Taking names and going places
For almost a year, Bogdans Bulk Transport has been using Iveco trucks in its fleet. We caught up with the powers-that-be to get their feedback. CLAIRE RENCKEN reports.
Bogdans Bulk Transport is one of the largest bulk operators in the cement industry, specialising in the transportation of cementitious dry bulk products. Owner of the company, Bogdan Kazmierczak, arrived in South Africa from Poland in 1982 and founded Bogdans Bulk Transport 17 years ago. By trade, he is a qualified diesel mechanic and professional driver. This experience, coupled with his tenacious nature, has made him the successful businessman he is today.
Kazmierczak has a reputation in the industry for being “very demanding” – something he readily admits to and is proud of. That is why it was a huge feather in Iveco’s cap, when he decided last year to convert his fleet of UD trucks to a complement of 100 Iveco Stralis 430 trucks. (As mentioned previously in FOCUS, the Stralis Hi-Way, which South Africans can look forward to seeing locally in the not too distant future, was declared the extra-heavy truck of the year 2013, at the recent IAA show for commercial vehicles in Hannover.)
Managing director of Iveco Southern Africa, Bob Lowden, who came to South Africa from the United Kingdom (UK) just over a year ago, is the first to acknowledge the enormity of Kazmierczak’s decision to change to Iveco: “It’s not easy to convince a fleet owner to stick his neck out and totally change to a new brand, especially when you’re not a local!” he says.
“I had to personally convince Bogdan that the move would be a sound business decision,” he relates. “His is a fast-paced business and he can’t afford vehicle down-time. So we had to prove to him, with hard facts and tangible evidence, that our trucks are the way forward. Big decisions such as these are non-emotional nowadays. It’s not purely about relationships and loyalty anymore, but about facts, performance and, of course, the ‘bottom line’. Not that I’m saying relationships aren’t important; of course they are.”
The third vital component in this venture is Truck Centre – an independent Iveco dealership – with Craig Jordan at the helm. Truck Centre is what Lowden likes to call “an Iveco implant” fully integrated into the Bogdans operation. Jordan and his team provide onsite servicing, repairs and maintenance in a fully equipped workshop, provided by Kazmierczak.
“We have Truck Centre mechanics and parts worth about R2 million on site. We endeavour to ensure minimal down-time and optimal efficiency and productivity,” explains Jordan.
“One of the key functions of our after- sales package is driver training. Two aspects of driver training are carried out: first is preventative theatrical training, followed by practical on-road training to achieve fuel efficiency and productivity.”
Which brings us to the key ingredient in this recipe; unbeatable fuel consumption. Jordan notes: “The fuel consumption on the Iveco Stralis 430 is, at this stage, second to none, providing Bogdans with a huge cost saving.” In an environment where about 35 percent of a transport company’s operating costs go to fuel, that’s no mean feat.
Jordan’s first trucking experience, back in 1994, was with Iveco and that’s where his loyalty has stayed. His passion for Iveco trucks and the industry is contagious. “When I first joined Iveco, it was in the corporate environment, which I soon realised wasn’t for me,” he reveals. “So in 1999, along with a few business partners, Truck Centre was founded and Iveco and I have enjoyed 14 years of mutual support. I have seen a few MDs come and go, but Lowden is the real deal. With him in charge, I think these are going to be very exciting times for Iveco. We now have the manufacturer backing and support in terms of service delivery and customer satisfaction, and particularly in after-sales support, which we need to keep clients such as Bogdans happy.”
And, if Iveco’s drastically improved performance over the last year is anything to go by, this is just the beginning. Already, there was an almost 40 percent improvement at the end of last year, on the previous year’s sales volumes. And the company has climbed up from 15th position in the extra heavy sector, to a top ten place at the end of January with a strong February expected.
However, Lowden is quick to add that he knows there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly on the parts and service side of things. To that end, a new service director has been appointed from March 1.
“But changing people’s perceptions of a reputation takes time; it is a process,” Lowden believes. “At one point, after Iveco was absent at the last Johannesburg International Motor Show (JIMS), there was even speculation about whether we were pulling out of South Africa.” I have a feeling Iveco will be making quite a statement to the contrary at JIMS this year.
Strategically going forward, Jordan aims to secure more business such as the Bogdans account for Truck Centre. “It is a long-term investment on the client’s part, with a five-year commitment. It also alleviates the pressure at our head office in Wadeville, as we provide most of the service for these fleets onsite,” he explains. “As a smaller, private company, we are better positioned to offer a more tailor-made transport solution to fleet customers, as we can be a bit more flexible.”
Lowden is just as delighted about the partnership. He says: “Business such as this is exactly what we need in order to significantly improve our sales volumes. It is definitely part of our plans for 2013 to ‘unearth’ a few more Bogdans!”
When Lowden arrived in South Africa, Iveco definitely did not have the market-share it deserves. “But, it also didn’t have the right kind of service offering for fleet customers,” he contends. “I have implemented some big changes – significantly beefing up the after-sales and parts divisions, and also in terms of hiring the right staff – thereby improving our entire network. Over 70 percent of my first-line management team has been replaced. We needed forward-thinking people in charge, who are not afraid of change.”
He immediately recognised the need for Iveco to break into the market of key fleets in this country. “In the UK, fleets dominate with 60 percent of the extra-heavy commercial vehicle business. The service that Truck Centre is providing to Bogdans with its onsite ‘mini dealer’ is pretty much a standard fleet requirement,” he says.
Lowden has unique insight into what fleet customers need – his father was a transport operator, so he grew up seeing the customer’s perspective. He then gained a wealth of experience in the UK in terms of manufacturer and dealer experience. “In the UK, there is a huge emphasis on service delivery and after-sales support,” he says. “I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the South African market now has similar expectations. I know what needs to be done to get Iveco performing at the right level,” he adds.
Not surprisingly, it would seem that our beautiful country has crept into Lowden’s heart in the interim. “I love being here – I feel at home. It’s a beautiful place. I don’t want to go home and as long as I keep improving Iveco’s sales volumes and brand image, I am sure I won’t have to!”
So it is safe to say this has been a win-win situation for both Truck Centre and Iveco. But what does Kazmierczak have to say? He is a man of few words, but thus far, he has only good things to say about his new Iveco trucks. “The fuel consumption is very good, the product is good, and the trucks are performing very well to date. Some are on 100 000 km already. Altogether, we’ve done about six million kilometres on our Iveco trucks, without any major breakdowns. Naturally, there has been routine maintenance along the way, but that’s to be expected.” He adds: “I don’t like empty promises, but Iveco and Truck Centre are doing a good job. They resolve problems quickly because of good communication.”
He has also been impressed by the improved driver comfort that the Iveco cabs are providing. “My drivers don’t get tired; the cabs are bigger, there’s more air, all of which leads to better productivity,” he notes.
When asked about his plans for the company going forward, Kazmierczak holds his cards close to his chest. “It all depends on the economy. Things are quiet at the moment, but I’m still confident that we have a boom to look forward to. I have already ordered extra tanker equipment.” That in itself speaks volumes – the types of tankers that Bogdans uses are highly specialised and very costly, so for Kazmierczak to make this investment, the future must be looking bright.
He has also purchased an additional yard – another indication that growth is expected. “But we’ll talk about that next time,” he says smiling. “What I can tell you, is that last November we reached a million kilometres in a month, which was a very exciting first for us.”
A prospect that both Jordan and Kazmierczak are very optimistic about, is the expected expansion of the industry into African countries. “We all know Africa holds a wealth of opportunities in terms of developing transport networks and it is, at this stage, the least saturated market. Truck Centre has already begun operations in Zambia,” enthuses Jordan.
“Bogdans has not yet ventured outside the South African borders, but we are looking at opportunities in Botswana and Namibia at the moment,” Kazmierczak reveals. “Our industry is a complicated and challenging one, but also very exciting. As smaller operators we need to make sure we stay in the game – we need that edge to keep us competing against the big guys.”
It looks like this dynamic trio collectively has that edge. We will be watching them closely to see what the future holds.