In the bustling world of retail and supply chains, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) often find themselves struggling to compete with larger corporations. This is where Voluntary Buying Groups (VBGs) come into play. If you’re curious about what a Voluntary Buying Group is in South Africa, you’re in the right place! At Elite Star Trading (EST) we have a wealth of experience in the VBG trading arena. In this article, we’ll delve into the mechanics of Voluntary Buying Groups, their benefits for retailers and suppliers, and how they make money. By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of whether joining a VBG is worth it for your business.

What is a Voluntary Buying Group?


Definition and Overview

A Voluntary Buying Group, often abbreviated as VBG, is a collective of independent retailers who come together to pool their purchasing power. These groups aim to secure better deals and discounts from suppliers, which individual retailers might struggle to achieve on their own. In South Africa, VBGs have become a lifeline for many SMEs, helping them stay competitive in a market dominated by retail giants.

The South African Context

South Africa’s retail landscape is diverse and dynamic, characterised by both bustling urban centres and remote rural areas. VBGs cater to a wide range of businesses, from grocery stores to hardware shops, providing them with the leverage needed to negotiate better prices and terms with suppliers.

The Mechanics of Voluntary Buying Groups

How Do VBGs Operate?

VBGs operate on the principle of collective bargaining. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how they typically function:

  • Membership: Independent retailers join a VBG, agreeing to abide by its rules and regulations.
  • Negotiation: The VBG negotiates with suppliers on behalf of its members, leveraging the combined buying power to secure better deals.
  • Distribution: Once deals are secured, products are distributed to the member retailers, often at a lower cost than if they had purchased individually.
  • Support: VBGs often provide additional support to their members, such as marketing assistance, training, and logistical help.

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Membership Benefits

Joining a VBG offers several benefits, including:

  • Cost Savings: Members can purchase products at lower prices, boosting their profit margins.
  • Competitive Edge: Access to better deals allows smaller retailers to compete with larger chains.
  • Shared Knowledge: VBGs foster a community where members can share best practices and industry insights.

Are Voluntary Buying Groups Worth It?

For Retailers


  • Improved Margins: By buying in bulk, retailers can significantly reduce their costs.
  • Negotiation Power: Collective bargaining power often results in better deals than individual negotiations.
  • Community Support: Being part of a VBG provides a support network of like-minded businesses.


  • Membership Fees: Joining a VBG usually requires paying a membership fee, which can be a barrier for some small businesses.
  • Compliance: Members must adhere to the group’s rules and purchasing agreements, which can sometimes limit flexibility.

For Suppliers


  • Increased Sales Volume: Suppliers benefit from large, consistent orders from VBGs.
  • Simplified Sales Process: Dealing with a single entity (the VBG) simplifies the sales and negotiation process.
  • Market Penetration: Working with VBGs can help suppliers reach smaller retailers they might otherwise overlook.


  • Price Pressure: Suppliers might face pressure to offer lower prices, impacting their profit margins.
  • Dependence: Relying heavily on VBGs for sales can create dependency, which might be risky if the group disbands.

    How Do Voluntary Buying Groups Make Money?

    Membership Fees

    One of the primary revenue streams for VBGs is membership fees. Retailers pay to join the group, and these fees are used to cover administrative costs and fund group activities. The fee structure can vary widely, with some groups charging a flat annual fee and others basing fees on the size or sales volume of the member businesses.


    Rebates and Discounts

    VBGs often negotiate rebates and discounts with suppliers. While the primary goal is to pass savings on to members, the group itself may retain a portion of these rebates to fund its operations. This dual benefit ensures that the VBG remains financially sustainable while providing value to its members.

    Marketing and Promotional Fees

    In addition to membership fees, VBGs may charge suppliers marketing and promotional fees. These fees cover the cost of promoting the suppliers’ products within the group, organising events, and creating marketing material. This creates a win-win situation where suppliers gain exposure and VBGs generate additional revenue.

    Value-Added Services

    Some VBGs offer value-added services to their members, such as training programs, consultancy services, and logistical support. These services are often provided at an additional cost, generating revenue for the group while enhancing the value proposition for members.

    A list of key VBGs in South Africa:

    FAQs – Voluntary Buying Groups

    Q: What is a Voluntary Buying Group in South Africa?

    A: Voluntary Buying Group in South Africa is a collective of independent retailers who pool their purchasing power to negotiate better deals with suppliers, thereby reducing costs and increasing competitiveness.

    Q: Are Voluntary Buying Groups worth it for small retailers?

    A: Absolutely! Small retailers can benefit from lower prices, improved margins, and access to a supportive community. However, they should consider the membership fees and any compliance requirements.

    Q: How do VBGs make money?

    A: VBGs make money through membership fees, retaining a portion of supplier rebates and discounts, charging marketing and promotional fees, and offering value-added services.


    Voluntary Buying Groups in South Africa provide a powerful platform for independent retailers to boost their buying power, secure better deals, and remain competitive. For suppliers, VBGs offer a streamlined sales process and access to a broader market. While there are costs associated with joining a VBG, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

    If you’re a small retailer or supplier in South Africa, joining a Voluntary Buying Group could be a game-changer for your business. It’s all about leveraging collective power to create a win-win situation for everyone involved. So, why not give it a shot and see how it can transform your business?

    To find out more visit our website https://estafrica.co.za/ or contact us info@estafrica.co.za +27 011 383 1900.