Entrepreneur with an appetite for expansion
After South African entrepreneur Stan Gordon made the bold move to come to Australia – a country he knew nothing about – he felt like he’d landed on Mars.
However, that didn’t stop him from going into business. Gordon is the founder and CEO of Franchised Food Company (FFco), the umbrella organisation of fun brands such as Cold Rock, Mr Whippy, Pretzel World and Nut Shack.
We spoke to him about his entrepreneurial journey and his future plans for the company.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Gordon developed an eye for business from a very young age. While other kids were out playing on the streets, he was looking for new ways to make money.
He worked in the advertising and marketing industry, where he completed work for major corporations such as South African Airways and Coca Cola. Gordon wanted to do something different with his next venture and that’s when he decided to set up a pie business, Pie Works.
“It was at a time in South Africa when pies were just starting to become popular, and I took a step back and thought, no, we can’t do things like everybody else, we need to do something different! I thought, let’s bring the whole pie making process out to the front for everyone to see, to give customers an experience,” he says.
Everything was done in the open and customers could see the rolling of the dough, the filling of the pies and then watch them come fresh out of the oven.
“Really, it was just a different way of retailing the same old product, which is where it all began,” he explained. Pie Works quickly found success, which got them attention from President Nelson Mandela. This led Gordon to set up Pies for Africa to assist the impoverished people of South Africa.
Move to Mars
After Gordon and his family witnessed the murder of their security guard, he made the decision to move away from the violence in South Africa to Australia in 1996. “I could have landed on Mars!” he says.
For him, it was like learning how to walk all over again. He says every aspect of life in Australia was different, from the terminology, regulations, the demographics and psychographics, people’s buying habits and their wants and needs, aspirations, and work choices.
The concept Gordon had used for his business in South Africa, including its retailing methods, failed to gain traction in Australia.
He explains, “In South Africa, we’d sell meat pies by the dozen, but here people bought one meat pie and maybe a coffee. The contrast in buying habits is huge, it’s a very different market and a completely different environment.”
Franchised Food Company
Gordon acquired the iconic Mr Whippy brand in 2000, then purchased Pretzel World in 2005, Cold Rock Ice Creamery in 2009 and Nutshack in 2010. The FFCo was set up in 2009 to hold the interests of the various businesses, and now the franchise is made up of more than 160 stores across the country.
“FFCo does things differently. And we’re a fun brand.”
Gordon is excited about the future growth of FFCo. “We’re currently in negotiations with a group to acquire another brand in the ‘fun treats’ market that complements our brands, and which has the potential to increase us by another 50-60 stores. We’re always on the lookout for more acquisitions, and of course we will continue with our organic growth.”
Gordon’s valuable advice
Like the majority of business owners, Gordon acknowledges that running of his own business is a never-ending learning process. From disclosure documents, health regulations and compliances, through to dealing with suppliers, the learning never stops.
His most important tips?
- “I’ve learnt that it’s really important to communicate with people – a collaborative approach in any workplace is key. Every ship needs a captain to make the ultimate decision, but you still need people onboard.”
- “Surround yourself with good people, listen to opinions, reasons and debates, and you’ll be better placed to overcome any issues or challenges you might face.”
- “Understand your market. Understand your product. Understand your supply chain. Understand your customer’s wants and needs. And try to create an experience, something different. Not a ‘me too’ situation.”
- “If you want to be entrepreneurial and get involved in business, you need to be a risk taker. Entrepreneurs by definition are risk takers! You have to think outside the square, massively. Don’t go into business if you don’t want to have fun, but also don’t be afraid to be cut down – it’ll only make you stronger and stronger.”