As we have seen over recent months in The SA-Mag, South Africa’s agriculture industry is undergoing radical changes aimed at improving food safety and increasing crop yields through a variety of measures.
One area that has improved greatly over the past quarter of a century is the use of agricultural chemical products, with the Wenkem SA name making its marks over the same period of time.
The company is headquartered in Irene, Pretoria, but is a supplier of products from around the globe.
Wenkem describes itself (through its website) as a “distributor of a broad range of agricultural chemical products of various multi-national agrochemical companies. This puts international technology on your doorstep. The Wenkem entrepreneur is part of your community, and therefore we grow, live and develop with you. Bigger success is our common goal and that is why our teamwork is a winning recipe. The steadfastness of Wenkem is based on the technological experience and success of our suppliers.”
That technological experience has seen the company grow to become a national distributor of crop protection products not only in South Africa, but also neighbouring countries. All of which is a far cry from one afternoon in August 1988, when the newly-launched Wenkem SA made its public debut.
Of course 2013 has seen the company celebrated the 25th anniversary of its inception and as part of those celebrations, Wenkem looked back at those first tentative steps:
“On August 1, 1988, the announcement was made in the Business Image edition of the ‘Beeld’ newspaper under the headline: “New company established in the chemical industry“.
The article recalled how “a new South African agrochemical company with a dynamic overseas partner now offers unlimited opportunities as the sole distributor of a full range of pest control products.”
So what has been the root cause of Wenkem’s success over the last quarter of a century? Ellen Bothma, Credit Controller, has been with the business for the past 10 years and has seen continual growth, she has no doubt what has made the difference:
“We started off with 9 guys – and we were essentially founded by a group of celebrities in the chemical industry, including executive chairman at the time, Mr Willem van der Merwe. Today we operate in collaboration with 104 agents countrywide and operate 73 depots. We have a depot in every region.
“Our clients are the nation’s farmers – whether they are growing citrus or maize crops – and the agents play an absolutely crucial role.
“The agents are very hands on and visit the farmers regularly, providing advise on the type of product needed and then placing orders and monitoring to ensure that the chemicals are correctly applied to each crop.
“Our success is a result of having a good product and good agents,” she affirms.
“However, of equal importance is the kind of people we have got working in and with the company. Our suppliers, agents and employees are all key elements to the success of Wenkem.
“Consequently, because the agent-farmer relationship is so good, we get a lot of repeat business in addition to adding new clients almost every day. There is very little reason for a farmer to leave Wenkem other than when they retire or if an agent moves on.
“We always say that when an agricultural chemical agent leaves he or she is very hard to replace. It is all about the relationship they have fostered with the farmer.”
Wenkem does not manufacture products – instead it relies upon an impressive list of the world’s finest agricultural chemical manufacturers, who ship products into South Africa. The company is then able to order based upon historical data and the agents’ demands.
Wenkem operates a number of storage depots around the country which store any surplus chemicals that might be needed later in the year. Bothma says that the company outsources transportation – and that the companies carrying the chemicals have to meet stringent regulatory requirements covered by Hazchem.
Similarly, every agent that signs a distribution agreement with Wenkem has to be ACVASA (Association of Veterinary and Crop Associations of South Africa) accredited.
Bothma is also keen to extol the good atmosphere among the workforce, suggesting that employees often remark on the happy environment and how nice it is to work for Wenkem.
“So we have in place loyal customers, devoted suppliers, experienced and committed agents and excellent employees. All of that has helped Wenkem to grow over the past 25 years and we are just grateful to celebrate this anniversary.
“We actually turned 25 in August and we ran with the newspaper spread, however our big celebrations will take place on January 25th next year,” she explains. “Each year we have a Gala Dinner and awards function where we recognise the top 10 agents in the country.
“This year we will be hosting an event which will award the top 25 agents (in recognition of our 25 years) and the dinner will be attended by all of our agent and suppliers,” she adds.
“The business values every customer, agent, product supplier and employee to the highest level, because that is the reason for our progress and success to date,” adds Lex Visser, Managing Director.
“Together each contributes to food security in South Africa! There is no alternative to quality – it can be said of our products, our agents and their expertise!”
So the past 25 years has brought growth enjoyment and prosperity, not only to Wenkem SA but to its end users, the farmers. What does the future hold in store?
“We want to keep going forwards and getting stronger,” asserts Bothma.