If variety is the spice of life, it is having a hugely positive effect on Freightmore.
The family owned Cape Town business has enjoyed tremendous growth in recent years, having been founded in 1986 by Monty Govender, who remains CEO.
In the early years the company found its niche in the print industry, however the advent of the Internet has in recent years impacted on this side of the business, resulting in a more diverse customer base, as Sharmlin Govender, Managing Director, explains:
“We are a national transporter but we also use sub-contractors for some cross-border services. Essentially, we move anything except for perishables and furniture.
“Most of our business remains in printing and packaging – for example plastic bags for the food industry, laminated paper and pamphlets for newspapers and magazines.
“Whilst that remains our core business, things are going online increasingly and we took the decision to diversify into finished goods like tyres, car parts, air conditioning and palletised goods.”
Sharmlin’s father started the business with two partners and a truck and a light delivery vehicle. Over time, one of the partners passed away while the other retired, leaving Monty as the sole owner of the company today.
“We started out with one branch and today we operate 5 sites across the country – and the secret to our success has been hard work and lots of new business through word of mouth,” states Sharmlin.
“In fact today is exactly the 27th anniversary of the launch of Freightmore,” he adds.
“We opened our Johannesburg depot in 1990 and eventually bought the property we are now based in.”
The last 5 years have seen the company’s fortunes continue to grow, with Freightmore opening a third site in Durban in 2008 – which Sharmlin says has enjoyed strong performance. Port Elizabeth followed in 2011 and earlier this year the business opened a fifth site in East London.
Of course as demand has grown, so too has the need to increase the size of fleet and the number of employees.
“We started out with just 5 or 6 people in 1986 and today we employ over 250,” Sharmlin recalls. “Finding people with the right skills sets is hard so we have been happy to pay a little more for the right people as we only want what is best for our trucks and our company.
“The company also provides ongoing computer training for our warehousing staff and periodically our drivers undertake driver training courses, which are provided by one of our two major truck suppliers Scania (we also use Isuzu).”
The fleet itself has expanded from 2 to over 80 vehicles now, with the two major suppliers providing maintenance which Sharmlin describes as “top draw” alongside Freightmore’s own in-house mechanic and fleet manager.
“Our long-haul vehicles are typically replaced every 3 years and we add the used vehicles to our local fleet. We have recently purchased 3 new trucks and expect to invest in a few more later this year,” he confirms.
Despite Freightmore’s continued success, the combination of rising fuel prices and changes in legislation present ongoing challenges, as Sharmlin explains:
“Driver hours are strictly regulated and we therefore took the decision to deploy two drivers on each long-haul trip, meaning that when one is sleeping, the other can take to the wheel. This might have cost us a bit more, but in the long run has saved us money as we are able to deliver on-time, with happy staff and fresh drivers.
“Rising fuel prices has become a problem and of course there is always the issue of how much you pass on to the customers. Whenever possible, we have looked to subsidise increases as there comes a point where the customer will just look elsewhere when things become too expensive.”
At present, Sharmlin says that the economic climate makes it difficult for the company’s reps to persuade new customers to leave their existing service providers. In spite of this challenge, he says that each month new customers are added to the roster, often impressed by Freightmore’s unique business position:
“We are fortunate that as we sit here today we are still a family. Our staff are also like family and we aim to treat them the same way – and that has definitely given us an edge. Of course as we have grown we have had to introduce corporate structures but we have always strived to maintain our family values as I believe that a motivated and happy team can triple your business.”
That in turn requires greater capacity and earlier this year Freightmore moved its corporate headquarters to a new location in Cape Town. The purpose-built 6000 square metre site has created three times the capacity of the old facility, providing Freightmore with the scope for further growth:
“We decided that we had to relocate in Cape Town or either stagnate or go backwards, so we took the decision to invest in our new R40 million site. This means we have the capacity to grow into it and potentially increase turnover by another 50 per cent.
“Our cargo is always sent to the main warehouse where it gets sorted and then shipped out. We have therefore also invested in a number of Mitsubishi, Toyota and Nissan fork lift trucks and may need to increase this fleet as demand grows.
“Our next phase however will be to relocate our Johannesburg branch, something we hope to do within the next 12 to 18 months.
“We are currently busy acquiring property as the Johannesburg branch is becoming too small and we have seen various opportunities on the route between Johannesburg and Durban.
“This will in time become a big growth market for the business, given that Johannesburg is a big business hub in South Africa and we want to become a bigger player in that market.
“Further down the line, we hope to enter the hazardous cargo and courier markets, but those are plans for the longer-term,” he affirms.
Freightmore has travelled down the changing highways of South Africa’s economic development. Whilst transformation has played an important part in the success of the business, Sharmlin turns to his father’s continued presence as the biggest inspiration for the company:
“Lots of it is down to my dad – he is very much a ‘peoples person’ and many of our clients are his. His values have filtered on to us and he set the bar quite high – it is now down to us to preserve that focus.”