“You can describe me as a no-cost-to-company salesman,” Alec Harris told Dealerfloor.
A healthy 62, Harris has had many titles in his transport career, from diesel mechanic to truck driver, fleet operator, truck salesman, driver trainer and even one of SA’s champion off-road navigators, but he is happiest where he is now – as South Africa’s only independent provider of trucking solutions.
“Basically, I am an independent salesman who sells new and used trucks at extremely competitive prices,” he explained to Dealerfloor. “I am my own boss, I set my own targets (four trucks a month), I sell five truck brands and yes, I make a decent living.”
To many young sales staff in the transport trade, this sounds like the dream job, but Harris cautions it took decades of training, gaining experience and – most importantly – building contacts to get to this point.
“I still mentor young sales staff and I tell all of them to go on every course they can and get the training. For those who want to specialise in trucks, this also means getting a licence to drive trucks and then driving those trucks – so you really know what you are talking about when it comes to sourcing the right truck at the right price for your clients.”
When it comes to building a network, Harris recommends joining a group and then working hard and playing harder. He was a member of the Natal Rally Club for years, winning several regional cross country championships with the Ford Racing team as navigator, reaching third place nationally. “These days, I cycle, both for the fitness it brings as well as to be competitive in races.”
When it comes to marketing, Harris uses LinkedIn and Facebook. “I find LinkedIn is best to reach the trucking industry, while Facebook is effective at reaching clients.”
As an independent, he works closely with dealerships that sell FAW, Hino, Isuzu and UD, selling both medium and extra heavy trucks. He finances most deals via his clients’ banking advisors, including Absa’s AgriBusiness unit, followed by finance through dealerships – where WesBank leads – although his last sale was a cash deal.
“It still amazes me that a used horse costs substantially less than a new luxury double cab,” he said, adding that he takes pride as an old diesel mechanic to ensure the used trucks he lists are sound buys.
He said UD and FAW’s new trucks “just sip diesel” and are therefore popular with his farming clients, but depending on the load and route, he also recommends Isuzu, Hino and Eicher to his clients. “Eicher is still a relatively unknown brand in South Africa, but it has a Volvo drivetrain and bodywork built tough for India, and I want to say if they cannot break them in India, we won’t break them in South Africa either.”
Harris is optimistic about South Africa’s economy rebounding from 2020’s low base. While Naamsa predicts it will take months before the transport trade and consumer confidence will recover from lockdown, Harris said COVID-19 has not impacted his trucking niche as heavily as it has the car trade.
“Truck sales are traditionally seen as a barometer of the next quarter’s economy. I’m on target for January and while I am a very small player, I hope my tiny success is a harbinger for a quick recovery for South Africa’s economy as a whole,” Harris said.
A family business dating back to the 1940s in the Karoo town of Victoria West led to the establishment of two Ford dealerships in the town and neighbouring De Aar.
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