Trade Link Retail Systems (Pty) Ltd (Trade Link) has been at the forefront of supplying the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry in Southern Africa with tailored Point-of-Sale (POS) solutions for the last 25 years, their experience has allowed them to grow with their clients and provide valuable services, from POS hardware and software systems and support, integrating into the retailer back office and head office functions. Driven by technology, the Trade Link is able to provide a full-service solution for retail needs, driving customer sales with integrated banking and e-commerce, loyalty and reward systems and a seamless management tool to cover the full business cycle. Trade Link is able to offer software development and project management expertise allowing their customers to remain at the forefront of their markets through service excellence.
Due to a South African recessionary climate, retailers are experiencing a real slowdown (growth) in traditional consumer spending patterns and are looking for more return on a declining market from their IT partners. Trade Link is not only aware of this statistic but ensuring that the retailer client is receiving more “bang for buck” through innovative and cost-efficient systems, relative to customer spend. Simply put, Trade Link seeks to stretch the consumer value add and experience whilst not adding to the bottom line cost for the retailer using innovative data and systems analytics, new age loyalty and rewards systems.
Fascinating Journey of Trade Link
The start was in mid-1994 from an existing business; Positron which was a cash-register based company, based in Durban, Kwazulu Natal and addressing the general Retail market for cash register products, solutions and services. They were offered POS software to take Trade Link into the POS PC-based market, out of the old Cash Register domain, including the ability for stores to scan items at their checkouts.
The POS software, POSition, from Nixdorf had been developed by an Israel Software company, Retalix, and was already well established around the world. They were awarded a pilot installation by The SPAR Group, using Nixdorf Hardware, enabling the store to go the Scanning route for pricing (as opposed to price marking each item in the store) and this pilot store was successfully installed in May 1995. Trade Link grew from that small beginning to eventually cover the entire SPAR group of stores in Southern Africa, through successive versions of the original Retalix POS software with open POS hardware (any qualified and approved hardware) to today, with over 1 500 SPAR Member stores using 13,000 POS software licences and a now different software product called “dStore” developed in Austria and owned by Oracle US.
In 2000 Shoprite Checkers came on board, using Trade Link to install and support the same original POS software till today, with 25 000 POS software licences installed in South Africa and many other African countries. Other similar POS solutions have been installed by Trade Link in SA (Clicks) and in Zimbabwe (OK Zimbabwe, TM Supermarkets, and Meikles) and in Kenya (Uchumi) and Mozambique. Food Lovers Market have been brought into the fold.
By branching out into software Development (maintaining the original software source code for the developers) as well as offering POS Hardware Maintenance services and many other complementary products and services surrounding the key store checkout POS point, they are exporting their solution beyond Africa and into the Europe market and even to the Middle East, having translated the same POS software to offer an Arabic language version.
Trade Link is supporting some 3000 stores, using around 40 000 POS software licences all installed and supported by them. Trade Link has formed separate service companies to be able to focus on each of their specific clients’ needs and provide them specialized and tailored service solutions, including companies in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. They are now branching into Sri Lanka with the SPAR group, as they open their first stores there.
Enthralling Personality Leading the Retail System Market
Ashley Lattimer, Founder and Chairman started it all in 1994, with a small dedicated group of staff, some still with us even today. From that small beginning of around 6 people they employ some 250 staff today and work closely with many Strategic Partners employing 100’s more related local staff on the many and varied POS-services required to service a modern high-tech POS Checkout point in sophisticated urban environments and also spread out into the rural and far-flung places in Africa where their solution is ticking away daily, 24/7 over these past 23 years.
Ashley came out of a life-long IT background mainly spent at IBM SA and in Europe and mainly in the Services business – away from the pure hardware side which used to be the strongpoint of IBM. Having grown up in “Solutions and Services” this remains our lifeblood still today, offering POS Solutions and Services of Customer choice and on any compatible Hardware platforms.
From a largely family-owned business Ashley is now in the process of handing over within a succession plan to a new Executive team: Ahmed Laher, their Group CEO and his team will steer the company into the future with new energy and ideas, while keeping their core commitment to providing the best service and products to their valued clients.
Key Attributes helping Trade Link overcome challenges
Trade Link is not a “box-seller” – rather a builder of solutions within their chosen market, which they offer with full accompanying services, they consider the hardware and software needs of their clients, their development and retail cycles, new technologies and ways of doing business and integrating features which give their customers real competitive advantage.
Their success in times of challenges can be put down to offering good value for investment for their clients, responding timeously to their needs and ensuring their support for their systems is always available, as down time in this industry is a killer for both their clients as well as service providers.
Trade Link runs with a small, flat management structure, never far from the coal face where the customer operates. The organization is not office-bound and use modern technology and operating procedures to ensure they are able to be support their clients well within their Service Level Agreements (SLA) levels, for both urban and rural based stores. They maintain an entrepreneurial approach to all opportunities and are quick to respond to challenges, internal and external.
Key Industry scenario point of view
Due to the fast pace of innovation and technology advancement, Trade Link is always monitoring the retail industry for new trends and ways to give their customers competitive advantages. Software development of new services for their clients (rewards and loyalty systems, data aggregation and monitoring client preferences through their shopping habits) is an important feature for maintaining advantage in the FMCG industry, which they are able to develop specific solutions tailored for their client needs.
Ensuring a stable platform for their POS systems, and to maintain the organization’s system to be able to deal with high-volume traffic at the checkouts is an important and basic function. They have recently been able to offer full hardware support on their POS systems, as well as the integrated banking and back office equipment. This allows the customer to deal with one supplier for all their front and back office needs.
Working Environment at Trade Link
They encourage their staff to improve their skills through constant in-house and external training (including management training as people get promoted), to provide channels for dialog on all levels, working on an open-door style where everyone is heard and has their say.
Their staff are empowered to focus on the job and the customer services they provide, allowing them a wide area of latitude when it comes to work times and locations, as lot of the work is done out of the office. They have developed applications which improves communications when staff is on the road, providing tools and information to simplify their work and daily schedules.
Trade link also believes in transformation in South Africa, and as has a significant Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) rating, this approach guides them in hiring and providing training to the staff, and assisting their suppliers and entrepreneurs with whom they do business. They have built up their management and operational staff with skills and an outlook for supporting the communities they live in.
The Trade Link Group looks forward to introducing new technologies and services to our clients (E-commerce, data aggregation) while also offering online marketing and applications with our new acquisition to the group. We wish to consolidate our position within the POS market worldwide, with our strategic partners and suppliers allowing us to look further afield to Africa, Europe and the Middle East with new customers.
Significant Advice from Trade Link
Trade Link advice to budding entrepreneurs includes keeping your business model simple and focused on your clients and the industry you operate in. Use and expand on modern technology, but don’t lose your core strengths of looking after your customers basic needs (a secure POS environment, and no downtime in our industry). Research new tools and choose wisely which you chose to integrate with your products, always find the value in what you have chosen to offer to your clients.
Know your customer (and understand their client needs), never forget the basics which allow them to succeed and be flexible in your offerings and their requests. Instil your company work ethic and culture into all your staff and look after the people who make us a success.