FreshStop pioneers at Fort Gale, Mthatha, South Africa

FreshStop, the fastest growing and largest convenience retail brand in South Africa, is trailblazing at its Fort Gale site in Mthatha.

The format features a raft of ‘new to market’ facilities and services for the location, bringing a world class food offering to a rural, underdeveloped area.

The site features the first American-themed diner in Mthatha and is the first c-store to offer six takeaway food brands, all with a strong African flavour to suit the needs of the local market. It provides the first c-store with a covered, modern seating area, where diners can enjoy their meals. It’s also the first c-store with free WiFi in Mthatha, featuring a specially designed pause counter with electrical plug points; and is the first location to offer premium barista coffee. It also provides free Seattle coffee daily for all traffic personnel on duty at the major intersection in close proximity to the site.

According to FreshStop, Fort Gale in Mthatha offers a welcoming environment where customers can freely walk through the store. This is in stark contrast to other shops in the area where shoppers can only purchase their goods through metal bars, with no access to the store itself, or any of its services or facilities such as restrooms, it says.

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New technology, loyalty and payment systems are also to the fore in Mthatha. FreshStop has partnered with Standard Bank to give customers UCount rewards, which allows them to buy more fuel/food using their rewards. There’s also a Seattle Coffee Company loyalty programme, which rewards customers with a free coffee after every 10 purchases. The programme uses mobile phone numbers to track purchases, rather than a physical loyalty card. The store also provides touchscreen ordering in the foodservice area and features FreshStop’s in-house radio in customers’ local vernacular language.

The range is extensive and comprises the fried chicken brand, Crispy Chicken; Pitstop Cafe featuring a variety of pre-cooked, African takeaway options; Grill to Go, offering burgers, ribs and chicken; a Hot Dog Cafe serving gourmet hot dogs and toppings; Hooked on Fish & Chips, traditional fish and chips; Seattle Coffee Company, a premium coffee brand; 24-hour over-the-counter medical dispensary; fresh fruit and vegetables at competitive prices to appeal to lower income groups plus healthier options including Snack on the Run, Smoothies, Juice and Health Bars.

The site is owned by the Ndamara Investment Company, a level 4 Black Economic Empowerment company that has been investing in the Mthatha area for the past 29 years. Since the site opened in May 2017, Ndamara has invested R40m, which has made a significant impact in less than a year. Further, Novate Fuel Solutions, an operations management company, has invested an additional R5.2m in the FreshStop convenience outlet; while total investment at the Fort Gale Junction, of which FreshStop is the anchor tenant, amounts to over R60m.

The Mthatha site has provided a much needed boost to the local economy from an employment and people development perspective. Employment opportunities have been created in partnership with the Efata School for the Blind and Deaf in Mthatha, where 65% of the population live in poverty. The unemployment rate is 66% and there’s just a 42% literacy rate.

The number of permanent staff at the site has increased from 31 to 54 employees, representing a 74% increase and, during peak season, an additional 12 short-term positions are created. The team is diverse - all ages, colours and educational backgrounds, with some even studying for their degrees while working full time. FreshStop has a policy of growing and promoting staff from within and some staff members who started as cleaners are now cashiers, while some cashiers have progressed to admin manager roles.

All staff members undergo training facilitated by Caltex and FreshStop to equip them with the right skills to execute their jobs and certificates are issued on completion.

The customer service initiatives at Mthatha are second to none too. The store adopts a friendly, customer first approach. It offers the first ATM gallery in the area, representing three major banks. As well as providing the only diner in a rural community, it offers a large assortment of food to go, fresh food and healthy snacks. The site offers modern restrooms, which are accessible and mobility-impaired friendly. Free WiFi and power points support business travelers, while a well stocked tourist information board provides easy access to travel maps and brochures on accommodation and local attractions. The site also features a high number of c-store parking bays and an easily accessible parking area situated just off the forecourt to optimize the traffic flow.

With so many ‘firsts to market’, it’s no wonder the Mthatha store is performing well. It has reported a 972% increase in sales (excluding air time) over a five month period, compared to last year and a 295% increase in airtime sales over a five month period, compared to last year. Total store sales are up 1000% with fuel ahead by 92% and the FreshStop basket size is 54% higher than FreshStop stores in similar areas.

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