFSA/ECDC training, Sandra hopes to replicate this strategy and continue to increase their footprint in South Africa and regionally. 

If you are a woman-led business and would like to start your export journey, click here to register for the programme.