The Right Move
Writer: Phoebe Calver
Project Manager: Eddie Clinton
In 2006, South Africa’s shipping and logistics industry was in need of a dedicated, specialised freight management Company which would specifically focus on commercial imports and exports, but with a personalised approach; a need which has been filled by Elite Clearing and Forwarding’s fresh approach and a delivery of service built upon solid, long-term relationships.
The requirement of a personalised service has been sorely lacking, with the larger companies in the sector offering a one-size-fits-all solution, bringing about inefficiencies in the resolutions the companies were providing as industries and even individual companies needs differs.
“When I started my career in this industry in 1995, when I thought about shipping, in my mind I saw as a wooden crate,” explains Ben Van Rensburg, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Elite Clearing and Forwarding. “After a few years I came to the realisation that the most important factor in the shipping industry is not about the cargo or the equipment, but the people behind the scenes that moves the cargo.
“At the end of the day it is the person on the end of the phone that delivers the service clients require, tailoring the solutions specifically for each client. We go to extra lengths to determine their needs in regards to time, cost and risk, finding the perfect balance between these three factors.”
The combination of the Company’s roots as a family-owned business, with the outside ownership of a minority share holding, allows for a personal approach that is backed up by solid capital on both imports and exports.
“We see ourselves as a freight management company, therefore our main focus in all aspects of business is to manage the clients’ freight movement in an efficient effective manner,” continues Van Rensburg. “Therefore the client is able to focus on what they do best without worrying about stock levels, logistical issues, or the risk involved in getting their cargo into the country or exporting to another country.”
The personalised approach
Elite has grown exponentially in both physical size and its approach to business since it came to fruition in 2006, relying on the expertise, skills and talent of its employees and management team to provide the best possible service.
“As the Company began to mature, we realised the need for dedicated systems to support our skill-set,” Van Rensburg adds. “The systems we employed include software, procedures and structures; however, we have always been particularly careful to keep the personalised touch, making sure the client feels like they are speaking to a human being who knows exactly what they are talking about.
“We had to strike the right balance for our clients and Elite, ensuring the proper procedures are in place which will enable us to move the right cargo in the most efficient manner, but also making sure that our clients feels that they are speaking to a friend that moves their cargo.”
Relying heavily on the people within the Company, and investing in their personal growth is something Elite strongly believes in, and has played a big role in its success during the past 10 years. A lot of time and effort goes into training and mentoring employees, focusing on every aspect ranging from basic communication to deployable life-skills.
“We would definitely define ourselves as a relationship-based Company, and over the years we have become friends with our key account clients and management teams, meaning there is always open communication regarding any problems, changes, challenges or issues,” describes Van Rensburg. “It is this approach that has enabled us to grow as our clients have grown, as well as securing new clients through both word of mouth and our own continuous marketing.”
Information technology investment
These efforts have cumulated in Elite’s ability to open a branch in Cape Town and Durban in the last three years, which is no mean feat when taking into account the economic downturn which has plagued South Africa during this period.
“In our Cape Town branch we are now in the process of employing more people and our operations - although centralised - are also distributed throughout South Africa,” affirms Van Rensburg. “We have seen a migration in corporate businesses, relocating their head offices and decision-making processes to the Western Cape and believe that this is a key area for our future growth.
“Our plan for 2017 is to focus more on the Cape Town branch which we believe will grow the Company’s already existing market share in this area. The movement of a top manager as well as the employment of several new operational and sales people in this branch means that they will be able to lead this focus as we go through the year.”
In order to facilitate these massive Company changes, Elite has also needed to continuously evolve its software. Having invested heavily in software and computerised systems, in recent times it has become one of the first freight forwarding companies in Africa to be completely paperless.
“In doing this, we have enabled ourselves to distribute our operations throughout the country without losing any efficiencies,” explains Van Rensburg. “It means that all of our employees work on the same mainframe server, simplifying the process; with information technology investment being at the forefront of what we do. This has been a big step for us and allows our operation team to be distributed nationally.”
Positive growth trend
It is hard to ignore the difficult economic times that South Africa has been facing in recent years, with a recent report emerging showing a negative growth trend for the past three years consecutively. Elite has stood strong and bucked the trend many others in its industry experienced, showing excellent growth year-on-year, around 20 percent a year over the past three years.
Van Rensburg describes: “We believe we have attained such success in these testing and difficult times through our people and their continued focus to ensure that our service isn’t just about making money, but also the needs of the person at the end of the phone.”
Moving forward and in order to maintain its success rate, the main aspect of the market that Elite is closely monitoring is the rand rate of exchange, which is also linked to the political situation in South Africa, which has a large impact on its clients both on the import and export side.
“We believe that at current currency levels there is a good balance at present between the needs of the export market and the importers of South Africa, but this is something that we are monitoring closely as it is influenced by both global factors as well as the current economic situation in South Africa,” adds Van Rensburg. “At present, it looks like the market is undeterred by the current political upheaval we are experiencing, which potentially is related to the fact that the rest of the western world is facing similar upheavals on the political front.”
A defining attribute of the Company is its focus on people, ensuring that the business not only negotiates challenging economic times, but that it can continue to move forward in the process.
Van Rensburg concludes: “Our focus is to make sure that our clients continue to be successful.If we manage to achieve that, they will keep on coming back and using our service as clients easily picks up whether you are interested in helping them to achieve success. But most importantly, it starts with your staff. When they feel valued appreciated, it spill over in their communication and service delivery with our clients.”
“Continuing with this focus over the coming years, I believe that we will see the Company grow exponentially, not only in market share and profitability, but also customer and employee satisfaction, helping us to remain at the top in the industry when it comes to client satisfaction and loyalty.”