From motor man to tractor man!
One of South Africa’s most well-known motor men is now cutting his teeth in the tractor game. Piet Rademeyer, the man who brought the Land Rover brand to South Africa many years ago, is now heading up a new company called Vukani Agri
The tractor business is very, very different from the automotive game. No one really gives a hoot what a tractor looks like, for instance. The business transaction is also completely different – farmers never buy a tractor using hire purchase.
It’s clear, however, that Piet Rademeyer, chief executive officer of Vukani Agri (vukani means “wake up” in isiXhosa), is in his element – because, after all, he loves things with wheels. He also loves learning and, as a newcomer to the world of tractors, he’s learning each and every day.
He also doesn’t like the idea of being retired. “I’ve tried retirement three times, and it just doesn’t work for me,” he notes with a chuckle. “As such, I am looking forward to building a new business, which was exactly what I did with Land Rover. It’s actually about more than establishing and building a business; this is also about building a culture,” he observes.
While he is not new to the concept of building a new business and a new culture, Rademeyer concedes that the tractor game is quite unique. “This business is so different to the automotive game,” he reveals. “We obviously want to achieve similar success to that of the Land Rover brand … but it’s not going to be a walk in the park.”
Naturally, when Rademeyer introduced the Land Rover brand to South Africans, that was a tall ask, too – but he grew the business from an annual volume of six to 4 235 units! So, how is he planning to follow suit in the tractor business? While there are many differences to the automotive sector, there are some common traits, too – and Rademeyer will continue to apply the lessons he learnt during his stint with Land Rover.
First and foremost, the quality of the product is vital. “You will never succeed if you sell rubbish. As such, I wanted to ensure that I was selling a product that epitomised quality. It was also important to me that the manufacturer had a strong focus on research and development,” Rademeyer explains.
When he was offered the opportunity to sell Farmtrac tractors, he immediately packed his bags and headed for India, where the tractors are produced. “They are made by a company called Escorts Agri Machinery, which is the third-largest tractor, accessories and implements manufacturer in India.
“The company has already enjoyed considerable success on this continent; it has sold 1 430 tractors in Tanzania, and is looking at expanding to Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The company has sold 700 units in Burkina Faso, 400 in Madagascar, 1 000 in Nigeria and approximately 600 to South African farmers to date. So, I knew that it had a solid track record – but I still needed to go there to see the business first-hand.”
Rademeyer was impressed with what he saw. “To be perfectly frank, I was not expecting anything particularly remarkable, but I was really impressed! The company’s quality control is exemplary. In between every stage of the tractor’s assembly in the factory, there is a quality station, ensuring that every product leaves the factory in accordance with stipulated quality levels.
“The factory does not just have impressive facilities, but also specialised tractors such as a Porsche-designed model and a tractor called the ‘Queen’, which has been designed specifically for women!” Rademeyer reveals.
Another facet of Escorts Agri Machinery’s business that impressed Rademeyer was the testing laboratories. “These labs test tractors for any defaults and examine the design of every product with a fine-tooth comb. In total, the tractors undergo a 48-hour continuous driving test, as well as several other meticulous quality measures. These combine to create an incredibly high standard of quality,” he notes.
Furthermore, he was delighted to learn that the company has a strong focus on research and development. “This means that future products will be both innovative and exciting,” he comments.
And so the deal was done. Rademeyer signed on the dotted line and committed to making Farmtrac tractors a household name in South Africa. The first step was selecting an appropriate product range.
“We have a wide range of new products, which includes the Farmtrac 6050 (37 kW), 6060 (45 kW) and 6075 (56 kW). We are launching the 6075 PRO at Nampo and 60 and 67 kW units will follow. The Heritage Series tractors have arrived in South Africa and we are offering these at very special launch prices. There is also an exciting and specialised new product in the works, which is going to be an orchard-based product designed specifically for the wine farmers and fruit growers in South Africa,” Rademeyer reveals.
Next up was much discussion around pricing. “I am delighted to report that our products, despite being of a high quality level, are up to 40-percent cheaper than some of the rival products. So, we are really competitive in the local market.”
Now Rademeyer is establishing a dealer network. “We want to build a dedicated dealer network across the country. Three dealers have already been appointed, with a target of eight more in the near future and a final target of 38. These will be strategically placed around the country to provide customers with comprehensive coverage, no matter where they may be,” he explains.
He is determined to offer exceptional after-sales service via the dealer network. “The salesman sells the first vehicle, but it is the technical guys who will bring in the repeat business. As such, we are investing heavily in after-sales service and technical support by bringing out two service engineers from India, who will train a further 36 tractor technicians. This will equip them with all the knowledge and expertise that they need in order to keep the fleets of tractors running in optimum condition,” Rademeyer asserts.
Of course, he knows that there will be challenges along the way. “Financing is one of the big challenges,” he says. “Financing these tractors is completely different from financing a car, for example. It’s very difficult for farmers to get finance. Tractors are generally sold through co-ops and are not financed individually. Typically, it is a cash deal; 50 percent is paid up front and the balance is paid after the harvest,” Rademeyer comments.
Going forward, he is also thinking of opening a small local manufacturing plant. “Currently there is no duty on the importation of tractors into South Africa and so, without some import protection from the government, it is very hard to build them more cheaply in South Africa. This could change, however. If it does, the plant could certainly become a reality.
“In addition to establishing a tractor assembly facility, we would also like to set up a training centre for technicians, engineers, assembly managers and workers. A parts and component localisation programme would obviously follow. We would like to assist with the training and development of farmers,” Rademeyer says.
Whatever the future holds, Rademeyer says he wants to help South African farmers and provide them with access to superb products backed up by world-class after-sales support. “Nurturing agriculture is vital to the future success of South Africa and we are very excited and proud to be appointed as importer and distributor for such a well-established brand,” he concludes.