The modern Matrix

Every geeks' favourite corner shop is getting a makeover, and it's more than skin deep. 

Nola Rae, left, and Jo-Ann Els, Matrix Warehouse. (Karolina Komendera)


With nearly 90 outlets, Matrix Warehouse is one of the largest privately-held IT retailers in South Africa. Thanks to its nationwide footprint, it has a brand that many shoppers recognise.

Now its stores, along with the red and black striped logo, are undergoing a refresh to a more contemporary, ‘industrial’ look and feel. This rebooted image moves away from the small independent computer store appearance, created in the early 2000s, and is more befitting of a national player seriously competing against today’s mass-market technology chains.

“We’re creating a fresh look to re-energise the brand and bring it to top of mind in the market, so that when someone thinks of IT components, Matrix is their first point of call,” says Nola Rae, director, Matrix Warehouse.

Close to home

Matrix began this journey by redeveloping the 1 050m² flagship store, situated below its head offices in Alberton. Rae says the aim was to create an interactive retail space where customers could touch, feel and experience the products through demo displays.

A market segmentation model has also been adopted. “We've created three focus areas. ‘Work’ is aimed at the person on the street and SMEs looking for productivity. ‘Play’ is PC gaming, which we believe is a big opportunity,” says Jo-Ann Els, director, Matrix Warehouse. The last area, ‘Tech’, is the ‘Tech Terminal’ – similar to Apple’s Genius Bar – where customers can bring in machines for repair and customisation and have technical queries answered.

The company is putting a lot of energy into assisting and supporting customers to provide a competitive differentiator.

“With retail being under pressure, pricing is important, but we’d rather differentiate ourselves by creating a sense of value for our clients, and post-sales support is a big part of that,” Els says.

Bricks or clicks

That advice-driven differentiation feeds into the online strategy too. “We've got a lot of online competition with regards to gaming, so we have to differentiate ourselves. Online shopping is a growth area, but we can't shoot ourselves in the foot, as we've still got bricks and mortar and have to maintain a balance between the virtual and physical stores.

Customers can come into a store and ask questions, which is more difficult in an online purchase situation. This will be especially important for PC gaming as new users get into this area. Client service and interaction is the biggest thing we have to focus on,” says Rae.

So how do you do that across a nationwide business? “There's buy-in from top management down, which creates a lot of momentum. We also have regular interaction and training sessions with our branch managers to ensure the service ethic remains within our stores,” adds Els.

A challenge remains, however; the franchise model that’s been responsible for much of the brand’s national spread has the potential to scupper the strategy.

Approximately 75% of Matrix stores are franchises, which makes brand-refresh and control over the customer experience more difficult. How will everything be rolled out to a standard level?

“With the store refresh, our plan is to get the majority of our own branches upgraded initially in order to get the costs pinned down and measure the impact on the business and sales. This will give us a clearer indication of ROI for the franchisees. We're currently undergoing a soft launch where signage is being updated so the new brand can be seen all over the country. From the beginning of the next financial year, the franchises will start rolling out the new look,” Els says.

Handing over the experience

Rae says Matrix supports the franchisees with training around general business principles and service levels. “The biggest thing we have to get over is that clients don't know, or want to know, if it’s a Matrix-owned branch or a franchise. We need to ensure that wherever clients shop, they have the same kind of experience.”

To achieve this, a franchise manager regularly visits all stores, and completes an evaluation in line with head office standards, with a period given to resolve any issues. “With the store refreshes, we're also introducing a merchandising team to assist with layouts of the stores. In our own new stores, we’ve worked closely with the vendors to create areas for them instore, and that’s either ‘paid for’ space, or demo stock, so it's beneficial to the store and to the vendor. We want to have the Matrix brand shout loudest, but focused areas and designated shelf space give the vendors value too. The vendors are very excited about the rollout because of the footprint it gives them in the business,” says Rae.

The vendor strategy has also been revamped. Intended to change the perception created by Matrix’ former strategy of bringing in cheaper ‘imported’ brands, the company is now refocusing on the high-end brands, such as Dell, HP, and MSI and Nvidia. “We want to supply to the broader market, but also
ensure the brands we carry all have the right reputation. Managing stock is also important, so we’ve streamlined to include a lot more locally sourced products. Our focus is now to lower import levels and source more from locally-driven distributors, which is better from an inventory perspective,” says Els.

“We're also developing Matrix brand products and have started stocking Matrix brand keyboards, mice and a desktop case and cabling,” she adds.

The company is hoping that the reboot of the Matrix brand symbolises a renewed confidence in the products it sells, a defined market segmentation, a renewed vendor strategy and generates competitive differentiation through customer service and experience.

* Natasha Meintjies contributed to this report

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