Welcome in Welkom: B.E.D. outclasses the competition with ‘the perfect fit, fast’ in the Free State

Competitive pricing, efficient delivery, superb lead times and good leadership are synonymous with the Bolt and Engineering Distributors (B.E.D.) Group’s Welkom branch. However, it is the people who matter the most according to Operations Manager, Andrè Esterhuizen. “My people are everything. This is who I am,” he explains, referring to the 37 people who work at the branch itself as well as the 100-plus people who depend on them.

Going a step further, Esterhuizen attributes the branch’s success to the group’s 100/0 principle, which encapsulates taking 100% responsibility and accountability for both individual and company success and making 0% excuses for compromising on service.

Esterhuizen maintains that the experience of working together, coupled with the ‘never say it’s not my job’ B.E.D. ethos always applies, with employees not only dedicated to their jobs, but committed to filling in should colleagues go on leave or be sick. 

“Everyone is important. I always tell my team: your job extends beyond your job description. You are complete in your own role – but we also need to stand together to ensure that the whole business does well so we can ensure ‘the perfect fit, fast’ as the B.E.D. tagline goes,” he explains.

This is closely aligned with the Bolt and Engineering’s practice of creating a strong, holistic Group operational ethos – while at the same time also allowing each branch to operate autonomously – and each operations manager to lead as if a branch was their own.

People-centric approach

Although Esterhuizen took the reins at the Welkom branch in 2021, his journey with B.E.D. started in January 2017 as an external sales representative in Klerksdorp. Having spent 10 years working for a large corporate – “where I felt like I was just a number” – he thrived within the people-centric culture of Bolt and Engineering, and was promoted to the position of Sales Manager at Klerksdorp in 2020 and then appointed Operations Manager at the Welkom branch in 2021.

He comments that, given the impact of Covid-19, this was a challenging time both for the Group as a whole and for the branch.

Classified as an essential service supplying Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), B.E.D. fortunately continued to operate during this difficult period. With team members working from home, he says the company’s same basic principles applied: providing customers with excellent service and ensuring that essential equipment was quickly and efficiently supplied.

Yet again, in this most trying of times, it was B.E.D. people who made the difference.

“I encouraged them to pick up the phone and call clients. Customers may have been out of sight, but they were not out of mind! We needed that personalised interaction with our customers – and it worked for us. Some companies closed down and even reduced staff. We did not. As a Group, we stood together. We all knew that we had to pull together, and work hard to keep the doors open.”

‘Branching’ out

The Welkom branch, which has been operational for almost as long as the Group, was the third to be established, after the Wadeville head office and the Klerksdorp branch. Thirty-two years ago, the creation of this branch – which acts as a central hub in the heart of the Free State but extends far beyond provincial borders to Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape, Craddock, Vrede, Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal and Kuthu, the iron ore hub of the Northern Cape – was the next logical step.

As such, the Welkom branch serves the mining, agricultural, contracting, engineering and DIY sectors, selling everything from fasteners, bearings, lifting equipment, PPE, oils and lubricants, paints to general tools and welding products.

“Initially, the focus was on gold mining. However, as South Africa’s gold mining sector declined, many of the local shafts began closing and the Welkom branch’s main target sector became agriculture – maize and beef,” he explains.

While enthusiastic about agriculture – an established target sector for the B.E.D. Group as a whole – Esterhuizen is very passionate about the mining sector where he began his career. He was pleased to see key mining industry players buy and re-open many shafts in Welkom. Along with Area Sales Manager (ASM) Victor Hattingh, he is currently on a mission to grow mining sales and on the back of that, ultimately, to make Welkom one of B.E.D’s largest branches.

“I believe that using Welkom as a hub to process quotes and orders and then despatch goods and services is a better business model than establishing expensive satellite offices in smaller centres. In addition, the six ASMs who report to me have plenty of ‘fire in their bellies’, and have an intricate knowledge of the industries and communities within which they work,” he enthuses.

Passionate about PPE

The latest arrow to be added to the Welkom branch’s quiver will be an experienced PPE specialist.

The B.E.D. Group has been a trusted distributor of PPE products for over 30 years with a wide product range which includes everything from hard hats, safety boots, gloves and eyewear to respiratory equipment, high visibility clothing, and ear protection.

“Previously, we did sell PPE but not as much as we do now. This division has grown and we are looking to appoint a PPE specialist who knows exactly what the customer wants and will win them over, especially in the mining industry. They always need PPE – and need it immediately,” he says.

When he arrived in Welkom, Esterhuizen initiated a complete makeover of the PPE customer centre, moving the large counter to the front and then creating a customer friendly shopping retail area, where customers could interact with and experience the wide range of products on display.

“Now, my plan is to make PPE even more accessible through open days at the branch and on customers’ premises. A recent open day in Welkom and one at a client in Vrede both proved very successful, so we will be looking to do more of these in future,” he points out.

Looking to the future

“We strive to do better – for consistent, continuous improvement as per our tagline ‘hashtag continually getting better’ ( #CGB) – and to serve our customers better. There is always an opportunity to grow,” says Esterhuizen. 

The industries on which he will continue to focus are mining and agriculture, as well as DIY and engineering. Welding is another major focus area as it is required by all sectors of industry.

Most of all, however, Esterhuizen and his team are working hard to outsmart the stiff competition which exists throughout the region. “Our ongoing goal is to outclass our competitors, by being better every day –  and giving our valued customers a ‘next-level’ service experience which they will only get from us!” he concludes.