Regardless of the hurdles placed in front of the traditional way of conducting business, the man at the helm of the John Williams Group in the Free State is optimistic about what the future holds.
Dealerfloor spoke to Thabo Mokoena, Regional Manager of John Williams with Mercedes-Benz dealerships in Bloemfontein, Welkom and Ladybrand as well as a multi-franchise set-up for Mitsubishi, Jeep, Fiat and Alfa in the Free State capital.
First, some background information on Thabo who was born and bred in the province, kicked off his career at John Williams and is fluent in Sesotho, English and Afrikaans.
“I obtained by BA Accounting degree at the University of the Free State and joined John Williams at the bottom level as an administrative clerk. I worked my way up in the financial section of business, becoming a bookkeeper, accountant and financial manager.
“My experience at all the levels come through stints at all our dealerships and their divisions in a number of job capacities over the years,” Thabo tells Dealerfloor.
In 2009, Thabo was appointed Financial Manager at John Williams in Welkom and in 2011 as caretaker Dealer Principal and later on as the DP at the dealership. He was then transferred to Ladybrand as DP for a five-year stint and in 2018 returned as DP to John Williams in Welkom.
Late in 2019, he was appointed acting Sales Manager at John Williams truck division in Bloemfontein before being appointed Franchise Executive of the John Williams Group in the Free State. Thabo became Regional Manager in the Free State when Barloworld, of which John Williams was part, sold its motor retail business to NMI-DSM in a joint venture during 2021.
Back to business. How is John Williams doing in the Free State during these tough times? “We are truly blessed in meeting our targets and making money despite not receiving enough new stock and paying more than ever for good pre-owned vehicles. We also have a solid staff component and very capable DPs at the different dealerships,” Thabo says.
“We are going through the same rough patch as any other dealership and manufacturer in the country. On the Mercedes side, more high-end models like AMGs are more readily available than other models although, in general, the shortages cut across the model range spectrum.
“With Mitsubishi stock is more regularly available, and the brand is doing exceptionally well at this point in time. Jeep, Alfa and Fiat have more serious stock challenges, but the OEMs are positive that the situation will soon improve.
“I must say, our trucks are doing very well notwithstanding everything, and we had one of our best years to date on this side. Stock is available and the normal restrictions since the arrival of the pandemic have had a less of an effect owing to the necessity of transport to keep the economy going,” he says.
Thabo says their workshops are busy even at a time when people tend to hold on longer to their vehicles with the only challenge being parts availability on newer models as a result of the supply chain problems throughout the world.
“Our Ladybrand dealership is basically just a support dealership with an After Sales Department attending predominately to our customer base from neighbouring Lesotho. At this stage, business is tight as there are still a number of restrictions on the free movement of people and goods between South-Africa and Lesotho. Despite this, we reached a break-even point here, and the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions will give the business a boost,” he tells Dealerfloor.
And how does he feel about the future? “I am extremely optimistic that we will get through these rough times and that trading conditions will return to a more normal situation like we were used to. I passionately believe in keeping people motivated and empowered. Our staff are our most important asset,” Thabo concludes.
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