The Kloppers’ suppliers function unofficial theme song, The more we are together, says it all: suppliers, family and staff have been working together for 50 years to ensure that this family business became one of the leading retailers in the Free State and is fast growing an equally strong footprint in the Western and Eastern Cape. As has been the custom the past 28 years, the Kloppers family again invited suppliers to a thank you function at the beginning of November – this time they also celebrated their 50th anniversary.

The stylish Monte Bello function room where the hundreds of Kloppers suppliers were entertained.

Since the youngest Klopper brother Dirk opened a stand-alone sport and outdoor store in Cape Town an invitation to the suppliers’ function has become even more sought after for members of the industry. It is the one place where everybody can meet, socialise and joke around like in the old SASGAM days.

Sport suppliers Leonard Botha and Eslo Coetzee (New Balance), Erwin Schmidt (Leisure Holdings), Nick Wiltshire (Pat Wiltshire Sports), Colin Farrer (Corsport), Mike Farrer (Hi-Tec), Brian Kerby (ASICS SA), Shane Schonegevel (OBO SA), Jack Thonissen (Princess Hockey SA), Mickey Mallett (Hi-Tec SA), Eugene Brown, Carika van Blerk and Ian Hepplewhite (Brand ID).

Togetherness and family is a recurring theme when they talk about Kloppers. One feels part of their business,” says outdoor sales agent Pieter Pretorius, who has been calling on Kloppers since 1990.  “Loyalty, diversity of products and good service” are other factors that contributed to their exceptional growth, he believes.

Brian Kerby (ASICS SA), Mickey Mallett (Hi-Tec SA) and Shane Schonegevel (OBO SA) enjoying the function.

“They’re family who all know each other’s business, which means that the generations pass on experience from one to the next,” says Mickey Mallett of Hi-Tec SA. “They can talk about the business at meal times and family gatherings – which is a fantastic formula. Long may it last!”

Nick Wiltshire (Pat Wiltshire Sport) and Jack Thonissen (Princess Hockey SA) show their support for Kloppers.

“It is a family business built on hard work, principles and ethics,” adds Nick Wiltshire of Pat Wiltshire Sports. “A family member is always on site in the shop, always there to deal with problems, and that is why people will travel far to shop here. Even if the price is not the same, it is very close. Peace of mind along with purchase is important.

“The name means a lot and people will come and shop at Kloppers because they know the name stands for credit guarantee, warranty guarantee, and a guarantee of service. That’s what differentiates them from the big chains; Kloppers has the personal touch.”

Anton Kloppers (middle) reminiscing with adidas stalwart agent Pine Pienaar (left) about their trip to the 1991 Olympics in Barcelona – with adidas hockey specialist Eric Rose-Innes a keen listener.

Indeed. In 1975, eight years after Willem Klopper snr opened the Kloppers store, a hypermarket opened in Bloemfontein. Kloppers’ business subsequently soared, recounts his son Willem. “For first time people could compare Kloppers to a national chain – even though Pick n Pay marketed itself as the housewives’ friend and housewives believed that any time they walk into a Pick n Pay they would get the best price.”

New Brand ID CEO Ian Hepplewhite gets to know Dirk Klopper, in charge of the fast-growing Kloppers sport division.

The hundreds of suppliers (apart from sport and outdoor there are also the suppliers of electronics, TV, furniture, school wear, kitchenware, you name it) who’ve become annual regulars is a far cry from September 1967 when Willem Klopper snr opened the store amidst threats from the big boys that they would boycott suppliers who openly supplied Kloppers. That year the cash only high volume low margins chains like Dions and Tony Factor’s stores were the big retail news – in comparison, Kloppers had one supplier in Johannesburg who was brave enough to supply them.

“We just kept on doing the things that we knew how to do well,” says youngest brother Dirk.  “We always tried to stay ahead of the pack and learnt from our mistakes.”

By anticipating trends – for example, by learning from the US that doing installations is the key to successful TV selling when South Africa finally entered the TV era in 1976 – planning ahead, and focusing on the basics, business boomed.

They get all the basics of retailing right: they select a good range, get the price right, and they know what they talk about,” says Shane Schonegevel of OBO SA.

That is a recipe they learnt from their father, as Leon and Willem said: they can talk basic,” echoes Kloppers sport manager Grant Steyl. “If you have the basics in a company right and the support of friends and suppliers, that leads to success.”

“We do try to do the basics right: the right product, the right price, the right qualities,” acknowledges Willem.

Brothers Willem and Anton leading a sing-along of the Kloppers function theme song ‘We are together’ . In the past, the sports people often took to the stage at the end of the functions, Anton remembers.

Within fourteen years from opening, Kloppers was big enough to take over the 10 000m2 Greatermans premises in 1981. Two years later, Willem snr sold the store to Christo Wiese of Pepkor and decided to retire, aged 57.

His sons all have professional qualifications – Willem qualified as an accountant, Steva is an attorney, Leon a social worker, Anton is a medical doctor and his twin Wouter has a degree in agriculture. Dirk is a chartered accountant. But Willem, Steva and Leon yearned after the business they had run with their father and opened Juniors in 1986. This was so successful, that they bought back the original Kloppers two years later – where their other three brothers, father and mother, later joined them.

Bruce Woodroffe (Awesome Tools), Denton Goslett (Omni Sport) and veteran Free State agent Leon Lotter are longtime Kloppers suppliers.

The following year they decided to hold a function for suppliers. This 1989 function in the store restaurant was attended by 35 suppliers – several of whom were also amongst the hundreds who attended this year.

“Their service, product selection and relationship with suppliers is fantastic,” Denton Goslett from Omni Sport explains their success.

The Golf Racket (Wilson and Nike Golf) were represented by Graeme Smith (left) and Nico Meerholz.

“Our relationship with our suppliers was the thing that carried us,” Willem agrees. “Our relationship was different and the support we get from our suppliers has been fantastic.” That is why the group’s sales were almost 50% up on last year, he says. “Your success is my success, my success is your success. With our suppliers we can build on the future,” he said during his speech.

Brothers Mike (Hi-Tec) and Colin (Corsport) enjoying a joke with Sports Trader’s Nicol du Toit (middle).

Anton, who achieved 30% growth with the outdoor department, agrees. “Our relationship with our suppliers is almost like a marriage – the one is dependent on the other.”

Yes, we believe in a face to face relationship with our suppliers – and in running an honest business, adds Dirk.

All suppliers become part of the Kloppers family, says Leisure Holdings’ Erwin Schmidt (right), here with colleagues Peter Reeves (left) and Brett Burnill.

The strong relationship between Kloppers and their suppliers has been one of their strengths mentioned by just about everybody we spoke to. “As soon as you become a Kloppers supplier, you become part of the family,” says Erwin Schmidt of Leisure Holdings. “The way they keep people together definitely contributes to their success. From there it is their success in getting it to the market and their success in serving their community.”

Agent talk: Darryl Dickerson representing De Wet Sports and Gerhard Wolmarans ASICS SA.

And, of course, the other retail basic: “their service is great,” says sales agent Darryl Dickerson, representing De Wet Sports. “They offer good after service. If something happens, they sort it out straight away.”

Dirk Klopper, here with Bruce Woodroffe of Awesome Tools, founded the first Kloppers stand-alone sport store in Cape Town.

The back-up service they provide to their customers is for him one of the main reasons for Kloppers’ success, adds Bruce Woodroffe of Awesome Tools. “And the fact that they are on the floor so that their consumers can relate to the management of the business.”

The huge range they carry in every category, pulls customers from well outside their immediate area as kids from as far as Bethlehem drive to Bloemfontein to shop at Kloppers, points out Jack Thonissen of Princess Hockey SA.

Brand ID’s Eugene Brown and Carika van Blerk.

Besides, the general consensus is that the Kloppers people are nice guys and that it is a pleasure working with them. Or as Rachel Engelbrecht, who has been with the company for almost thirty years, explains: “they are successful because they really care about their people and always talk to them decently.”

She started in May 1988 when the store was still Juniors, and when their father returned to the new Kloppers, he built her a beautiful new office, she remembers fondly. “Their mother (Skat) was always wonderful. All the sons are so well-mannered, and that is what made it so special working for them.”

And that is probably why everybody so lustily joined Anton in the song ‘The more we are together, the higher we’ll be, your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends …”