The success story of Worcester Nissan with the three Volk brothers at the helm, could be traced back to the Karoo where their grandfather, George Vlok, ventured into the retail motor business many decades ago.
Although it started with Grandpa George working for a GM dealership in Calvinia, it would be his son, Jannie, who took the big step to open the Vlok family’s first GM dealership during 1965 in neighbouring Williston. Soon afterwards, in 1969, another GM dealership was added in Victoria-West, and Jannie pulled in his two brothers, Calvyn and Luther Vlok.
Don’t believe that the multi-franchise approach in today’s motor retail sector is a new concept. It was born partly out of necessity in small, distant towns far away from the bigger cities as a service to the smaller communities so that they could have access to different brands.
In this regard, Jannie Vlok showed the way by having GM/Delta/Isuzu, Ford, Peugeot, Mazda, Toyota and Nissan franchises in Williston, Carnarvon and Victoria-West. Later on, his three sons, Christoff, JP and Jaco became involved, each in his own town, Jaco in Victoria West, Christoff in Carnarvon and JP in Williston.
Says Christoff Vlok, Dealer Principal of Worcester Nissan and co-director of the business alongside his brothers: “At one stage all the major manufacturers, with the exception of one or two, were part of our family business back then rendering a service to a big part of the Karoo.
“The multi-franchise concept of buying a different brand through the same dealership, proved effective and makes economic sense, especially in a rural environment. In the early years when my dad still ran the show, some of the competitors would even share the same showroom floor. In Williston, our GM/Delta/Isuzu products had a market penetration of around 90%. My dad was well loved and had high levels of support in the Karoo, because he could offer more than one brand to suit your particular needs,” Christoff says.
Over the next few decades, dealerships were sold, consolidated and new ones bought, and when the opportunity arose, Worcester Nissan was acquired in December 2002 and then more dealerships followed in Hermanus (2007), Beaufort West (2007), Ceres (2008) and in Paarl (2008).
“Originally, I left Carnarvon to take charge of Nissan Worcester at the end 2002, while my brothers were still operating in the Karoo. More business opportunities arose and it was the start of a very good business cycle in the motor retail sector (2003 till 2007).
“I convinced my brothers that there were lots of business opportunities and that the de-population of the rural areas did not bode well for our dealerships in the Karoo. Shortly afterwards, they joined me in Worcester, and I still believe that this was the main reason for our success,” Christoff tells Dealerfloor.
“The process of acquiring new dealerships, when the opportunity arose, continued, but eventually, we decided to consolidate and to stay in Worcester with Nissan as our brand. We recently sold our Nissan franchise in Paarl in a black-empowerment transaction, making us very proud to assist in this important process,” Christoff says.
Today Christoff is Dealer Principal, while JP is the Financial Manager, and Jaco takes care of the pre-owned sales at Worcester Nissan.
With the Vlok boys growing up in the motor retail environment conjures up a lot of good memories. “In those days all new cars were driven from Gqeberha (previously Port Elizabeth) to the Karoo towns where our dealerships were, a gruelling 1 200 km trip normally in one day.
“The volumes were big, and reliable drivers were difficult to find, which meant that we started driving at a very young age. I remember my very first trip at the age of 13, I got lost in Port Elizabeth and only managed to get back home in the very early hours of the next day. No cell phones, very little communication, but we managed well with no accidents over many kilometres and years,” Christoff says with a smile in his voice.
“In 1980, I was sent to boarding school in Malmesbury, and my dad gave me a Peugeot 404 station wagon to travel home over weekends. Being a good lad with transport, I would fill the Peugeot on off weekends with kids who needed a lift home to neighbouring Karoo towns.
“On one such weekend, we were on our way to the Karoo when we ran into a roadblock. Imagine the police officers’ faces when they saw this car full of school kids still in school uniform driven by a kid. Obviously, I did not have a licence and by this time a couple of officers had gathered around our car. After requesting to see the officer in charge of the roadblock, a Police Captain came to the car and to my surprise, it was the same officer who was the Police chief in Williston, years before.
“Having had many encounters with him from ‘back in the days’, he just looked at me and said to his fellow officers that this boy had driven more kilometres in his short life than all of them had done together in their lives, and that I could continue. Eventually, when I was in my early twenties, I decided to get a licence!”
On a different note. Over the years at Worcester Nissan, Christoff and the dealership have won many awards, the 1st award, Small Dealer of the Year in 2004 was very special, because it showed our dedication and hard work were being recognised merely a year after taking over Worcester Nissan.
“The very next year in 2005, we again won the Nissan Small Dealer of the Year Award. To our surprise, and for the first time ever for a Small Dealer, we also won the Overall Nissan Dealer of the Year 2005 Award.
“The reason for our success was our commitment to treat our customers fair and to achieve customer satisfaction at all costs. To top this, and after many Customer Satisfaction awards over the years, we won two international NSSW awards from Nissan Japan in 2007 and 2008 for outstanding customer service.”
Asked about the central place customers take in their business if one looks at all the awards, Christoff says it has a lot to do with their upbringing and doing business in the Karoo. “In the small towns where we did business over decades, everyone knows everyone. It is a very tight-knit community where your reputation precedes you.
“This meant doing honourable business, treating everyone with respect and most importantly, being fair will determine your success. That is who we are, building trust, taking care of our customers in the best way possible and being part of the community we find ourselves in,” Christoff concludes.
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