Opening a new franchise dealership, especially in a rural area, is not something that happens often these days.
In the Northern Cape town of Prieska, halfway between Upington and De Aar, it is a different story. The town, in the centre of this vast province, now boasts a complete Toyota dealership for the first time.
Prieska Toyota’s story is intertwined with that of the award-winning Upington Toyota, a well-known and independently run dealership that belongs to the Gresse family consisting of Riël, his wife, Elsabe, and his son, Willem.
Dealerfloor spoke to Elsabe, director at both Upington and Prieska Toyota, about the new dealership in Prieska.
“It originally started as a satellite dealership of Upington Toyota in 2019, with only servicing and repairs and an Automark division for used cars. Although Prieska is 260 kilometres away from Upington, Riël has strong ties with the town as his mother was born there. Furthermore, 260 kilometres is not really a serious distance for us. In the Northern Cape towns are few and far between.
“We soon realised there was a demand for new vehicles and one thing led to another. Unfortunately, shortly after opening our doors in Prieska, the pandemic and long lockdown struck, basically forcing us back to square one,” Elsabe says.
“Because of all the lockdowns, we officially had our opening function during May this year, and we were overwhelmed by the support and kindness of the people in Prieska. We also bought a house adjacent to the dealership where we stay over weekends or other times when we visit the Prieska dealership.
“We sent a few members of our team in Upington to get the dealership off the ground in Prieska and they enjoyed the new challenge and the town so much that they requested to stay there. Two of them are Hardie Koeglenberg, who will act as the Dealer Principal, and Esbe Dobbs, one of our star Service Advisers, who will soon complete her training with Toyota to become a Master Service Adviser,” Elsabe tells Dealerfloor.
She says one of the technicians is also in the process of becoming a Master Technician, with both he and Esbe reaching the pinnacle of their respective career paths. “I am a firm believer in training. We are proud of the number of employees who have the Master qualification behind their names and others who are in the process of achieving this certification.
“It is not only a one-off qualification, says Elsabe, who is the Chairperson of the Toyota National Dealer Council Training Committee. The Master certification is only valid for two years, after which you must be re-tested.
“We are very fortunate that we also have the top achievers in the elite Toyota Knights programme. The top honours this time around went to Shené Theron as the Number One Service Adviser (After Sales Knight). Other top performing Knights are Rossco-Dunn Diergaardt (Technician, Top 5 and 3rd year in a row), Daniel Murray (Technician & Foreman, Top 5 with a 3rd place), Candice Procter (Service Adviser, Top 5 with a 3rd place), Maurichen Marsala (Service Adviser, Top 5 with a 4th place) and Werner Visser (Service Manager, Top 5 with a 3rd place).
“We did not retrench people during this abnormal time with COVID-19 and neither during the stock supply problems in its aftermath. We use the spare capacity for training, with employees taking turns to train.”
Asked about the economic conditions in Prieska and the surrounding areas, Elsabe, says they are positive about the future, notwithstanding some setbacks the town experienced in recent years like a long and serious drought.
“A devastating drought had serious implications for farmers not involved in irrigation farming. Although rain fell recently, the drought lasted for several years, and it will take time for farmers to recover from this nightmare experience, especially livestock farmers.
“The mining activities scaled down a lot over the years, but there are prospects for renewed copper mining as well as with wind farming to create additional electricity for the national power grid. We are involved as much as possible in the community, and we consider ourselves as part of the Prieska community,” she says.
Elsabe tells Dealerfloor they have a very high market penetration in the region. “Not only in Upington but also in Prieska, we have a large and dedicated following that bodes well for all aspects of the business.
“With the opening of Prieska Toyota, we filled a gap in and important region and the appreciation from the Prieska community is overwhelming,” she concludes.
Mitsubishi Motors South Africa (MMSA) kept the wheels rolling this year with the opening of five new dealerships in four provinces.
The latest addition to the Stellantis dealer network is a large, new Super Group multi-franchise facility in Jacaranda Street, Hennopspark, Centurion, for Jeep, Fiat, Fiat Professional, Alfa Romeo, Peugeot and Citroën.
We can overcome all the hurdles placed in front of us if we recognise our biggest asset in business is our people, says Rob Downs the Dealer Principal at CMH Nissan and Mitsubishi Pinetown.