Sanet Yelland
Sanet Yelland

Retail entrepreneurship and micro-enterprises

by Sanet Yelland. Retailers need to find a balance between staying true to their entrepreneurship roots while innovating and trying new things to drive value.

by Sanet Yelland. Retail entrepreneurship and the mindset of ‘start-ups’ is actually at the heart of most retailers’ lifeblood, passion and determination to build enterprises of success while ensuring customer-centricity and shopper engagement are fulfilled at every stage of the journey. But like any business, this can be forgotten in the scale of managing day-to-day business demands, volumes in supply chain management and operationalising systems for scale. It’s what also falls behind when the pressure hits economically with constrained budgets and reduced spend from shoppers.

Entrepreneurship mindsets, programmes, and people investment will critically drive business differentiation, and retailers need to find a balance between staying true to their roots while innovating and trying new things to drive value. It’s a tricky balance, and the right entrepreneurial ventures will vary from one retailer to the next. Finding that balance is essential to the future success of retail innovation and customer-centricity. The key themes this article will explore are different types of entrepreneurship investment and building scales of solutions across entrepreneurial retail.

Type of entrepreneurship investing
Benefits for retailers embracing social entrepreneurship
  • Funding opportunities: It’s often easier to raise funding for social enterprises. Government and other organisations offer significant incentives and grants for burgeoning social entrepreneurship projects and key developmental areas in communities and education.
  • Purpose-driven entrepreneurial innovations: By linking your business to a worthy cause, a retailer has a story that’s enticing to customers and purpose-driven efforts. Two Blind Brothers, a comfort clothing company created by two visually impaired brothers, is a great example. 100% of the company’s profits go towards funding research to cure retinal eye disease. Customers can browse and purchase individual items or “shop blind” and purchase mystery boxes without seeing the products — much like the people they support.
  • Stronger communities: Members of the social enterprise business communities tend to be liked minded and rally behind causes to further the awareness and attract like-minded sponsors to get behind an idea or programme. Marketplace retailer, Minted, has used this approach to build a whole marketplace. A design-focused business, Minted crowdsources content from independent artists and sells it to customers as stationery, décor and art. Inviting the outside world to choose what you sell creates entrepreneurial disruption to the status quo.
Micro-enterprise development and local business sustainability
Retail entrepreneurial initiatives must extend beyond
  • The idea of shelf relevance and purpose (finding new and better ways to offer products to shoppers at local and sustainable levels).
  • The authenticity of investment to the longevity of the investment.
  • Alignment to corporate and then customer vision – they must work alongside.
  • From community reach to broader community involvement to ensure that programmes are readily adopted and become entrenched in community entrepreneurship values.
  • Financial inclusion and accessibility: The Shoprite Group launched Shoprite Next Capital – a division dedicated to capacitating and growing commercially-viable small businesses, forming part of their efforts to provide small suppliers access to its consumer market. This enables personalised focus and access to growing at scale. “Shoprite Next Capital will operate as a one-stop-shop for SMME partners by providing marketing opportunities, working capital assistance, packaging and labelling support, data sharing, product range and geographic expansion, as well as possible private label partnerships”.

Entrepreneurship is a mindset of not always having the right answers but the passion and tenacity to look for better ways to solve problems differently from the past. It’s a hunger for more than what is in place. Whether service-based, product-based or intangibles to value creation, the mindset of entrepreneurial retail and investing in small-scale businesses will accelerate future growth and economic gains.


Main image credit: Supplied.



Sanet Yelland is the CEO and founder of Streamline Advertising, a full-service agency. She has worked across the industry for 30 years, on clients within financial services, wholesale, retail, FMCG and government sectors on notable brands, including Massmart, Dis-chem, SAA, City of Johannesburg, Nedbank, Absa Bank, and Pick ‘n Pay (Score Supermarkets and RiteValue brands). Yelland started the Young Community Shapers initiative in 2000. This project acknowledges and celebrates the achievements of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds by providing funding, bursaries, and mentorship.


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