Bolt and Engineering MD says innovation, reinvention and diversification ensures success even in tough times

As the Bolt and Engineering Distributors (B.E.D.) Group commemorates its 40th year of trading in November 2023, Managing Director Jan Viljoen continues making his mark within this highly respected business. Since joining the company in 1988, Viljoen has played an integral part in the company’s history to date, leveraging his vast industry experience, versatility and commitment to B.E.D.’s ethos of ‘It’s our business to know your business’ and ‘the perfect fit fast’.

The B.E.D. Group supplies a comprehensive range of locally produced and imported fasteners, as well as quality tools, welding and cutting equipment and consumables, bearings, personal and protective equipment (PPE), industrial paints and thinners, oils and lubricants, and lifting products to South African industry and across southern and central Africa.

Innovation, reinvention and diversification

“I learnt early on in my career never to rely on only one key customer or indeed market segment – so we have diversified, expanding our offering over the past 40 years from mining into the agricultural sector (and many others) to ensure that we are able to cater to more than one core industry in the region’s wider economy.”

Viljoen says that in line with this, B.E.D. has introduced several innovations to service the broader mining industry and related industries, of which they are very proud, as service has always been a key driver of their success.

In addition, working closely with co-founder and B.E.D. Group CEO Mike Giltrow, Viljoen has also helped to drive innovation regarding product offerings too – such as bearings, personal protective equipment (PPE), paints and thinners, with an unwavering dedication to service as a key differentiator from competitors, with great success.

Today, the company has grown into a network that includes nine branches countrywide, as well as an Exports Division and two cutting and welding centres in Gauteng and the  Western Cape.

Four decades with B.E.D.

Viljoen explains: “After concluding successful negotiations, my family business was acquired by B.E.D. – becoming the company’s first acquisition in 1988, and later renamed as the Klerksdorp branch of Bolt and Engineering Distributors.

Group Co-Founder and CEO Mike Giltrow comments: “This milestone 1988 acquisition fortunately allowed us to retain Jan’s services as the Operations Manager, and he brought with him a wealth of acquired knowledge of the region and its potential opportunities. Thanks to his contacts and experience, the Group was able to establish operations and a solid footprint in this key mining region.

Having our new branch headed up by the right person, who understood the culture of the area and its industries, was an important part of our business strategy, allowing the B.E.D. Group to provide bespoke solutions – a strategy which we successfully duplicated in other branches countrywide thereafter. In Jan, we fortuitously acquired both an excellent operations manager for the Klerksdorp branch, and the future MD of the entire company.”

A well-deserved promotion: leading from the top

With his wealth of mining experience assisting in the growing success of the Klerksdorp branch, Viljoen was a natural choice when the company’s founders then turned their attention in Rustenburg, in the so-called ‘Platinum Province’.

In time, and having been instrumental in the launch and success of two key B.E.D. branches – Viljoen then became Managing Director of the entire company in 2012, cementing an even closer relationship with CEO Mike Giltrow. They work together very well and, notes Viljoen, complement each other in their managerial and operational styles.

He adds that twice a year, he and Giltrow undertake a road show to visit all 9 branches,  meeting managers and employees and discussing how the branches are doing and where they can assist.

“I am a strong believer that if you look after your employees’ welfare, as well as their further career growth and development, then they will look after the business. Motivation and training is something I am passionate about.”

Viljoen has twice been honoured by the Chamber of Commerce for the Klerksdorp region with the Businessman of the Year Award: firstly in 2001, and again in 2011. With regards to lessons learned along the way, he clarifies: “I have realised that no one is truly indispensable, and that a solid business is usually able to go on, even in the absence of a key person. I also subscribe to the mantra that ‘the customer is king!’

On a personal note he adds: “Any discussion about my career would be incomplete without a mention of my wife, Sandra. Having been with me on this journey from the very beginning, when we worked together in the family business and then at B.E.D. Klerksdorp, she has given me unfailing support!”.

Adapting, assisting and innovating

In conclusion, Viljoen notes that in order to remain viable and successful in business, the secret is to be adept at adapting and even reinventing as required to assist one’s customers,  to ensure their businesses remain sustainable.

“To this point – and even as the country’s economy and infrastructure continues to face challenges – B.E.D. will continue to make a positive difference to our customers and to industry as a whole, in whichever way we can. Above all else, we are focused on customer service, innovation and solutions,” he concludes.