In the footprints of Veldskoen: a small business success story

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How do you know your small business has made it to the big leagues?

The likes of Prince Harry wearing your product surely counts as an indication. This is exactly what the South African Veldskoen has achieved.

This is, however, only one of their successes. What does it take to take to charm the world with a pair of shoes?

african shoe business

The birth of Vellies

Research has shown that one of the first things people notice about us is our footwear. What they see on our feet helps to create those all-important first impressions.

For this simple reason many people are careful to select tasteful footwear. And for this reason shoes are a business opportunity that is sure to stick around.

Veldskoen is the brainchild of Ross Zondagh, Nic Latouf and Nick Dreyer. It was the first product released by their e-commerce business DORP (Digital Online Retail Products and Platform).

Back in 2016, Nick Dreyer watched the opening of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. He saw what the South African team was wearing, and thought that their gear was disappointing.

This led to a brainstorming session with Zondagh, and together they developed the idea of Vellies with different colours on the soles and laces.

Veldskoen Shoes (Pty) Ltd was registered in 2017. The name Veldskoen is a combination of the Afrikaans words vel (skin), veld (field) and skoen (shoe).

What makes the Veldskoen unique?

The concept of the Veldskoen is certainly not a new one. The team explains on their website that the Veldskoen is perhaps the world’s oldest shoe.

The word ‘Veldskoen’ was already used by Dutch settlers who arrived in the country in the 17th century.

According to the Khoisan, they had made and worn leather shoes, cut from a single hide, 1000 years before the settlers.

The Veldskoen was even spotted in the Second World War, worn by South African officers. 

This begs the question of how an ‘old’ concept shot to international success. What are the unique selling points of the Veldskoen?

  • Firstly, the pure Africanness of the shoe, as beautifully demonstrated by their logo and its clever play on words: “The sole of Africa.
    We all know the tagline ‘proudly South African’, and it exists for a reason. South Africans are truly proud of products that represent our distinctive identity.

  • Part of the South African identity is an outdoor lifestyle made possible by glorious weather conditions.
    The Veldskoen is treated to repel water, making them suitable for all your outdoor adventures.

  • The Veldskoen is made super comfortable with the use of reversible full grain leather. Basically, this means that both the inside and outside of the shoes are the ‘good’ side.

  • The shoe moulds to fit the shape of your feet and there is enough wiggle room for your toes.

  • Removable inner socks made of memory foam provides extra padding to ensure that your feet feel like they are in heaven.

  • The Veldskoen contains a counter stiffener that offers support around the heel.

  • Co-ag PU lining supports the shoe’s structure around your ankle.

The above are just a few of the Veldskoen’s qualities, and let’s be honest, it kind of makes you want to buy a pair, doesn’t it? Not many shoes offer all of these qualities.

And that’s one of the secrets to successfully selling something as commonplace as shoes. What does your product offer that your competitors can’t match?

The value of an unique product

To be successful in the shoe industry, it will be vital that your idea is a bit more elaborate than just ‘selling shoes’. A potential client could, after all, go anywhere to buy shoes.
Your job is to narrow down your market by providing something specific, something uniquely suited to your chosen market.

This means you have to pinpoint your USP (unique selling proposition). As seen in the above points, Veldskoen did an exceptional job doing this.

Entrepreneur.com gives the example of Revlon founder Charles Revson, who said that he sells hope, not makeup. What would you sell, instead of just plain shoes?

They offer the following tips to help you identify your USP:

  • Put yourself in your customer’s shoes (quite literally in this case). It’s normal to become so involved in your own ideas that you lose a little perspective. Take the time, every now and then, to step away from what you are doing, and look at it from the outside, as if you are a potential customer.
  • Would you want to support a business like yours? Know absolutely everything about your market. You have to know them so well that you can predict what would motivate them to buy something from you. Closely follow what your competition is doing. This will help you determine why customers go to them.
  • Once your business has grown, you can ask your own loyal customers what it is about your business that motivates them to keep coming back.

Quick questions to ask yourself in determining your USP:

  • What does my product do?
  • How does it do it?
  • Why is my product needed?
  • What makes my product special?
  • How does my product go against the grain?
  • What unwanted characteristics of competitor products doesn’t my product have?
olympic games

The Veldskoen at the Olympics

 

When the time came for the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, the Veldskoen team got their opportunity to improve the South African team’s footwear.

Only a few years after their inception, Veldskoen was named as the official off-field sponsor for the SA Olympic and Paralympic team.

The story of how this happened contains another business lesson: take chances. Veldskoen was awarded the sponsorship for one reason – because they asked.

Nick Dreyer posted a video on Facebook (view it 
here) in which he simply asked anyone who could help them get a pair of shoes on each of our athletes, to get in touch.

And that was all it took. They were contacted by SASCOC (South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) and things started to happen.

This was truly a dream come true for Veldskoen. 

“Veldskoen started as a little dream. And now our little dream will be walking out of that stadium tunnel to the opening ceremony. The whole world will see them,” 
said Ross Zondagh.

A special range of Vellies was designed for the Olympics, with soles and laces in six different colours, matching the Olympic rings.

At the time of writing this article the 2020 Olympic Games (still named 2020 as the Games were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic) were still scheduled to start on July 23 2021.

A Japanese politician 
stated that the Olympics will be cancelled should there be a severe outbreak of covid-19. Here’s hoping that the Veldskoen, and our athletes, will get their chance to shine.

4 tips for starting your own shoe brand

1. Decide if you are going to start from scratch, or if you are interested in buying a franchise.
If starting from scratch, clearly define the kind of shoe you want to produce. This is a wide market with plenty of opportunity to be creative.

If you don’t have complete clarity on what you are aiming to do, your customer will be left confused as well. It is crucial that you find your niche.

2. Do as much research as you can as this could potentially help you to identify a gap in the market.

3.Don’t neglect your business plan.
It should include product descriptions, marketing plans, marketing and operating costs, projected revenue as well as legal aspects regarding registration of your business.

4. Cheesy as it may sound, be positive and believe in yourself. This has been many a small business owner’s recipe for success.

Naming your business

You came up with a brilliant concept, now do it justice with a name that stands out and demands attention.Mediocre will simply not do.

The name of your business is the first thing people will notice. It will create a first and lasting impression. It needs to grab their attention, give them information and elicit a reaction.

Here are a few tips to guide you:

  • Keep it simple. People have a lot on their minds and will not bother to remember something that’s too complicated.

  • Do a search on your chosen name to ensure that nobody else is using it and that it isn’t copyrighted.

  • Remember that you will need a website. Check that the domain name for your chosen name is available, and register it as soon as you are certain about your choice.

The Veldskoen goes global

By now the Veldskoen is leaving its footprints all over the planet, partly thanks to a few high-profile investments.

Bidvest and Bidcorp founder Brian Joffe’s investment company Long4Life owns a 49% stake in Veldskoen, reported Engineering News. 

This assisted the company in expanding to the UK and European markets. Soon after The Times in London reported that Prince Harry was spotted in a pair of Vellies with red soles and laces.

The American market followed with investments from actor Ashton Kutcher and celebrity investor Mark Cuban.

In an interview with Biznews, Nick Dreyer was asked what it was about Veldskoen’s approach that made them appeal to an international market, and this was his response:

“Veldskoen had all the ingredients of a great product. It’s always been known as hard-wearing. It’s always been known as incredibly comfortable.”  

“But it wasn’t relevant in a fashion sense. Even though it was worn and loved by all South Africans, it had the stigma that it belonged to a farmer, out on the dust road.” 

“All we had to do was to make sure that people understood that this is a beautiful product from South Africa and that you could wear it every single day.”

And there you have it. Create a quality product that tells a story that your chosen target market can identify with, and you might just be the next big thing.

9 shoe facts

9 things you didn’t know about shoes

If you want to market and sell a product, you need to know as much as humanly possible about that product.|
A lesser known fact can quite easily spark an idea that you could use, for example, for a creative marketing campaign.

Here are a few interesting facts about shoes. One of them might just lead you to your next life-changing idea: 

Men wore high heels before women did, back in the 10th century. It helped them to stay in their stirrups when riding a horse.Addicted to shoes? It’s a real thing that causes a reaction in the prefrontal cortex of the brain when you see a shoe you love.

The red slippers worn by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz were sold in 2000 for $660 000.

Jimmy Choo developed his first shoe when he was only 11 years old. What are you waiting for?

Singer Celine Dion has admitted that she can’t resist shoes, and she owns over 10 000 pairs.

It is thought that Marie Antoinette owned almost 500 pairs of shoes. Stylish to the end, she wore high heels on the day she was executed.

When Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, he worried that his shoes would be contaminated by potentially dangerous space materials.

So, he took them off and threw them away, and they might still be floating around in space somewhere.

A study once found that 17% of women would break up with a man should he wear ugly shoes.

Apparently if you can’t afford proper shoes, you won’t be able to afford more important things later on.

Sneakers were named for their ability to help you sneak around quietly. They have rubber soles that don’t make much noise when you walk.

 

Final Thoughts

Shoes are a necessity, but also used all over the world as a fashion statement. This opens up a world of opportunity for the entrepreneur.

In theory, the secret to success is simple: you have to create something that your competitor can’t match and that the shoe addict can’t resist.

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Noleen Fourie
Noleen Fourie
Animal lover, avid reader, imaginative over-thinker with a weakness for fudge, Noleen resides in Johannesburg, SA. Noleen has vast experience in both the newspaper and magazine industries, and believes that knowledge is power.
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