TDC&Co: Designing the platform for successful retail

South Africa’s retail space has changed markedly over the past 20 years with a swathe of new shopping centres and significant advances in brand strategy. All of which has been good news to TDC & Co, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this April.

tdc01For local and international clients in the retail and hospitality sectors, TDC&Co. is the leading South African design company that conceptualizes, designs and builds experiential (interior and architectural) spaces that really work.

TDC&Co. (THINK, DESIGN AND CONNECT) has enjoyed 20 years of growth, and lists South Africa’s biggest and most prestigious retailers amongst its clients past and present, including The Foschini Group, Checkers and Woolworths.

The company has its roots in a long-standing partnership between 2 former work colleagues from Woolworths. Marc Olivier, Group Managing Director forms one part of that alliance and recalls how the business started:

“My business partner Derek Patrick, Group CEO, started the business in April 1994, but before then we had worked together at Woolworths where he was head of store design and I was national textiles sales manager.

“I left Woolworths at the end of 1996 and started a chain of sports and children’s clothes stores and Derek did the design work on these. Then towards the end of 1997 and early into the following year we started to work together again on TDC&Co.

“When the company was established it was a pure retail interior design business but we have evolved into a turnkey business today with added value chain; our service offer has been extended because of the pull of clients,” he continues.

Originally the company focussed on pure interior design but the service role has evolved into providing working drawings for shop fitters, which Olivier says has given clients full ownership of their own concepts and greater flexibility regarding supply chain.

Traditionally TDC&Co. has worked with the major retailers in South Africa and each store has its own idiosyncrasies, as Olivier outlines:
“One of the challenges (now a TDC&Co. strength) is to understand that clients have different spaces and different site configurations so the concept and detail can present separate challenges for each individual store when one is dealing with mass stores. The fixtures, layout and store shape can all vary so we got involved in providing site fit-out documentation.

“However we then found that suppliers and installers would often take short cuts which could in theory compromise the original design work so we started to offer services overseeing the manufacturing (although we don’t manufacture ourselves), procurement and installation process on sites, checking quality control very carefully.

“We believe that this differentiates us and we are not just creating pretty pictures – it is about being on brand with the client budget and deadlines and we oversee the end to end process.”

Of course such transition required a whole new set of skills and Olivier says that the transformation into additional service offerings took 2 to 3 years to perfect.

A seminal moment came in 1998 with the business helped to convert 74 Foschini stores from one brand to another in just 5 days:
“It took about 6 months for us to plan everything on such a large scale but the conversion of ‘Pages’ stores into ‘Exact’ took just 5 days and was a real learning curve,” Olivier recalls.

He says that by diversifying its services, the company is better balanced for work throughout the year in a market notorious for its peaks and troughs and changes in demand.

In 2011 he says that the company diversified further: “We went from being traditionally Interior Design and Build specialist and underwent a progressive restructuring, which has enabled the offering of a wider suite of services. Specifically this has involved an architectural management service and getting more involved in landlord build and preparing sites for the fit-out – as well as a brand strategy and brand design offer via our associated company, Clrs & Co., which is a creative agency with a focus on corporate identity guidelines.

“This new approach has been successful to date – particularly with international brands looking to break into the South African retail market and we have worked with big names like Zara, Nespresso and Shoprite Checkers.”

Whilst TDC&Co. is based in the Paarden Eiland area of Cape Town, where 50 full-time employees are ensconced, the company also operates a satellite office in Johannesburg. Increasingly there are opportunities further afield too and Olivier says that the company worked with Woolworths and Foschini on sites in the Middle East since the late 1990’s.

More recently TDC&Co. has started to work with South African businesses looking to make inroads into the burgeoning Namibian market – and the company has also worked with Namibian companies like the highly-esteemed, oldest department store Wecke & Voigts. Shoprite Checkers is another chain offering exciting growth opportunities across the Continent at present.

Many of the company’s client relationships are long-standing: Pick n Pay, whilst having its own in-house design and build facility, has looked to TDC&Co. since the late 1990’s for design inspiration on key projects. The Foschini Group work remains as strong as ever having begun 17 years ago.

Maintaining strong client relationships means delivering and adapting to changing expectations and the Green Building movement continues to gather pace in the country. Oliver says that the retail side has taken a little longer to evolve but TDC&Co. has developed its own green library of needs and supply chain ahead of the introduction of formal green standards within the sector.

“We have already worked on two projects for Pick ‘n Pay; one was a value engineering project that looked at cost reductions and we were able to identify significant capital expenditure reductions. That project was followed by another one which looked at green design principles,” he recalls.

Olivier cites time and quality as big challenges for the business and says that a big focus goes on matching the right supply chain to each project to maintain standards.

The company’s significant investment in its re-branding – from TDC to TDC&Co. has helped to secure new business from top international brands as the company has restructured its services and invested heavily in training to support this initiative.

“Investment has really been in our people – we sell intellectual property – and we have brought in performance and communication coaches to help with leadership training as we change our culture into one of empowerment and accountability.

“We have never marketed ourselves before but with the re-branding and our 20th anniversary (which will involve a green roof top garden celebration involving staff, clients and suppliers on May 22nd) we have a chance to show our target market what we can achieve.

“We believe that there is a bigger international market now looking at South Africa and we can add value to the service chain for them as a trusted partner going forwards,” he insists.