A large container vessel that’s stuck in the Suez Canal is quite a newsworthy event (read more), but it was pictures of a rescue effort by an excavator that looks minute against the size of the vessel, that had social media abuzz this week. (Read this thread!) It made me think of perceptions around the little guy vs the big guy.
While there might be plenty of instances where these two extremes have helped each other, it is interesting that more often than not, big and small are compared with each other and placed in competition to one another, unfair as it may be.
The SA wine business is a great example of small and big players in the same industry. While some might disagree, in essence they have the same product and there are rules of trade that apply to both. Many of today’s bigger wine companies, volume-wise that is, have been established from the old cooperative model. Then a post-apartheid new dawn brought opportunity for the individual winemaker. Passionate garagiste started to make small volumes of wine, leading to independent efforts that resulted in magnificent wines, interesting stories and individual branding.
It seems a bit obvious that an industry can do with both big and small producers. Big ones to ensure volume and critical mass and small ones who are less restricted by big brand reputation, that brings interest and diversity to the offering. But South Africans are historically not the best at working together. We like to build our own churches, establish our own political parties… There might be something almost romantic about the notion of going on your own against the odds. Who does not like to cheer for the underdog? We enjoy stories of how the little guy or individual took on the big corporate and won, don’t we? (Read more) But in the tough global marketplace, you need extraordinary luck (even when your product is exceptional) to make it on your own.
Recently small wine producers did a lot for the perception of South African wine. They challenged the traditional, they were interesting and fun and dynamic – from a wine and personality perspective. International wine writers wrote about these individuals and their wines and created energy around the quality and interest of South African wines. Yes, the bigger volume brands might have missed out on the limelight, but they did benefit from the perception changes. Then came Covid and while a challenge for all SA wines, the bigger players with established export markets and effective online models were in a better position to survive than small individual wineries relying on sales direct from the tasting room and on-trade listings.
In the earlier days of SA wine, wine farmer cooperatives marketed their product through the KWV and although room for individuality and creativity might have been absent, the cooperation saved many. While that model might have served its purpose, it is outdated in today’s world. What has not gone out of fashion though, is cooperation as a principle. It is tough times and more than ever, we need to know that what is good for SA wine in general, will be good for each individual player. We need volumes and we need story-telling and sometimes it is okay if one winery is better at one aspect than the other. Sometimes you might be giving more than you get, but that is okay too.
It is of course no novel thought. Global enterprises like Amazon, Visa and Facebook are helping small businesses that has been hard hit by Covid-19. The idea is to “help get SMEs back on their feet using a range of resources from funding to technology, to virtual events and more.” (Read more) While it is very good PR, these leading companies also understand that a healthy economic environment is to their benefit. They also know about the potential of small companies. Just earlier this month South Africa’s Yuppiechef that was started in the lounge of an average Cape Town home, was bought by Mr Price for almost half a billion rand.
As silly as the excavator looks standing next to the enormous 400 m long, 224,000-ton Evergreen Ever Given, at least it is there to help. Of course it will not manage much on its own, but for me, the picture is much more about the attitude. When you are in a position to support, whether you are the small guy or the big guy, don’t hesitate. It’s not all about size, except when it comes to your thinking. Think big – strategic partnerships can be to the benefit of both the big and the small player.
Featured Image Credit: Ever Given: Suez Canal Authority – from offshore-energy.biz