Going the Extra Mile
Writer: Phoebe Calver
Project Manager: Joshua Mann
Viking Crop Protection has seen its annual turnover triple in the past six years; an increase which has set it apart from the rest of the world of agrochemical distribution.
The Company has differentiated itself from competitors in the field by going the extra mile for its customers; alongside sourcing products from both local and multinational suppliers for distribution to farmers, Viking offers its farmers the best advice and risk management.
Formed in 1992, the Company venture began with a small collection of sales representatives which had previously worked for Schering Plough. “These guys started this small company, Viking Marketing, absolutely from scratch. As a small group they knew each other very well and had to trust and depend on each other to make it work. That resulted in a small but strong group who laid the foundation and culture for the successful Company that Viking Marketing is today,” comments Ockie Olivier, Managing Director at Viking Crop Protection.
As a self-owned Company with a central management and warehouse which sells products through a network of agents, it has no outside shareholders.
“These agents are independent entities who are situated throughout our service area namely the Northern Cape, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Namibia. The agents have their own local depots from which they can deliver products to farms in those areas,” explains Olivier. “Viking’s products are delivered to its agents’ depots as consignment stock, where the agents receive expert advice from Viking technical staff to pass on to clients when selling the products. The agent then earns a commission on the successful sales of products to farmers.”
Since its humble beginnings, Viking demonstrated steady growth until 2010 when it implemented a new strategy which resulted in many big clients bringing business to the Company. The Company set itself apart from its competitors by supplying advice, risk management solutions, and expertise surrounding its product offering. Differentiating itself in that way has made Viking what it is today, one of the leading distributors in the country with a very strong company image within the industry.
The Company places a particularly high premium on the people within it; since its formation as a small group of people, the Company has always shown respect for everyone’s contributions. Viking’s decision to remain independent with no outside shareholders means that it is able to remain free from the influence of outside decision making and flexible across its operations.
Despite growing vastly and rapidly though, it has retained its core team spirit. One of the biggest contributing factors to the success of Viking is the strong leadership and management team, who make continuous efforts to tap into group intelligence without losing individual initiative.
Olivier adds: “The fact that everyone is part of one group and working under one umbrella enables management to align different departments within Viking, with the central goals of the Company.”
Efforts within the Company are constantly placed on training and mentoring its field personnel, which enables them to successfully manage the many risks involved in crop protection. However, its focus is not only placed on crop protection but also on market access issues and sustainability of production.
To facilitate this adherence to the most pressing of industry trends, the Company is also focusing on the building and maintenance of long-lasting business relationships with clients.
“The Group employs very knowledgeable agriculturists locally,” explains Olivier. “Crop protection products are recommended in such a way to reduce the possibility of selection pressure that can lead to resistance of target pests. Environmental and people safety is taken into account with all the planned crop protection strategies of the Company.”
Viking prides itself on the wide product range that it can provide its clients with, however, the Company is aware that is true for all distribution companies of its type, and therefore, a niche is required.
“We are most knowledgeable in the continuous process to ensure compliance to MRLs (Maximum Residue Limits) on harvested products. We believe in sustainable crop protection methodologies and we use products from known manufacturers of agrochemicals that are backed by thorough research and testing. We also instil continuous improvement of business processes by measuring the right things,” Olivier adds.
Ahead of the curve
With the decrease in smaller farmers and the emergence of so called ‘mega-farmers’, it has become increasingly important to raise the bar in professionalism in order to be able to service them during their growth.
Olivier explains: “Viking adopted a definite strategy to work with these bigger clients and to get our own structures in place to serve them adequately. They require key account management principles starting on the technical side but including relationship-building between various stakeholders.”
With a primary focus on the distribution and service domains – as opposed to manufacturing – the need for warehouses and depots in the areas it works out of, as well as various transport facilities, are pivotal in order to run successfully.
“Our critical points are the interfaces of our technical people and our agents with the clients in the delivering of our expert service,” Olivier affirms. “We need to build relationships with clients in order to build trust with them. Our presentation of technical knowledge, the quality of spray programmes and in-time delivery is helping us to achieve this.”
Viking is working hard to maintain its high regard within the industry at present; not only being seen as an ethical Company built on good values and good corporate governance, but also in boasting one of the strongest central management structures in the industry with a host of technical expertise at its disposal.
“Viking personnel have the most expertise in the field of residues, maximum residue levels and market access issues in the country. Clients know that they are in good hands and that brings a lot of trust between the parties. Some of the biggest farmers in the country are Viking’s clients. Viking is doing many things right at the moment and it is evident in our growth and client portfolio,” concludes Olivier.