DDi - April/May 2013 - (Page 160)
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he company’s name is Barrows. Their offices sit above their factory
floor, in the suburbs of Durban, South Africa’s third-largest city, and
also a beach town. In the distance over the Indian Ocean, ships line
up for the privilege of dock space, like customers might at a Starbucks during rush hour. It is the gateway to the world; much of the mineral and agricultural riches of sub-Saharan Africa are channeled through this city. Like so
many emerging market centers, it is a cultural crossroads of skin tones and
backgrounds, especially on Durban’s beaches, which are as varied and interesting as Rio’s. There is strong evidence that this location has been occupied
for more than 100,000 years—even the first human hunters and gatherers
liked the weather, not to mention the beach.
Barrows’ roots are in the point-of-purchase business, but like so much
of the developing world, the paradigm of where they came from and where
they are going is a conceptual leap from the cardboard cutouts of yesterday
to a sophisticated appreciation of possibilities that small innovations offer. In
short, it is a retail services company with a focus on emerging markets, and
a deep appreciation for the new meaning of “green.”
The company’s answer to the single-sided cardboard visual merchandising of yesterday? A new two-sided cardboard cutout offering. The previously
blank side now has maps, arithmetic tables and other related graphics printed
on the inside, so that every display, once outdated in-store, can be recycled
into hungry school systems across Africa. The company that funded the display has their logo on both sides. In addition to having updated educational
visuals, African schoolchildren are introduced to global CPG companies.
(Brand marketing at its finest.)
One of the simple but major challenges for food manufacturers and retailers across Africa has been refrigeration. Recognizing this opportunity,
Barrows harnessed the power of small-scale solar panels to solve problems
where the electrical grid can be unreliable, if not inaccessible, but where
sunshine is abundant. Even a small solar panel can do the job, such as
powering several casements of chocolate, at the optimum temperature,
opening confection sales possibilities in new markets.
In addition, the company has applied the solar panel application to a
simple pushcart. As the overhead solar panels provide shade, the independent food/beverage salesperson also can run a small refrigerator that keeps
cans and bottled beverages cold. African customers may have a cellphone,
but not reliable power in their domiciles. So, the panels can also power a
mobile phone-charging offering. Add advertising space to the side of the
pushcart, and you have three potential income sources. Think of it as a
building block for entrepreneurship.
In the first world, our technology focus is breathtakingly different. We
talk about high-resolution and high-definition, play with flatscreens on our
iPads and smartphones, and have blogs covering every tech topic under the
sun. Our solar and wind applications are all based on the realities of our firstworld lives. Our wind generators are elephantine; our solar panels line roofs
the size of stadiums. Can I power my house or heat the water for my family’s
bathing needs? Our culture presupposes access to reliable power.
The beauty of Barrows’ work is its immediate small scale. It carves out a
modest need and solves it. The engineers look out on a factory floor where
the prototyping process can happen today, versus outsourced over weeks.
They realize that for small tech to work, it has to be cheap to manufacture
and tough enough to last in unforgiving Africa.
What makes Barrows interesting is that it is a POP-focused company that
has grown beyond those roots. It is an agency that favors long-term relationships over short-term flings. It does not give away its creative efforts to get
the order. It intersects with its clients on a senior management level. An active interest in consumer marketing, paired with decades studying the world
of POP, seems to have a direct relationship to the success of their efforts.
In a new global marketplace, emerging market experience
has taken on new meaning as a new generation of senior
management enters the executive suite.
Whether for CPG companies, technology firms or merchant empires, the fast
track to that “chief something” job has included time served on the ground
in emerging markets. Winning victories in Africa, Asia and Latin America
enhances almost anyone’s résumé. Those young tigers remember the tools
that helped them get to where they are. Barrows has been in Africa, China,
Brazil and the Middle East. It’s the one thing that has stayed with ladderclimbing clients.
The best part? It’s now open for business in the United States. Our beaches
may not be quite as stunning, but we make up for it with C-suite access.
—Paco Underhill is the founder of Envirosell and author of the books “Why
We Buy,” “Call of the Mall” and “What Women Want.” He shares his retail and
consumer insights with DDI in a bi-issue column.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of DDi - April/May 2013
DDi - April/May 2013
Table of Contents
From the Editor
From the Show Director
Tiffany & Co.
Paris Kids Department
Technology & Customer Engagement Section
Big Data Column
Design Leaders 2013
Shopping with Paco
DDi - April/May 2013