A family business dating back to the 1940s in the Karoo town of Victoria West led to the establishment of two Ford dealerships in the town and neighbouring De Aar.
Today the dealerships are still owned by the Bester family and known as Besters Ford.
Doing business in this part of the Karoo has become more difficult over the decades. Not only with a severe drought the last seven years throughout the region, but also the decline of the huge railway junction, the biggest in the country at one stage.
The family business was started by the current owners, the brothers Hendri and Philip’s grandfather in 1946, working on Lister engines predominantly for the farming community.
His four sons joined the business in different capacities expanding to vehicle and tractor repairs and maintenance to the buying and selling of vehicles and the franchise of new cars like Valiant’s during the late 1950s.
Over the years, the business was the official dealership for the then Sigma later MMI and in the 1990s Ford and Mazda. With the split between Ford and Mazda, they decided to retain the Ford dealership and opened another Ford dealership in De Aar 150 kilos from Victoria West.
Hendri and Philip’s dad, Christie, later became the sole owner of Besters Ford with its two branches in De Aar and Victoria West.
Today the business belongs to Hendri, Philip and their father with equal stakes. Christie is retired and not actively involved in the business with Hendri running the dealership in De Aar and Philip the one in Victoria West. Philip’s son , Chris Bester junior, joined the business in 2020 and will be the fourth generation Bester in the business.
Dealerfloor spoke to Hendri about the business and the circumstances they experience in the region.
“We bought a property and built a new dealership in De Aar two years ago, twice as big as the one we previously occupied. Our workshop and spares departments are outsourced and done by an authorised workshop close by.
“Overheads at the new dealership are kept low. It is just me, a secretary and a cleaner . We do everything ourselves, even the delivering of vehicles. Our dealership in Victoria West is a fully-fledged dealership, where we do everything indoors with a staff component of 18 people.”
Hendri says between the two dealerships, they service a huge geographical area, including towns like Beaufort West, Britstown, Richmond, Hanover, Carnarvon, Loxton, Philipstown and some more smaller towns in the vicinity of both Victoria West and De Aar.
“Big parts of the Karoo are still drought stricken, especially in our region. Bakkies are always big business in any farming community, but the drought has seen a decrease in the demand. Farmers tend to hang on longer to their vehicles. Some would rather extend the warranties and maintenance plans, a cheaper option than buying a new vehicle.
“De Aar at one stage had a workforce of 2 000 people at the railways. It was 2 000 families that played a major part in the town’s economy. Today, there are hardly 100 people left working in this industry. It had a huge impact over the decades on De Aar.
“We have a few wind and solar farms in the area, and the possibility of more and bigger things to come in this regard is a positive prospect. We are worried about the shortages of stock like anyone else and the impact of the plant closure for expansion purposes. We are waiting on a large supply of bakkies that could carry us through this period,” Hendri says.
“We are highly active in the used car market and rely strongly on social media and Internet marketing of our new and used vehicles. We deliver all over and that is and advantage of our kind of business – its mobile and you can sell far afield not like a normal walk-in business that relies only on the local feet traffic for sales,” he says.
On a lighter note, Hendri says in a rural town, everyone knows everyone else, and that could be a burden and an advantage at the same time. “You can do a lot of business on your good name because people know you. But it also happened that someone will approach you in church to find out when he can book his bakkie in for a service,” Hendri laughs.
Hendri and his brother and his son, enjoy mountain biking, hunting, golfing and dual-purpose biking.
Although we have access to all the new Ford models to drive, we love driving older bakkies.
“I have a 2004 Ford Super cab bakkie with a petrol loving 4 litre V6 engine. I go hunting in it, taking the children to school etc. My wife drives an older Ford Focus. For long distances we will use one of the business’s cars, but with a sign on it that we are ready to sell it. My brother lives next to the dealership and walks to the work every day. For longer trips, he will also use a car from the business,” Hendri says.
We love staying and working in the Karoo, and we will keep on going full tilt with our business and personal selling and personal service to our customers.
Despite the severe drought in large parts of the Karoo, the motor business in Graaff-Reinet is stepping up with more brands being represented in this part of the world.
If a pandemic and stock issues aren’t enough of a challenge, why not add a building project/dealership revamp/moving of facilities and getting a second dealership to full independent dealership status to a DP’s list of tasks.
Scott Auto Mazda in Bethlehem has a proud history that stretches back nearly 50 years, which makes them one of the best-known Mazda dealers in the Free State.