South African agricultural supplier Newquip is providing farmers with the innovative products and services they need to boost production and address the continent’s food security conundrum
Writer: Tom Wadlow
Project Manager: Lewis Bush
Nobody has ever swum the length of Lake Malawi. Stretching some 581 kilometres from north to south, it is one of the longest inland bodies of water in the world and borders or enters three different East African countries.
A monumental prospect, and one which is facing Martin Hobbs, General Manager of South African farming supplier Newquip.
“On February 20 I will be attempting to set what would be a world record,” he says. “It will mean I’m out of action for three months, but I am confident of being able to fully depart from the Company and leave it to my team.”
For Hobbs, such a prolonged and complete detachment from the business he grew up with as boy would have been inconceivable only a few years ago.
However, a change in approach to his own leadership style has seen his team flourish with added responsibility, responsibility that means he can break a world record in the knowledge that Newquip is in safe hands.
Indeed, the Company has come a long way since Hobbs’s father Stephen decided to go it alone in 1998 after emigrating to South Africa from the UK 15 years earlier.
Starting with just R60,000 (around $4,300) and a team of two, Newquip has exponentially grown into a one-stop-shop supplier of products for intensive farmers of poultry, dairy, pigs and sheep, backed up by an unrivalled aftersales service comprising Newquip’s 50 staff members and an additional
50 in joint ventures and investments.
“This is grounded in a philosophy my father imparted on me and the Company, which is that we’re dealing with live animals that are in the hands of the farmer,” says Hobbs.
“He said the only way you can imagine the service we need to provide is thinking about a person in a hospital reliant on equipment. Animals need feed, water, ventilation, and without that the farmer cannot look after them.”
An introduction to Newquip
Set up in 1998, Newquip’s mission today is the same as it was when it first started: ‘To deliver quality products to our customers, whilst seamlessly providing an efficient and effective customer experience.’
Such products cover four main segments – poultry, pig, dairy and sheep – and include solutions for feeding, drinking, flooring, temperature control, penning, ventilation, cooling, cages, heating, tankers, manure solutions and consumables to mention but a few.
To date, the firm has successfully supplied clients in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Swaziland, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya and Lesotho, as well as home nation South Africa.
Hobbs’s involvement as an employee began around 15 years ago, this having completed national service and acquired industry experience elsewhere.
Buoyant beyond the border
While South Africa represents a mature market with a number of sizable farming enterprises producing high volumes of food, Hobbs identifies business outside of Newquip’s home country as particularly promising.
The Company has seen recent growth of around 50 percent in business with farmers in nearby nations, operations that will be vital in ensuring the continent is able to produce enough food to provide for rapidly rising populations.
“We deal with companies from Nigeria all the way down Africa and have found that a few large producers have everything at their disposal and massive potential to grow even further,” says Hobbs. “It is slightly different in South Africa, where more companies are operating on large scales with financial backing.
“Food security around the world is huge issue, and people are looking to Africa to increase its food production. Our volumes into countries outside of South Africa are showing promise, and we want to continue contributing. If you have a bit of finance, knowledge in this field or someone to mentor you, and go in with some guts, you can be successful.”
It is this geographic expansion that Hobbs is prioritising in the coming years, largely because Newquip’s product portfolio is already substantial enough to cover all customer bases and needs.
The Company is looking to increase business or enter for the first time into several markets, including Angola, Uganda, Rwanda, the DRC, Kenya and Tanzania, with deals already in place in some cases.
Newquip has been able to extend significantly out of South Africa thanks to not only its comprehensive product range, but also the customer service surrounding it.
For Hobbs it is a key differentiator. “As well as offering the best equipment possible at a cost-effective price, we listen to our clients to find out what they are looking for,” he explains. “We recently took 14 of our farmers over to an agricultural show in Germany and let them walk around and see what innovations and products would meet their needs.
“Another important thing we do is have an extensive amount of spare parts in stock, meaning our turnaround time for sending replacements is lower than our competitors. This is then backed up by our technical knowhow.”
This attention to detail has resulted in swathes of successfully completed, large scale expansion projects for clients.
Among its recent examples is a large-scale development for Butt Farming, based in Kamburg, which has seen its 2,000-capacity sow unit expand to 3,000. This also involved building a sow-friendly, crate-free environment as well as state-of-the-art weaner and grower facilities.
Other recent work in South Africa includes multiple sheep feedlots installations ranging from 200 to 2,000 sheep in the Free State and Karoo, and an 180,000 commercial layer upgrade at Wilco in the North West. Newquip also just completed a new hatchery development in Parys for Hy-Line, installing 30 single stage setters and 12 hatchers, giving a capacity of 648,000 day old chicks per week, of which around 260,000 are saleable females.
Central to Newquip’s ability to provision its clients is a formidable supplier base rooted in Europe.
The Company relies on a network of around 50 suppliers, with around half of its shipments coming from the Netherlands and the rest spread between the likes of Italy, France, Spain, the UK, Germany and USA.
This supply chain operation is a well-oiled machine, built up over time and based on personal relationships that have been subject to rigorous scrutiny.
Hobbs explains: “Having good suppliers is crucial. We only partner with genuine manufacturers whose facilities we’ve walked around and checked out – this is so important as we can get direct answers and have a sense of visibility.
“We look at how products are made, how quality control is carried out, how products are distributed and how records are kept. It is about making sure we have strong, positive relations with both commercial and technical people at these companies.”
Transformed by technology
Both Newquip and its suppliers are having to innovate and understand increasingly complex, technology-driven solutions.
As farmers across Africa (South Africa especially) increase the scale of their production, the need for digital solutions to automate and analyse operations has grown with it. For Hobbs and Newquip therefore, it is vital the Company stays abreast of the latest developments.
“The smartphone has changed farming drastically,” Hobbs says. “Farmers want the latest apps to control, for example, their barns and irrigation systems etc., and these are becoming more and more necessary as farms become bigger.
“This monitoring and operational software I used to think was a gimmick, which was a common view some years ago. However, when used properly and data analysed thoroughly, these tools really do help boost productivity.
“We’ve got to be on top of our game, as have our suppliers who also have 24-hour help desks if we encounter any problems we can’t resolve or attend to timeously.”
This in turn has impacted Newquip’s own customer service team, who now are able to carry out complex installations involving software as well as physical products.
Armed with the technology, knowledge and responsibility needed to take the business to the next level, Hobbs has reaped tremendous benefit from granting more freedom for his team to implement ideas and lead from the front.
Indeed, with his gargantuan swim on the horizon, the General Manager is confident of both himself and the business breaking new ground in the coming year.
He concludes: “I’d like to see us open up another branch in South Africa, building on the one we recently opened in Cape Town. I’d also like to raise the flag with an office in another country and use it as a proper springboard into Africa.”