All posts by JamesFouche

Crime author and travel writer from the Garden Route of South Africa. Owner of Polvo Coffee in Knysna. Wine lover. Daddy.

Getting jiggy in Namibia

Interview at WestCoast FM
Interview at WestCoast FM

A book trip to another country is still a business trip. A lot goes into the planning, especially the costs involved. That’s why it makes sense to fit in as much as possible while you are there. This might mean shifting around some family time to fit in an interview or chatting a bit longer with a potential reader. Your family might get a bit upset, but this is the business.

We stayed in Swakopmund for three days and in Windhoek for seven days. As mentioned in the previous post, a  typical book trip consists of the obligatory marketing stops and, if possible, fit in a book signing somewhere. Strangely though, this was not my main reason for going to Namibia.

My visit to NBC Radio
My visit to NBC Radio

There is a number of projects I am currently working on. I am busy with a novel set in Simon’s Town, then there is one that takes a bizarre look at the insurance industry, and another which exposes the corrupt pharmaceutical industries. One of the novels were going to start in South Africa and finish in France. As is often the case, the research and the characters caused the story to evolve. Before long, the final part of this story had made its way to Namibia, without any influence from my side. I was simply following and writing down the story as it played off in my mind. It would be a big climactic finale, and Namibia would be the ideal setting. Think sand, heat and blood. A violent shoot out in the Namibian desert. Anyway, getting back to the trip, this was what I squeezed in over the next couple of days.

Interview at HitRadio
Interview at HitRadio

While in Swakopmund, I did an interview with the local radio station, WestCoast FM, and also visited the book shops in the area. I tried to be in full holiday mode for one whole day. My wife will probably say that even this day I was doing something work related. Thankfully, she is my light and my discipline when I really need it.

Meeting with Ruffy at UNAM Radio
Meeting with Ruffy at UNAM Radio

Then off we went to Windhoek, where a fellow author, Sylvia Schlettwein, helped open a lot of doors. She was vital in the planning and I will forever be in her debt. I urge all authors to keep contact with fellow scribes. Some take pride in distancing themselves from the writing community, but I love the art of writing and try to keep contact with those who share my passion.

With the morning team at RadioWave
With the morning team at RadioWave

I did interviews with HitRadio, UNAM Radio, RadioWave and NBC Radio, as well as a live interview on Good Morning Namibia. The book signing was done at the Book Den, an amazing book shop in the heart of Windhoek. Though shy, I love interacting with readers and enjoy answering questions, so this was great fun for me.

Chatting with some golks at the Book Den
Chatting with some golks at the Book Den

We all know that most authors struggle to make a living. If you don’t know, then this is a sad reality you will have to make peace with. So, in that vein, I set about planning a research trip, a book signing and marketing trip, and a family trip, and fitting it all in. This sounds easy enough, but it is not.

And a crime author goes to Namibia

Talking at the Cape Town Book Fair
Talking at the Cape Town Book Fair

There is a common misconception when it comes to authors. People think the strangest things about them. Some believe it to be the most idyllic profession, involving trips around the world, exciting research missions, sold out book signings, celebrity treatment, and author groupies. Sadly, there is no such thing as author groupies. I get my wonderful wife to fill this position. Thanks to shows like Castle, the world seems to believe we go around having buckets full of fun. With fun and adventure in mind, a trip to Namibia would be the obvious destination for these imaginary writers. If only this was true.

Talking at the Knysna Literary Festival
Talking at the Knysna Literary Festival

 

The truth is, being an author is very hard work. When the passion for the perfect tale is over, and the book is finally closed, it becomes a business of sorts. We are forced to be more proactive on the marketing front. Let’s face it, one of the surest ways to meet new readers, is to tell them that you are, in fact, an author. The days of writing a masterpiece and leaving it out there in the great unknown, with the hopes that someone might stumble across your book, has passed.

Trying to get school kids reading and writing is not easy

Think about it. You have just journeyed with a number of different people you were very close to. You had intimate knowledge of their innermost workings and you love them as if they are family. Sure, you had to kill some of them off during the journey, but essentially all these characters were your babies. You are still suffering from a slight withdrawal symptom from each individual character, as they step out of the deepest parts of your mind, from the darkness where you had formed them, into the light, and now you are asked to move on as if nothing had happened. At this point, your most vulnerable post-writing recovery, you are tasked with promoting your book, and, what authors hate most, promoting yourself. Book signings, discussions, interviews, talking and more talking, etc. Oh, the agony. I also need to mention here that no one buys from a shy or boring author, so you have to be the sparky engaging version of yourself.

I know what you are thinking. What is this idiot complaining about? I can so pull that off, right? For most people this would probably be all fun and games, but I suspect most authors find this tedious, or, at the very least, a bit annoying. The authors I have had the privilege of engaging with, were rather reserved, not very boastful, and preferred to keep to themselves. We are storytellers. We observe, and dislike being observed by others. I have done the media drill, though in a diminutive form, and it will always be as much fun as it is exhausting.

My trip to Namibia was nothing different. Next week I will detail my trip for those who have an interest about how to plan and conduct a book trip to another country.

The leap from giving to Namibia

An old saying claims that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. I wish I could expand more on the validity of this ancient phrase, or speculate more about its origin. What woes must have befallen the poor sap who had coined the phrase? Regardless from whence it came, it has certainly found roots in my life this year.

We began the year with a vision of giving. Not just in the charitable sense of the word, but in every possible way. The idea was to dig in and to try my best to give, share and help. Be it advice, money, activities or anything else. We wanted to give a little bit of ourselves to all those around us, but life has a way of throwing a spanner in the works now and then.The Fouche Family

Not long after my last post, our first child was born. I became daddy to the prettiest baby girl. I’m sure every father thinks his little girl is the prettiest. I do not wish to engage in a mine-is-the-cutest debate, but she is damn cute.James Fouche and Talya Lita

While fatherhood is an absolute adjustment, I believed it would still be possible to do my writing, both finishing of novels and penning new articles, while starting up a brand new business and focusing on our theme of giving. Then business took some interesting turns and I was forced to put writing a bit on hold while my wife tended to the little one. And, by the way, a baby should not be referred to as a bundle of joy. Where did that phrase originate from?!

Here is the thing about babies people tend to not warn fathers about. The first three months is not pretty, or cute, or beautiful, or any of those endearing words. That first part of a baby’s life is hard work. That’s right, I said it. The first three months for both parents is all business. You as a parent have been tasked with jump-starting a lump of flesh. It is basic biology. If you don’t feed the puppy, the puppy will die. Eat. Sleep. Crap. Repeat.

The importance of having a bunny friend
The importance of having a bunny friend

It was at this point, the pinnacle of adjustment, that life shifted a gear into chaos. We were just getting to that balance where we could cope with our annual theme, our new addition to the family and business. Alas, it was not meant to be. We might feel we are in control of how things go, but it is evident that we are not.

It was on a particularly blue Monday that I heard my mother had passed away, aged 62 and fairly healthy. This was a shock to the system, me and our house, and eventually, the business. I had to travel often to take care of the funeral and tend to estate matters, leaving the business in the capable hands of my staff.Eileen Fouche

Trials come and go, much like death and taxes. Then life goes on again. In light of this year, the one thing I am constantly reminded of, is the fact that life, in all its abundance and beauty, is also a finite thing, a flicker at best, and the only real sense of fulfilment is the manner in which we have occupied our time here. I am filled with a desire to do more, to reach further and to spend every minute wisely. By that I mean quality over quantity. Circumstance is a thief of time, constantly convincing us that the unforeseen and the inevitable has to take precedence. But there is nothing that should take precedence over family time. Nothing. If you MUST work, then find a way to do it with your loved ones or make sure that you set aside time for your family.

In the next post I will explain a bit more about my book tour to Namibia, and how I try to juggle between author, husband and daddie.

Fouche of Sedgefield and his trusty bedouine guide, Talya abu Lita.
Fouche of Sedgefield and his trusty Bedouin guide, Talya abu Lita, preparing to tour Namibia.

 

Giving Love

20150211_065444With a theme like GIVING, you do put a lot of pressure on your life, both in the personal and business capacity. So when February and Valentine’s comes around, you are afforded the opportunity to mix business and pleasure without alarming your spouse.

It felt as though the year had only just started, and there it was, Valentine’s Day, marked in pink on the calendar. The media nudges us on to splurge on the other half. Buy him that gift hamper, or get her that massage, or maybe make a reservation at that expensive restaurant where it’s impossible to get in, or, heaven forbid, take the missus to see Fifty Shades of Grey. Come on men, take one for the team. And we fall for this trick very year.

Polvo Dog WalkFor that very reason, we had a different approach to the day traditionally devoted to love. We held a Valentine’s Dog Walk. Now I know what you’re thinking: How does that fit in with the whole GIVING theme? Right? Well, just look at the possibilities of having such an event. All round you can open the board and be unique. You can have a lot of fun in the process, too. Here’s what we did…

20150215_080949Firstly, with doggies being the key focus, we decided there would be an entry fee and proceeds would go to our local animal welfare, in this instance it was the Knysna Animal Welfare Society (KAWS). Immediately it became an event for a worthy cause (or shall I say KAWS), and there was a sincere appreciation by all pet-loving folk. We were also in the fortunate position to involve the Pledge Nature Reserve, a 10ha piece of land with a variety of birds and plants in the heart of Knysna, and conveniently situated right behind Polvo Coffee bar. The reserve had a number of hiking routes, perfect for a dog walk. We decided to split entry fees between KAWS and Pledge, so that both nature and animal welfare could benefit. We went live with the event and involved all manner of social and print media marketing. We roped in the local Curves gym, got Simply Pets to sponsor us a nifty little prize for the cutest dog, and that was it.20150215_084704

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Sadly, not even a crime author can plan for every eventuality. On the day, we were all psyched and excited and game to take doggies through the reserve. That is, until we opened the curtains. Yes, you guessed it! Slap-bang in the middle of summer, on this very special day, just for the duration of our walk, Knysna would face a freak rain storm.

It would be incorrect to say the day rained out, because some folks did pitch and they enjoyed the hike even though they were soaking wet. The harsh reality is that most people imagined the event would be postponed. No matter, we still had fun. And not only did we manage to generate a couple of Rands for a good cause, but we also created awareness about the local animal welfare and nature reserve.

Giving Giving Gone

After a long break, it is time to get back into the writing saddle. Polvo, our speciality coffee bar in the heart of Knysna, has opened its doors and I have shared the entire process here. Now it is time to move on. This blog was always intended to show what an author gets up to when not writing. So here goes…
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Every year my wife and I choose a theme that best describes our intentions for that year. It’s not unlike a resolution, but in many ways it is also different. Let me explain. For 2014 we decided on ADVENTURE as our theme. Whatever we did throughout the year had a sense of adventure about it. Be it operations, resigning work, opening a new business, launching a new novel, or buying a new car. We simply committed ourselves to having fun and enjoying the decisions we made.

For 2015 our theme is GIVING. So how have we resorted to bringing about this benevolent value in our daily lives? On a personal level, we have committed ourselves to giving our time to others, whether they mean only to talk about their personal issues or just wish to vent. On a business front, I wanted to make myself available for community and outreach projects?

So, in light of our new theme, I began January by getting behind the Project Colour SA team. These 7 matric students travelled from Johannesburg to Cape Town in 3 TukTuks, raising funds for St Francis orphanage along the way. I arranged for them to do a pit stop at Polvo along the way and shared with others about what they are doing. Everything was a bit rushed at the end, but it was still the start of a year of giving.

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The team from Project Colour SA enjoying a decent cup of coffee at Polvo Coffee Bar in Knysna.

I believe 2015 has so much in store. So much beauty, so much passion. This year I want to add to that beauty and that passion. I encourage others to do the same. Push yourself a bit. Keep reading to see what else we get up to this year. For February we will be doing what currently seems like another first for South Africa.

Speciality Coffee Shop – Business and Point-of-Sale

Now let’s get down to business. At some point you have to face facts, and facts are something that is hard to come by. Polvo was always meant to be a well-oiled little machine that could run on its own at minimal expense. To do this, you need to know what works and what doesn’t work. And if something is tapping your finances, you need to put a stop to it.
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Most coffee shops like going into detail when it comes to their coffee consumption. A lot of time is spent calculating grams and wastage per shot. This is clever business, but something I decided early on not to worry about too much. By all means, understand the consequence of shot costs to your business. It is after all “black gold”, so keep an eye on your stock consumption. Just don’t lose any sleep over it.

I am a crime author by nature, so detail is my one vice. However, at Polvo, before anything else, coffee and service was going to be my focus, my detail. I did not want to scrutinize my end product to see if I could save a gram somewhere. Instead, we rather looked at curbing wastage behind the counter and in the kitchens. From grinding, to tamping, to milk usage, make sure all staff are on the same page with regards to minimizing unnecessary costs. Spend a couple days observing staff and the process before laying down the law.

There are a number things that could help curb losses:

POS
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Before you even look at anything else, you must have an army general at till point. Your choice of Point-of-Sale software could make or break your business. You need a system that is user-friendly, easy to regulate and militaristic in capturing data. We decided on the EasiPos system by AnkerData, by far the most uncomplicated system around. Not only does the program flag altered orders and regulate cash sales, but it also acts as a clocking system for staff. This system is a must for any start-up coffee shop. It will save you tons of troubles and simplify your business. It helps that AnkerData has a high after-sales service standard and interacts well with clients. They can be reached on: answers@ankerdata.com

FOOD WASTAGE
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If you do food, make sure you sell desserts or foods that do not go off at a rapid rate. For cakes and things, research the types of cakes that do not dry out quickly. And for meals, instead of offering plain chicken sandwiches, rather make it smoked chicken. Smoked and cured meats have a longer shelf life than raw-to-cooked meats. This does not entitle you to become a dodgy establishment with a reputation for selling stale cakes and inedible lunches. Essentially you want everything to stay fresh all the time but we know that will never happen, so safeguard the business by stocking items with maximum shelf life and ensure fast and effective stock rotation. For fresh stock, set up business relationships that will ensure the best produce at the best price at the best time.

SNAPSCAN

At some point you are bound to have staff with fingers in the till. It is inevitable, and not just in this wonderfully corrupt South Africa. It is a problem the world over. In order to minimize cash on the premises, we sought out a mobile payment method. We showed our customers how to download the SnapScan application on their phone, link it to their bank, scan our unique code, enter their code and pay. It is the easiest thing!. They come, they scan, they go. This system worked well for our jogging or cycling customer, who often found themselves without a wallet, but only with their phones.
snapscan-app
TIME WASTAGE

One of the worst forms of waste! As a business owner you have little to offer the business by hitting the till or drawing doodles on the morning newspaper. It made more sense for me to measure my minutes and my efforts. Every morning I forced myself to tend to physical shop related work before having my first cup. After a cuppa, we will meet for training and only then will I concentrate on mails and media updates. It has to become a routine. Remember: finger on the pulse.

Speciality Coffee Shop – Budgeting and cutting costs

stessing-over-moneyThis is where it gets really tricky. The aim to setting up a coffee shop should be by doing so on a limited budget. From the start, it has been my objective to find ways to cut costs where possible without it looking cheap. However, many things pop up after the budgeting process, and by then finances are limited. I also received the best cost saving advice when it was already too late. So pay attention and you could save some money.

Begin by writing down everything you might need. Go into detail here. Napkins, cloths, cleaning agents, an increase in phone calls prior to opening, etc. I felt assured I had planned for every eventuality, but I was proven wrong many times over. Make sure even the most unlikely expense is added.

One of your most expensive items will be the espresso machine and grinder. Contrary to what you might think, you do NOT have to buy these items brand new. Most start-ups have had early success with decent second-hand equipment. Just get an expert to inspect the machine before buying it. We bought a reliable old Brasilia, henceforth known as Old Faithful. To be different, the Nexus team did a nifty paint job on Old Faithful, and she is now ready to work.

Before
Before
After
After

1. Auctions

After you have made a list of what items are needed for your shop, ask yourself which of these would be adequate if purchased as a good-condition second-hand item. Then begin booking auction dates and attend a couple to get the gist of proceedings. Great bargains are to be had for the savvy entrepreneur. I will not recommend buying crockery or an espresso machine on auction, but things like tables, fridges, work stations, etc., could save you a lot of money. Sadly I missed the auctions, but this is sound advice which came my way later.

2. Google

Google for second-hand items on sites like Gumtree or similar classifieds. You are bound to find someone selling old restaurant or catering equipment. I even used Gumtree to get estimate prices on items, as not to be done in along the way. Also use Google to check specs and price comparisons before buying anything. Make ridiculous offers on items, come in with a low price and see what happens.

3. Less bulk buying

It is true that buying in bulk reduces cost per item. However to open your store, you do not need 5000 take-away cups and sugar packets. Pace your purchases. An as-and-when approach is a safer approach. Even with crockery, we bought tea cups, americano cups and cappuccino cups with a universal double well saucer. So we could start with about 30 cups of each and only 30 saucer to share until the demand increased.

4. DIY shop fitting

Yes, that is a DIY toilet paper dispenser. Though crude, it cost nothing to make and complimented our theme.
Yes, that is a DIY toilet paper dispenser. Though crude, it cost nothing to make and complimented our theme.

Unless you constantly rework the costs to setting up, shop fitting can and will be an outrageous expense that quickly gets out of hand. Best result: do it yourself. I don’t mean you should become a handy man overnight, but you will have to get involved a bit. I always wanted Polvo to have an earthy theme. My carpentry and plumbing skills are extremely limited, but I roped in the help of some more apt friends and together we managed to get everything done. Drilling the odd hole or painting a bit is not rocket science.

5. Wisdom and friends

Consult those who know better than you. Join and follow organizations, groups and institutions who can assist you with industry-related assistance. Make friends with experts, suppliers or like-minded businessmen and constantly ask them for advice. Soak it up. More exposure to the environment assist with budgeting like nothing else. The Coffee Mag always has some great articles about the coffee business and SCASA always has some advice floating around on their website, and those of its members. Hanno from Strictly Coffee was a never-ending source of advice and it was fun bouncing ideas around throughout the process.

Keep these 5 points in mind when starting out and keep a close eye over where your money goes.