Kobus Wiese might well be better known as the fearsome Springbok rugby player and popular sports commentator, but he is also one of South Africa's most successful entrepreneurs. As owner of the Wiesenhof restaurant chain and CEO of Wiesenhof Coffee Roastery, Kobus has proven that his dedication and discipline on the rugby field has transcended very successfully to the business world. I wanted to find out more about the franchise and the man who started it all.
What is the concept behind your franchise, where did it begin?
Kobus: We started off not with the idea to franchise but to be our own boss. We wanted our own business and to work for ourselves. Many years ago my wife and I bought a franchise from a coffee group who had about twenty stores but we bought the worst one in the chain. There was great potential in it, we thought that all it needed was a personal touch, a better menu and so forth. We also had our own little coffee roastery inside where we roasted our own beans, the coffee was great so the potential was there. We were jumping into the deep end, it was very rough for the first few months. We opened and closed six or seven days a week. We hit the ground running and learned the hard way.
“...We hit the ground running and learned the hard way...” - Kobus Wiese
Who were your mentors through those first years?
Kobus: There was never really any mentors. When we took over that shop we increased the turnover because we worked there ourselves. We were hands-on, owners and operators which I believe in. When you put your money and your time on the table, it is for yourself. It is very hard work because you need to be there the whole time but it is worth it. Many of the principles in sport is very much the same as business, there is no difference really. Things like discipline, dedication, determination and desire. What you put in is what you get out, nothing more and nothing less.
How important is location and how do you decide where in the country is the best place to open a new franchise?
Kobus: People say it is all about location, location, location. I don't agree with that. Yes it plays a major role the first time, people walk past or they see the restaurant and they will go in. If the food and the service and the quality aren't good enough, they won't go back even if it is the best location. People are willing to travel further for quality.
“...at this stage in most of the malls it is a win-win situation for the landlord only...” - Kobus Wiese
You have franchises open in unconventional places such as hospitals and big box retail stores, what is the strategy behind that?
Kobus: We were the first people to open in the so-called captive market. At first all the experienced minds laughed at us and said we were crazy, it won't work. It is actually very simple, we didn't re-invent the wheel. What do people do at a hospital? They wait. Whether they are visiting somebody or they are checking in, they wait. So why can't we give them exactly the same that they are getting out there in a shopping mall? That is the first reason.
The second reason is that I think all the big corporates who are building shopping malls have become ludicrously expensive. They are ripping people off and I will say it any day, they have become greedy and are charging fortunes. That is why a lot of people lose their business because they cannot survive. We are not anti-shopping malls, but I would look three times before going into one. If it is a win-win situation for the franchisee and the landlord then I say it is a good deal but at this stage in most of the malls it is a win-win situation for the landlord only.
What kind of personality are you looking for to run one of your franchises?
Kobus: There is no doubt that the restaurant trade is one of the toughest in the world. You work seven days a week, 365 days a year. If you are the owner and operator, you put all the risk on the line. It is hard work but it is very rewarding if you put the hours in. I believe you must be a born foodie, you can teach them the trade but one must have a love for this industry because it is very, very hard. People have this idea that owning a coffee shop is serving a couple of slices of cake and a few cups of coffee to make millions. There is money to be made but you need to earn your stripes, you need to put in the hours. If you are not hands-on, you will lose.