A beacon in Upington is the local Toyota dealership. It is a family business with a fascinating history and notwithstanding its distant location, it still plays a substantial role in Toyota South Africa’s success story.
Some will say it is very far from anywhere, while locals say it is the place to be. The “place to be” is Upington, hidden away in the north western part of the country, close to the southern borders of Namibia and Botswana. As one of the biggest centres in the vast province of the Northern Cape, the closest big town to it is Kimberley a “mere” 400 kilometres away.
Toyota Upington was established 1967 by Willem Hendrik Gresse, father of the current owner and managing director, Riël Gresse. It was originally known as CAY Toyota and became Upington Toyota in 2005.
Toyota Upington in the early days.
However, the octane in the Gresse family’s veins have been there even before 1967 when the company sold Renaults and Jeeps. In 1967 they started selling Toyota’s and never looked in the rear-view mirror again.
Riël joined his father in 1982 and in 2014 his son, named after his grandfather and founder, Willem Hendrik, joined him at Upington Toyota as Sales Manager and with Riël and Riël’s wife, Elsabe, form the board of the company.
But how does a family business cope in a big corporate environment today?
“Toyota Japan places a very high premium on family businesses,” says Riël.
“Toyota was founded as a family business by the Toyoda family that owns and manages Toyota Motor Corporation still today. Toyota South Africa also respects the long relationship between family and business. In fact, Toyota SA was founded in the sixties by the Wessels family,” he says.
In 2019 they expanded to the neighbouring town of Prieska, some 250 kilometres away, to open yet another Toyota dealership.
“It is a challenge to stay competitive in the business environment and we are not spared that as a family business. We have to be innovative and fortunately motivation is something we embrace in the business. We are one big family and we try to ensure every staff member feels like part of the family and our customers are considered our guests,“ Riël says.
And how do they handle the huge distances between towns and clients?
“We are used to long distances and will deliver vehicles where the clients want us to do it. Fortunately, Toyota’s do not break down. That means we only see clients when they book their vehicles for servicing,” he says.
And what about high mileage vehicles because of the long distances between places?
“There are many such vehicles with hundreds of thousands of problem free kilometres. We have clients boasting they still drive the vehicles bought from my father,” Riël told Dealerfloor.
Upington is known for extreme temperatures, especially in the summer. How do they cope at the dealerships?
“We installed solar panels to combat the effects of global warming. Our system at Automark was installed in 2017 and enables the site to be completely of the grid during the day. The energy generated is enough to power 7 homes per day.
“At the main facility we installed a system in 2016 that enables us to be of the grid during most of daylight hours. That is enough electricity to power 20 homes per day. Like the system at Automark, it prevent combined about 160 tons of carbon dioxide getting into the air, the equivalent of removing 55 cars from the road at 10 000 km per year at consumption of 10 litre diesel per kilometre,” he says.
Another aspect of the business they are very proud of, is the long list of accolades. The personal excels in all aspects from sales, technicians, workshop assistants to service advisers. Important dealer awards include Toyota Vice President’s Award for the Best Medium Dealer 2012; Toyota Lighthouse Dealer 2016 and 2017; Toyota Eco Dealer of the Year 2017; Recognition of 50 Years’ Service 2018 and the Toyota Vice President’s Award for Customer Service 2019.
Riël is also chairperson of the West Coast Dealer Council since 2018; Secretary of the National Dealer Council of Toyota SA 2020/2021 and his wife is a 2020 Finalist for the Northern Cape and Free State MISA Woman of the Year Award.
A modern Toyota dealership lounge.
And when he is not busy with Toyota’s?
“I love cooking and appreciated good wine. The only transport I use if I am not in my Toyota, is taking my Harley Davidson out for a spin. The rest of the time I enjoy with my family”.
A last question to Riël with an obvious answer… What is your best seller?
“Hilux and again Hilux”.
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