“We value each person, irrespective of their gender. Having said that, and while gender diversity is always important, this Women’s month we pay tribute to all the women who contribute not only to our success, but to that of the entire industrial sector.
The women of B.E.D. are an integral part of our foundation – just like fasteners in construction – and are vitally important. Women are making great strides in driving industrial growth, and each one of us in this sector are proof of how rewarding it can be – with limitless opportunities! As a country, we need to build on this: equipping, mentoring and developing women in traditionally male-dominated sectors,” says Bolt and Engineering’s Group Marketing Administrator, Reinette Human.
At Bolt and Engineering Distributors Group (B.E.D.) – which has supplied the mining, agricultural, construction and engineering sectors with quality fasteners and equipment since 1983 – women have always played a pivotal role. As a people-oriented company, B.E.D. values the opportunity to celebrate women’s roles in the workplace in August. However, Human is quick to point out that the company’s appreciation for the contribution that women make to the business is ongoing throughout the year.
“There is no differentiation between our male and female team members, and most departments have equal numbers of men and women. However, I believe that the highly valued contribution which women make to the business has much to do with the high standards that they set for themselves.
We know the importance of this both internally and externally. This is a very fast-paced, tough industry and we invest a lot of care and effort on a daily basis. As such, we are all focused on what we term ‘human-to-human’ interaction, especially when we work with suppliers or customers,” she adds.
Another mantra that she believes is particularly relevant to Women’s month is ‘it takes each one of us to make a difference for all of us’: “We all understand that we need to continually do the right things, right – for ourselves and for each other – so that we can all grow and improve,” Human enthuses.
Human points out that the women at B.E.D. also exemplify and embody the Group’s dedication to innovation, safety and quality: “As a ‘human-to-human’-orientated business, we focus on what our customers need. We are always on the look-out for the latest market trends, technology and innovation. That way, we get to be part of positive change within our customers’ businesses. Whether it is equipment that needs to be adapted for a specific project, or which needs to be specially manufactured and designed, we aim to continually – and consistently – get it right,” she says.
She points out that this ethos not only applies to the workplace, but also to what is done in the greater community, with many B.E.D. women participating in social investment initiatives. For Nelson Mandela Day, one branch embarked on a Warm-up Drive and ‘gave back’ to its staff by running a soup kitchen, another had its drivers collect and distribute blankets, jerseys and pre-loved clothing that had been donated by B.E.D. employees and still another did some much-needed gardening at a nearby old age home, ending the day with a braai for residents. They also visited a children’s home with donations of toys and blankets.
Another example of how B.E.D. has become part of a ‘diversity evolution’ in the workplace is in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a division that is staffed by a specialist all-female team. Human says that this is a rapidly growing market that is growing year-on-year, both in terms of new product introductions and the volumes sold.
This is driven by various factors locally, including proposed new legislation which is trying to streamline strategies and improve the representation of women in the sector. This is aimed at encouraging leaders to make decisions that are in the best interests of women whilst also promoting gender diversity and inclusion at all levels in the workplace.
“Over the past 10 years, there has been a significant increase in the supply of PPE that is specifically designed for women. Men and women are of course anatomically different and, because of this, different PPE is required to ensure the right level of protection is maintained. When PPE does not fit properly, this impacts the wearer’s performance, comfort and safety. PPE that is too big can hinder the wearer’s ability to move freely. The growth in the number of women in previously male-dominated positions within industry and mining, in particular, means that these sectors are having to adapt – and B.E.D. has gone all out to be at the forefront of this trend,” she advises.
Human believes that having a female PPE team is a “perfect fit” – as they fully understand their colleagues’ safety concerns, performance and comfort needs. “We offer the popular sizes in D59 acid- and flame-retardant overalls specially designed and cut for women, women’s size gloves, arc safety shoes made in smaller sizes for woman – and even harnesses designed especially for women,” she comments.
B.E.D also enthusiastically upholds the belief that ‘teamwork makes the dream work’, and strong relationships are actively cultivated within the company at all of its 9 nationwide branches.
“We often get complimentary reviews and feedback from customers, thanking female team members for going that extra mile or noticing efficiency and teamwork between different departments. This really shows that ‘teamwork makes the dream work’, as we all work together to build a strong, sustainable company and industry,” she concludes.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Appeared in Press