On the Frontline of market research: Port Elizabeth market research company changes hands and continues to grow

BY GRAEME LUND - AUGUST 20, 2015

All big things start from small beginnings and that, in a nut shell, is the story of Frontline Market Research.  Founder, Kevin Abraham, started with a back pack and a laptop and worked from coffee shops before expanding into his garage and then into a house and now, with over 40 permanent staff, into an office block or two.

Steve Johnson, Managing Director, says, “This company was created from a culture of work hard and play hard. We knew what it was to struggle and learn on the job to get the results our clients wanted. This, coupled with passion and a bit of luck, saw the company grow locally and then expanding rapidly into the rest of Africa.

“The reason why we do well in Africa is because we studied and understood the culture and nature of this unique continent. We focused on getting quality data in this emerging market where not many others wanted to be or knew how to work and this has turned into our unique selling point”.

Today Frontline Market Research functions in such diverse countries as Burkina Faso, Benin, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Ethiopia and they even venture into counties that are considered dangerous such as Sudan, Cameroon and the DRC. Vietnam and Cambodia, both South East Asian countries have also received their attention.

Kevin recently sold the majority of his shareholding to his management team.  He has worked very hard and now wants to play, although he still continues to offer guidance and mentorship, but has stepped out of the day to day management.

The new shareholders are Steve Johnson, Janine Jansen van Rensburg, Elmari Campher and Sean Barnes. Steve and Janine bring over 10 years each of experience working at Frontline Market Research and Elmari has an extensive research background. Sean sits on the board of directors of numerous companies where his financial knowledge is put to good use.

We asked Steve if the new management team will be making any changes and he replied, “Kevin firmly believed that ethics are the key to the success of any business. One of his favourite adages was that anything is possible in Africa. So yes, Kevin’s legacy will live on and, we, as the new management team, will add our flavour as well. Change is inevitable, especially in Africa, and we embrace it internally and together with our clients. Change and ethics are what has made Frontline successful and we will follow through with this formula”.

Frontline Market Research’s client base reads like the Fortune 500 list of top companies and includes SABMiller, Coca-Cola and all their bottlers, Distell, Mondelez, Phillip Morris, British American Tobacco, Media 24, Simba, Diageo, MTN and Red Bull as well as such prestigious organisations as the  World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Africa is clearly seen as a massive growth market for many companies but it remains largely unknown when it comes to market intelligence.

“Our experience in Africa is vast and we understand its culture and the way its heart beats. We specialise in the hard to reach places and secure accurate and substantial market intelligence which gives our clients just the type of information they need to penetrate or expand into these areas”, explains Steve.

This market penetration and expansion is expedited by the quality of the information that Frontline Market Research offers as well as the added services of mapping, analysis and project management.   Research can include full retail audits, mystery shopping and market sizing as well as determining the most efficient way to get the company’s products to these markets.

“With the new team and a new purpose and drive, the sky is the limit. We, like our clients, believe that there is massive opportunity in Africa and we need to plan very carefully where and how we grow. Our goal in five years is to have such a well-oiled research machine that we are able to give a continuous and incredibly rich data flow across at least 30 countries in Africa including South Africa”, concludes Steve.