Suzuki is going places in Upington

From a humble beginning in the fifties to a formidable business empire these days, is the story behind the Walker Group in Upington in the Northern Cape.

Suzuki Walker1

A natural expansion of this large business group with various franchises in its fold, was the more recent acquisition of the Suzuki Auto franchise.

Looking at the Walker Group’s record, it comes as no surprise that the new dealership in the remote part of the country was recognised as the Most Improved Suzuki Dealership in South Africa for 2020.

The Walker Group consists of many franchises with the likes of two Midas stores, one that is the biggest Midas in the country with a front shop of 2000 m2, Iveco, Kubota (recently awarded the Kubota Construction Dealership of the Year 2021), 4x4 Mega World, forecourts, properties, financial services, rental and selling of light and heavy industrial equipment to mention only a couple of the diverse business interests.

The Walker family - Erin, Eric and Max.

“After close to eighty years, we are still a family business with our roots in Upington and the Northern Cape,” says Erin Walker, one of the directors who today runs the businesses with his brother Max and their father, Eric, who is the CEO.

“My grandfather, Ernie Walker, started out with Upington Radiators and Motor and with the passing of years, more businesses were added and others transformed to what today is known as the Walker Group with more than 20 businesses in its fold.

“Our Suzuki Auto franchise is located, together with Suzuki Motorcycles and Suzuki Marine, in our 4x4 Mega World complex. We are probably the only Suzuki dealership in South Africa selling Suzuki Auto, Motorcycles & Marine all under one roof,” Erin tells Dealerfloor.

“Like everyone else getting enough stock and parts does place a damper on business, be it vehicles or motorcycles. Despite this, we had remarkable success with the brand and excellent growth. For an extended period of time, we were the only Suzuki dealership in the Northern Cape, which is a vast province. Another dealership recently opened in Kimberley.

Suzuki Upington and the 4x4 Mega World complex.

“The Suzuki Jimny is immensely popular here, and we are located in a region well-known for its 4x4 and outdoor lifestyle that fits the small Suzuki off-roader like a glove. At the other end of the spectrum, they form affordable price point models like the Swift and S-Presso, which are our top sellers with a wide variety of customers,” Erin says.

Asked about the economy and business conditions in Upington, Erin says good rainfall at the right time is always a factor as the grape and cattle farmers in the agriculture sector are the main driving forces behind the local economy.

“Between previous drought conditions that take years to recover from and the COVID-19 pandemic, we are thankful for our achievements during these last two particularly challenging years. With certain serious lockdown restrictions in place at once stage and the after-effects of the internal supply chain disruptions, we had serious challenges with parts availability.

“We could see this as a major player in the parts business. Fortunately, the situation is much better and business in this respect is doing well. Money is tight and people tend to hold on longer to their vehicle. This results in the need for more servicing and maintenance, which is good for the after-sales parts businesses.

“On the new side a plus point keeping new sales going, notwithstanding the stock shortages, is the low interest rates that stimulate this side of the business to some extent,” he says.

And what does the future hold, especially in Upington? “We are optimistic about the town and region’s future, and we hope for good rainfall. The Suzuki brand is gaining more and more traction in our part of the world, and we are excited about new expansions in 2022,” Erin concludes.

From humble beginnings to a huge business empire. The pictures show the development of some of the different businesses of the Walker Group over the decades.

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