Visvanathan, who cut his teeth in the energy sector, working in his first job as an assistant at Manny’s Service Station in Pietermaritzburg, which he later purchased, said he had always dreamed of owning his own business.
He matriculated at Woodlands Secondary in Pietermaritzburg and registered for a business studies degree that he eventually abandoned to take on his first job.
“I bought the service station 20 years ago and then Caltex gave me the opportunity to become a franchisee with them at the Bird Sanctuary site in Pietermaritzburg,” he said.
Visvanathan ran the two garages simultaneously before selling Manny’s about 13 years ago. He went on to purchase a Caltex franchise in Johannesburg and then four more in KwaZulu-Natal in Glenwood, Red Hill, New Germany and now Sherwood. There are 300 FreshStop stores countrywide.
Before opening earlier this month, the store was closed for three years as Visvanathan, worked behind the scenes, knocking the building down and completely rebuilding it.
The new store features in-house food brands, a range of fresh fruit and vegetables, groceries and a Pitstop Café for hot takeaway meals. There is also a large Grab * Go section where customers can get pastas, salads, wraps or sandwiches, and a FreshStop Diner, the first of its kind in KwaZulu-Natal, which has the look and feel of a modern American diner and offers free wi-fi and power points.
His six stores employ almost 300 people, 70 of whom work at his new outlet in Sherwood.
Visvanathan is adamant that as much as he helps people through job creation, in turn, he and his businesses rely on his staff for their service and support. He says his secret to success is focusing on customer service and ensuring his staff are skilled.
“We are in the people game so it is about the service we deliver. I think it’s my staff that make me,” he said.
Visvanathan is also the chairman of the FreshStop Franchise Forum.
“I am passionate about the industry and the brand. What you put into your business is what you get out of it.”
He plans to buy two more outlets this year.