Doing business in a remote part of the country, notwithstanding the presence of the 8th largest coal-fired power station in the world, is easier said than done.
In Lephalale (previously Ellisras) the completion of the Medupi Power Station 2019 saw most of the contractors leaving town, thereby creating an economic void. Shortly afterwards, COVID-19 followed with devastating results that are still being felt all over the world, especially in the automotive sector.
“Trying to do business from lockdown to lockdown is a challenge as you know. Over and above this, I was just appointed as Dealer Principal at Matopi Ford in Lephalale in 2019. Ready for action and full of plans, the pandemic interrupted our plans and still does today. We have learned to manage and adapt our strategies and do the best we can.”
So, says Jannie Lötter, DP at Matopi Ford in the North West town close to the Botswana border.
The dealership is part of Emslie Motors, which belongs to Don Emslie with Ford and Mahindra dealerships in Lephalale and Thabazimbi, the Toyota dealership in Lephalale and an agriculture business with various divisions, including Landini Tractors.
“Every wave of the virus, with the accompanying restrictions, sets you back a step or two just as you are ready to move forward. We are optimistic, and in our region, there are signs that that could be interpretated as good news.
“There is a possibility of a new coal mine not too far out of town that could be an injection, and the repair of one of the reactors at Medupi, which was destroyed in a blast, could see some short-term benefits.
“The Power Station, Exxaro Coal Mine and the agriculture sector sustain the economy in Lephalale. The economy seems to have stabilised if you look at factors like property values. We sure do miss the heydays when Medupi was built and there was an influx of new people and fresh money into the town.
“We are fortunate to sell mostly new vehicles in our area of responsibility (AOR) and we benefit from getting to do the servicing and repairs. Our AOR stretches to Mokopane and Polokwane in the east, south towards Thabazimbi with Vaalwater the border between our branch and the one in Thabazimbi and up to the Botswana border.
“We are used to doing more business with customers in Botswana, but since the pandemic, we basically just do servicing and not selling any vehicles. The effects of the Right to Repair are also something to keep in mind although our expertise and good customer service are positives in this regard,” Jannie tells Dealerfloor.
Asked about the popularity of their product range, Jannie says the Ranger bakkie-range is extremely popular and they just hope their current stockpile is enough till the manufacturing plant re-opens. “In normal circumstances, we would run out of bakkies but given the current conditions we might be in luck. The Ford EcoSport is also popular among residents.”
Jannie says they still try to keep up their involvement in the community with sponsorships of a primary school’s rugby teams and athletics as well as a very popular night golf tournament.
He says before being appointed as DP at Matopi Ford, he was a Sales Executive at Tamboti Toyota in Lephalale and part of the Emslie Motor Group. His older brother, André, is the DP at Tamboti Toyota. (Dealerfloor reported on Tamboti on 20 May.)
To chat to Danie Stassen, co-owner and Dealer Principal of Subaru in Mbombela (Nelspruit), without mentioning Dakar would be impossible.
Weskus Ford in Vredenburg relocated to a new building that offers much more space for their new and pre-owned vehicles.
Regardless of the persisting challenges related to COVID-19, business in the North West province seems to be on the upside.