With a presence in three provinces consisting of four KIA, one Hyundai and one Renault franchise, the LS Group’s establishment could be traced back to the Free State Goldfields.
The motor retail group began trading as the LS Group in 1995 after Loesch Saaiman took over the business from his dad, Nic, previously from Monia Motors in Virginia. In 2004, Welkom KIA opened its doors, and the current Managing Director and co-owner of the LS Group, Philip Jacobs, joined the group in 2006.
LS Group consists of KIA Bethlehem (since 2006), KIA Welkom (since 2004), KIA Upington (since 2013), KIA Port Shepstone (since 2009) and Bethlehem Multi-franchise (Hyundai and Renault since 2018) with Peugeot Stellenbosch, which was sold in the meantime.
Today this group can proudly boast many successes as was recently illustrated by the latest KIA Awards Ceremony where it scooped up a Silver Award in Category B for CSI (After-Sales Customer Satisfaction Index) at its Bethlehem branch. Similar honours were bestowed on this branch in 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019, and in 2017 it was awarded Platinum Prestige Dealer status.
Other dealerships within the group also have a proud record of raking in awards - KIA Welkom in 2007 with awards Sales CSI Dealer of the Year and overall CSI winner in that year. More recently, KIA Port Shepstone won the Parts Dealer of the Year in 2017 as well as the Accessories Dealer of the Year the same year.
Dealerfloor spoke to Managing Director, Philip Jacobs, about the car business. This born and bred Bethlehemite was the Dealer Principal at Nissan & Fiat in Bethlehem before joining the LS Group. It’s worth mentioning that Philip is a pilot and loves cycling and golf.
“Jip, I must say being a pilot comes in quite handy when visiting the different branches that are located from Upington in the north western part of the country to Port Shepstone down on the south coast in KwaZulu-Natal,” says Philip.
As the boss, what is your philosophy about managing the business?
In our business, relationships with customers as well as our personnel are off vital importance. Maybe even more so in the rural areas where our businesses are located. People buy from people they know and are involved in the community and who they can trust. I believe every customer must have the same buying experience, no matter the amount of the transaction.
Any expansion plans at your dealerships?
KIA Welkom will be upgraded within the next six months, KIA Port Shepstone will move to new premises in January next year, while Bethlehem Multi-franchise will also undergo some upgrading early next year.
How is business doing in this time of Covid-19 and are people still scared to visit a dealership?
We were truly blessed at all our branches during this lockdown period. We have expanded our online advertising efforts, and delivering a car anywhere in the country seems to bear fruit. Buyers’ confidence is still an issue, and we must also not underestimate factors like load-shedding and the growing infrastructure problems in rural areas. Buyers are definitely not changing dealerships as often as before.
Do you experience different buying trends like downward buying because of financial constraints?
Not really. I think what helped in this regard is the low interest rate. In my 20 years in this business, I have never seen such a low interest rate. Good purchasing plans that make purchasing a new vehicle a very attractive option.
How do buyers’ profiles differ in the various regions where your branches are located?
In Welkom, buying patterns are influenced by circumstances at the mines and to a lesser extent in the agricultural sector. Upington, Bethlehem and Port Shepstone are much more reliant on the welfare of our farmers and agriculture. It helps that about 40% of our sales are from outside our traditional areas mainly because of our strong online marketing.
From all the different models and makes you are selling, what are the best sellers and why?
On the KIA side, the new Seltos is very popular with its modern design and high equipment level that attracts attention. At Hyundai, the entry-level Venue with a price tag of R285 000, similar to that of B-segment hatchback, is a winner. With Renault the fact that the Kwid is the most sought-after vehicle should come as no surprise because of its price position and benefits like a year’s free insurance.
And lastly, what advice do you have for potential customers?
Take advantage of the very low interest rate to buy a used or new car and ask for a fixed rate to ensure you get the advantage throughout the payment term. Also look at special deals as there are many good deals currently available.
Despite the severe drought in large parts of the Karoo, the motor business in Graaff-Reinet is stepping up with more brands being represented in this part of the world.
If a pandemic and stock issues aren’t enough of a challenge, why not add a building project/dealership revamp/moving of facilities and getting a second dealership to full independent dealership status to a DP’s list of tasks.
Scott Auto Mazda in Bethlehem has a proud history that stretches back nearly 50 years, which makes them one of the best-known Mazda dealers in the Free State.