Build it: The Building Materials for a Success Business

Retail success has remained a challenge across South Africa over the past year. Whilst the economic downturn has undoubtedly affected consumer spending power, some businesses have continued to perform well, enjoying growth.


The SPAR Group Limited is primarily a wholesaler and distributor of goods and services to SPAR and SaveMor supermarkets, Build it building materials outlets, [email protected] liquor stores and [email protected] pharmacy and healthcare outlets.

The SPAR Build it brand has developed into a successful supplier of building materials with in excess of 285 stores across South Africa.

The organisation operates as a series of stand-alone outlets providing basic building and hardware products for home builders and renovators in the lower to middle income demographic. Each store is operated by Build it retailers who are members of The Build it Guild of Southern Africa which is a Not for Profit Company.

Today the business has spread its footprint across the whole region, with stores located in urban and rural areas, not just in South Africa, but also Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique. The company has publicly indicated its intention to enter new markets in Botswana, Mauritius and Zimbabwe in due course.

All of which is a far cry from Build it’s position back in 1984, when membership stood at only 20 outlets, primarily operating as rural independent retailers. At that point the business reached a turning point, launching in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

The Build it brand gradually started to increase its presence inland during the 1990s – and whilst growth was steady, it was anything but spectacular. The dawn of the new Millennium heralded a change in fortunes however, when the decision was made to take the group national.

The change in strategy proved a seminal moment in Build it’s history. Within 5 years, membership numbers had increased from 26 to 172, with businesses providing building materials across the whole of Southern Africa, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Zambia.

The 21st Century version of Build it has grown to its current number made up of a voluntary group of independent retailers specializing in building materials and related hardware. Build it is a dynamic organisation boasting a market leading growth in the hardware and building materials industry.

The present 285 stores are responsible for approximately 8,250 employees. The business is overseen by SPAR Group Limited and operations are serviced by six regional offices, a central office and a distribution centre.

The business has concentrated its efforts on providing supplying building and hardware items for the construction of basic urban houses, typical “township” houses, rural housing and home improvements. Build it particularly serves the DIY (Do it yourself) market, BIY (Build it yourself, SME’s and contractors, offering a wide range of products applicable for all stages of house build, from the foundations to the fittings.

By all accounts, Build it’s target market has helped the company to establish great success, despite the recent challenges that have been well documented, both for the construction and retail markets.

The SPAR Group’s 2012 Annual Report, underlined the success of Build it in glowing terms:

“Build it had an excellent trading year and retail turnover of R7.5 billion was up 17 per cent on last year. Wholesale turnover of R4.6 billion rose by 18.5 per cent. The organic growth of existing stores was 15 per cent which, when viewed against the performance of the building industry, was outstanding.

“During the year, 20 new stores were opened, taking total store numbers to 281. The focus on improving our buying, innovative marketing and a store upgrade programme have all contributed to the strong performance in the market. Build it remained the second largest building materials retailer in the country.

“The Build it house brand imports initiative showed further positive signs and turnover increased by an encouraging 53 per cent to R154 million. House brand product is distributed to Build it retailers and we remain confident that this initiative remains a growth opportunity for the group.

“We expect another good performance from Build it in the new year and forecast to open 22 stores.”

Of course whilst the parent company plays an important role in operations, the onus is very much on individual store owners to make the Build it brand a success. Store performance is carefully monitored and the business runs an awards competition each year, highlighting its most successful franchisees.

When store owner Martin La Grange was named Mr Build it for the Lowveld Region, he cited passion and good leadership as contributory factors to his success.

Reflecting on his accolade, the business reported that La Grange, who owns the Hazyview Build it in White River, had “a feeling of belonging in a family” as a result of being part of Build it.

North Rand’s Mr Build it, Pieter Oberholzer of Bela Bela Build it, proudly confessed that “this is one of the biggest awards one can receive in Build it, I can’t be more proud!”

Oberholzer cited working hard and playing hard as his motto and it was reported that he believed his loyalty to the brand had played a huge role in his success.

The store operates with values that are mirrored across the Build it empire: with a keen interest in corporate social affairs.

Indeed, the Bela Bela Build it store is dedicated to helping the community, having provided a number of local services including: coaching rugby, building netball courts, as well as hosting an under 13 soccer tournament each year.

Amongst the winners of the prestigious regional store of the year awards was the Tubatse Build it (Lowveld). Suzette Geldenhuys, owner of Tubatse Build it, shared the secrets of her success and again underlined the importance of community help, indicating that service and deliveries were delivering successful results.

Her store operates a fleet of 28 delivery vehicles and offers same day or 24 hour deliveries. With 100 staff members, team work has been a key factor in winning this award. The store has a strong focus on community involvement and strives to build a homecare based community centre in every rural village that supports them.

On a national level, The Build it U13 soccer initiative, has become one of the biggest junior development programmes in the county and has become a recognized brand by key players in the South African soccer fraternity.

The programme was launched in 2006 as a result of a successful partnership between Build it and SAFA’s Local Football Associations (LFA). Other countries that are presently running with the initiative are Swaziland and Namibia.

Investing in areas where Build it trade, the programme is aimed at uplifting Southern African youngsters and giving them a chance to develop their talent in a sport which is considered to be the passion of the people!

This year, there have already been 67 competitions with an estimated 151 completed projects by the end of the year. A staggering 42000 players would have been touched by the initiative in 2013 alone.

The investment from Build it is huge, with over R10.3 million in technical kit distributed since the project was launched.

The company has also undertaken a commitment to sponsor the famous Under 13 team. The purpose of this development team is to produce players who will go on to perform at a professional level.

With the support of the international SPAR Group, Build it has continued to flourish since the start of the century – and is playing an active role in laying the foundations for South Africa’s future.