How do you keep a business running for 110 years?

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Cecil Rabinowitz of Awerbuchs Wholesaler Clothing, one of Bloemfontein’s oldest shops, established during the Anglo-Boer War in 1900.
Cecil Rabinowitz of Awerbuchs Wholesaler Clothing, one of Bloemfontein’s oldest shops, established during the Anglo-Boer War in 1900.

I was curious to find out how a business has been running for 110 years in a small South African city. So on a recent weekend I went to visit Awerbuchs, a clothing retailer, in Fichardt Street located in downtown Bloemfontein. The store is not situated in its original location but has been operating from its present premises for many decades. Fashions have come and gone and the downtown city area has even become gentrified but the store still has a large following.

Customers include the business person who wants a tailored suit to farmers who want durable workwear and parents who want clothing for their school going children. The store is located on big premises with long aisles of trousers, casual shirts, formal shirts, accessories as well as linen. Upstairs, at the back of the store is a large footwear section. Down below is a large tailoring room.

How can a clothing business run by family during the time of the Anglo Boer War could still be surviving? That’s when a gentleman called Cecil Rabinowitz came to assist me with my purchases. Cecil has been working at the store for more than 60 years and is 83 years old. He showed me a customer account dating back to 1911 when the company freely gave credit to its customers. He also brought out advertisements that appeared in the Friend newspaper which was closed several decades ago.

Cecil told me that the business had been kept in the family all these years and that the owners had a strong commitment to the business and its customers. When I asked him what was the secret behind the business being successful for so long he said that it was because of great customer service and giving customers value for money. This included providing quality merchandise with a no-frills approach.

Even today their customer service is at a far higher level than you will find in the typical retail chain store. Often in these retail stores you can’t even find a sales clerk to help you anymore. Yet in Awerbuchs the store is supported by a strong complement of well-informed, experience staff who are friendly and helpful.

It’s no secret that strong customer service plays an important role in small business. If you are planning to turn your promising business idea into a product or service, it’s important to think about how you can deliver exceptional service to your customers. It pays to think of the different dimensions of customer service such as friendliness, speed, product knowledge and helping specific customers solve their problems.

Products and technology change over time but business is done with people serving people. It’s something you want to bear in mind when you design your product or service offering. If you are looking for hands-on experience from someone who has worked in several different business fields including retail and industrial, then it might pay you to take a look here. I can’t promise that your business will last 110 years but at least it will get off to the right start.

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