Ten years ago the founding members of the Ocean Basket opened their first seafood restaurant, with dreams of bringing affordable seafood to the South African consumer. Ten years on and the Ocean Basket has grown into the largest seafood restaurant group in South Africa, with more than 70 stores serving over three quarters of a million customers.
The original 55 stores were company owned. Four years ago management decided to go the franchise route, selling off the shops to individual owners, but with the strong Ocean Basket brand remaining intact. Although this was a positive move in the history of the company, and provided for even faster growth, it also provided an IT logistical problem. The restaurant environment is not conducive to the preservation of high technology equipment. The fat and moisture content in the air causes equipment failure and worn appearances. The rate of replacement is therefore much higher than in most other environments. This in turn resulted in restaurant owners procuring their own equipment, with no standard look and functionality.
To enable head office to regulate the brand image and shop owners to run an efficient business according to the high standards, it became imperative for everybody to operate on the same, yet affordable, IT platform. That was easier said than done, because the franchisees were spread from Cape Town to Nelspruit and even as far as Windhoek. Ocean Basket management realised that they needed to provide shop owners with a new IT model, which included not just hardware, but software and a superior back-up facility.
This they found in Enterprise Connection (EC), solutions provider and finance rental specialists: The plan, Enterprise Connection put forward, addressed the strict requirements from head office, yet was affordable to even the smallest shop owner. As many as 70% of all owners now utilise the finance rental option.
Richard Sutherland, account manager at EC has been working closely with Ocean Basket for the past two years. He explains, "We have developed a template for Ocean Basket. All they have to do is place the order for a new shop to be fitted and we deliver and install the product. Testing is done at the EC offices beforehand, which reduces installation time and the possibility of failures on site." The process involves the local software developers, hardware suppliers, network, cabling and UPS specialists.
This model suits the management of Ocean Basket very well as it removes the IT headache, allowing them to focus on the core business. The 24/7 backup from EC includes a 3 year on-site warranty for hardware, as well as a remote software diagnostic facility. Three EC engineers have been allocated for this purpose. Since the rental option runs in 26 month cycles, it also means that a restaurant will receive new or upgraded equipment even before the warranty runs out.
Andrij de Beer, director at Ocean Basket, emphasises the importance of IT technology in the business. "We rely 100% on IT to run the business. Apart from the individual shop requirements, the back-office communication is very important to us. Each shop has to send regular scheduled reports to the respective head offices in Cape Town or Johannesburg. In return, head office has to inform shops of new stock-items, pricing, menus etc. If the communication fails, everybody loses. The service EC is providing is now an integral part of our operations. They understand our business and systems and we rely on them to be on time every time. It is unusual in the IT business to be able to have such a personal relationship with a service provider."
EC has developed and structured unique rental finance packages for various companies and government departments in the past two years. The Gauteng Department of Housing, as well as Spoor & Fisher had their new offices completely kitted out with the EC Rental Finance option, providing for the replacement of hardware platforms and peripherals with the latest technology in less than two and a half years. This arrangement ensures that companies stay abreast of technological change and maintain standardisation of equipment and the assurance of committed after-sales service. The financial options also have the advantage of providing off balance sheet finance and a smooth predictable cash flow compared with cash purchase replacement.
For more information contact Johan de Villiers, CEO, Enterprise Connection, 021 680 3100, 083 638 3889, firstname.lastname@example.org