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Almost exactly four years ago, I was called into my MD’s office where a lot of bullshit charges were laid against me. Bullshit or not, I knew I was farting against thunder and settled for a three months Golden Handshake. 

So there I was, 55 years old and unemployed. One day I was bringing R40 000 a month home, and the next  not a single sent.

The wife and me put our heads together to find something we could do from home with very little startup capital required. And eventually the idea of making toffees was born. We had some exposure to chocolate caramels, having put them on two markets for an acquaintance and we saw how well they could do. So we approached her to manufacture them under license, but she turned us down flat. So we had no option but to try and develop our own.

It was absolute hell. We knew nothing about manufacturing, we had no recipe, we had no clue about suitable packaging nor who would buy them and where we could sell them. We made so many mistakes. The toffees sweated butter and cream, spoiling the wrappers. They went hard or fudgy. They were either too tough or too soft. In the mean time there were bills to be paid and we exhausted all our little bit of savings very quickly. To make matters worse, the moment I had no more money, my best friend turned her back on me.

Eventually we had a product that more or less worked and we took it to every single market or little festival we could find. Some worked, most flopped. We paid so much school fees. As it was only me and the spouse, we did not have the time or resources to go and look for retail customers. Many many sleepless nights followed.

Do you know what it feels like to sit at a market under a piece of three by three canvas praying for someone to buy your product? To see people walk past without so much as a second look? Only to go to the stall next door that sells bird feeders made of rusted and dented old enamelware and paying a fortune for it? They will feed those that God provides for, but pay no heed to those of their own desperately in need of some support. The feeling of absolute helplessness and despondency that you go through is indescribable. To get up every market morning full of hope that today may be the day when you are going to do well, only to pack up that afternoon with a heavy heart and empty purse.

Should it ever happen that I am financially in a position to do so, I’ll create a market for all these entrepeneurs  and advertise it as such. And instead of asking them exorbitant stall fees, they can pay a small percentage of their sales to be ploughed back into marketing. For God knows, I know what it feels like to sit there with no money, no-one interested and lots and lots of responsibilities. And may I, by the Grace of God, never become such a snob as the owners of successful markets in South Africa.

Amen.

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Yesterday (sunday) I did some promotional work at the Crafters Market in Woodlands Boulevard in the East of Pretoria. This Mall lies in the most affluent area in the East of Pretoria, and it is surrounded by ministers’ residences, the Nouveau Riche of Mooikloof and a substantial amount of upper-middle class South Africans. 

Standing there and looking at the passers by, I made some observations:

Despite everyone talking about the Rainbow Nation and New South Africa, more than 80% of the passers by were white.

The dress code of most of these did not reflect the demographics of the area. On the contrary, most men were dressed in some form of short, and their companions did not look much better.

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Personally I do not like shorts. I believe you only wear them when you go swimming or if you have really great legs. Like Schwarzenegger or similar. Certainly not when you go shopping with your partner.

Opposite where I was standing there is a very smart clothing shop. All subdued lighting and everything. In the three hours that I was there, about twenty people went into the shop. None of them came out with a parcel. I wonder when the people with real money shop?

There were a couple of black guys wandering around in groups of four wearing overalls or similar. Wonder what they were shopping for?

People looked so serious. Even the ladies. Is shopping not fun?

We must have the most diabetics in the world. Every second person I offered a taster, declined, saying: “I am not allowed to.”

I also learned that food that you eat whilst driving a car does not make you fat. The same people who declined a tiny portion of toffee were merrily scoffing  away at do-nuts or other sweet treats as they were driving out of the Mall parking area.

Showing your partner you love him/her is forbidden in public. Not even one couple held hands.

Seems like I’ll have to go back to Sandton City in Jozi to find some people with real style. Or what am I saying?

 

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Some people who organize markets have no bloody clue how a crafter’s life works!

Firstly, most of us have very little infrastructure and resources. It is mostly a husband and wife team, so there is a limit how much one can do.

Secondly, we are almost always cash strapped. That is why we do the markets in the first place.

Thirdly, there is hardly ever a regular weekend market that takes place each and every Saturday and/or Sunday and that is consistently good. More often than not, a market takes place once a month, normally on the first Saturday  or Sunday of every month, leaving you high and dry for the rest of the month. Then you got to run around to find a place to sell your wares.

There are a couple of weekly markets, but they are very up and down. Patrons get tired of seeing the same stuff and how often do you want to visit the same market anyway?

So sometimes a crafter gets the opportunity to attend an event where he can make four to five times as much as he would at the regular weekend market. So obviously he takes it. Money in the pocket now is more important than potential future money. Problem is the market organiser throws his toys if you are not there. Some of them even force you to  pay stall fees  whether you are there or not. There is no understanding or empathy of  how our finances works.

To give you an example. We have a lot of festivals in South Africa but there are four really big ones. If one makes R1000 a day on your normal weekend market, you will earn R49000 a year from that market. (They close over Christmas and some does not have any markets in January either). If you skip your regular weekend market and go to one of the big four, you will earn at least R25000 per festival. That plus your regular markets will then give you R145000 a year, a much better scenario, do you not agree?

But no, your regular market organiser expects you to be at his/her market at all costs. I just got expelled from a market because the organiser does not understand this very simple arithmetic.

Well. toffee for you my China.

 

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I am not the biggest Christian in the world, but I am a believer. 

During a very difficult time in my life when I realised I am an alcoholic, my faith in a Higher Power helped me to kick this disastrous habit, and I am dry for 19 years now.

So when I saw all the Easter Bunnies and Easter Eggs on the shelves, I wondered: “Why a Rabbit? Why Easter Eggs?’ and like most other people I turned to Wiki for an explanation. Turns out in Medieval times it was called Oestre and the pagans held a festival over this time celebrating fertility. The hare being  their symbol of fertility. Over the times this changed to a rabbit and today some parents tell their gullible kids that the Easter Rabbit lays the eggs. So the rabbit actually does not have anything to do with Easter. Unless you want to behave like a rabbit over the Easter holidays. Know what I mean ;-)

At least the egg symbolises new life. At least this is more in line with the true purpose of Easter, celebrating rebirth, being reborn in faith that He died so that we can live. And that those who believe in Him, will never die.

So we can not make eggs and we do not believe rabbits belong with Easter. So we are making special Easter editions of our famous Belgian chocolate caramels. Three of them have English wraparounds, and two Afrikaans, which is my home language. And because I am not really just an old stick-in-the-mud, one has an animated wrap-around and one is humourous.  I absolutely love the idea of a flat-pack Easter Egg!

In South Africa these would retail for about one dollar fifty US.

We hope you are busy planning your Easter holiday, that you will have a wonderful time and will remember the true meaning of Easter.

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Today we held a market at the foot of the Voortrekkermonument just outside Pretoria. It was built to commemorate the Big Trek of Afrikaner Colonialists to get away from British rule of the Cape Colony in 1836. As such it stands as a symbol of Afrikaner Freedom.

The more then the pity that we as Afrikaners do not really enjoy that freedom to the extent that we would like to. South Africa today is most probably the only country in the world where the rights of a minority is not protected. As a result of the “Injustices” of the past, it is legal to discriminate against Whites.

This is one of the main reasons why we started making toffees. I was 55 when I suddenly lost my job. I had extensive retail experience and an MBA degree, but my chances to find a job in the formal sector was virtually zero. Today these jobs go to blacks only, and preferably young (inexperienced) blacks. With the result that very little works the way it should in our beloved country.

So today, I look at this impressive picture towering above me as I try to flog some toffees and I ask myself: “Yeah, what Freedom Tata Mandela?”

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Look, lets face it. I am very set in my ways and believe I am always right. Well, mostly……..

But now and then you are brought down to earth. 

As a business we make exclusive, handmade toffees and Belgian Chocolate caramels. We supply about 40 small and exclusive shops in South Africa, we do a fair amount of wedding favours and some corporate gifting. But weekends we do markets, as that is where our cash comes from.

Recently a market of long standing suddenly, and without notice, closed down. That left a lot of stallholders stranded without a market where they could sell their wares. Into the picture stepped the lady whose picture appears with this blog.

Her name is Rina Bester, She is well known in the market community as both the organiser of markets as well as a philanthropist who often sends out newsletters about upcoming markets to assist us in finding new places where we can go and sell our goods.

When the market in question closed down, Rina went and signed a contract at a well known venue to start up a new market tin order to assist the stranded stallholders. She is paying money out of her own pocket to pay for marketing and other costs, as her stall fees are so low that it does not cover these costs.

Angels come in all shapes and sizes. And every now and then even sceptics like me have to admit that we are wrong and that they do exist.

Thank you Rina. May your unselfish deeds be richly rewarded.

 

 

 

Our Range of Exotic Caramels

When I decided to go to the Cheese Festival last year, I decided to do something that is totally different and unique: I developed a range of Savoury Chocolate Caramels.

The Range comprises of: Olives-, Bacon-, Parmesan Cheese- and Biltong in Chocolate Caramel.

We all know the Americans have been combining bacon and chocolate for a while now, so that is not too earth shattering. The olives in chocolate caramel you can only eat when you are drinking a fortified wine to break the sweetness of the wine, so the two that really requires a paradigm shift are the parmesan cheese and biltong.

The biltong and chocolate caramel must be eaten with a plain Salticrax biscuit. It contains genuine powdered biltong, but we support it with a little bit of biltong essence. The biscuit neutralises the flavour essence and brings out the flavour of the biltong better.

Depending on personal taste, you can eat the parmesan cheese one with- or without a biscuit. Both taste superb. I have had numerous people standing in front of my market table, shaking their heads and saying it just can not work, only to walk away with a couple of bars once they have tasted it.

These caramels also won me a couple of prizes, amongst others best indoor stall at the Vryfees in Bloemfontein.

Which just shows: Innovation is the key to success.

Great Things about to happen......

The New Logo

or so I bloody hope!
I have been at it now for almost four years. Because we started off with nothing, I had a very conservative approach, praying that there is enough money at the end of the month to pay whatever needs to be paid. I was too scared to try anything adventurous as there simply was no money for it.

So, if you think small you act small.

But this year, being the year of the horse and me being an old stud, I decided to take the horse by the mane and run with it.

I have developed a brand new product which I am very happy about. Currently I am busy registering the Trade Mark, so I’ll give it a couple more weeks before I show it to you. Then I have made up my mind to build a proper HACCP compliant factory. Now I only need to find the finance for it.

And lastly I have changed my packaging for my two top products, and they will be right up there with the best in class, so watch this space.

Slowly but surely I’ll also tell you a little more about the Toffee Man and where he comes from.
Till next time>
Jan the Toffee Man

???????????????????????????????It is slightly less than a week to Valentines Day.

It would appear to me that companies love their employees better than what individuals love each other.

Thank the Lord, but we have been very busy making big orders for corporates who want to give their staff something on Valentines Day. But we also made some beautiful product to take to the markets. And here sales were surprisingly slow.
So what is the matter? Are we so blase that we do not give small little tokens of love on Valentines any more? Or do we only give very big, very expensive gifts?

I can not think of anything nicer or more flattering than to receive a small mystery card or gift on your desk on the morning of 14 Feb that says: “Be my Valentine”. Then you’ll know that you are still desired and or loved by someone. And the mystery of guessing who the giver is, is just soooo amazing.

Or what do you think?

Jan the Toffee Man

In my subtitle I said that this blog will deal with the sticky stuff. And that is not just toffees.

One of the sticky situations we face in South Africa at the moment is the illegal and unprotected strikes on the mines and farms.

The problem is that the strikers absolutely do not understand any logical or rational explanation about the damage they are doing to themselves, the company and South Africa as a whole.

If a striker looses one months pay, it takes three years to make op the money lost in that one month. So for three years there is absolutely no benefit to strike for higher pay as we have a policy of no work, no pay.

I have worked for large corporations, and if the company is forced to give increases higher than they can afford, they simply retrench a number of people a couple of months later in order to get back to the required  budget level. Or the mechanize and retrench the whole lot. And that in a country where 25% of the workforce and 50% of the youth under 30 is unemployed.

In the mean time the country looses direct foreign investment and our credit rating goes to hell.

These workers receive free accomodation and rations which they conveniently leave out of the equation.

I have been to China, and their workers get paid no more that our labourers, but they are twice as productive.

The sticky question is: How the hell do we get the message through to these ignoramuses that they are  not gaining anything by striking and making ridiculous demands? And how do we get our oh-s0-scared-we’ll-loose-the-support-of-the-masses government to put their foot down and say enough is enough?

Oh no, they’ll much rather focus on how they can marginalize the White, Indian and Colured minority who have the knowledge and can help them to make the country work. Bloody stupid if you ask me.

South Africa, Quo Vadis?

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