It’s a month since the unrest that saw the STIHL SA head office and its warehouse in Pietermaritzburg being totally destroyed, with the loss of 100% of the stock. Dealers in Durban, Greytown, Empangeni, Pinetown and Howick were also looted. However, plans were almost immediately set in place to get stock back into the country as quickly as possible, and the affected dealers ‘made a plan’ to get back up and running again. It’s been a tough few weeks but the good news is that STIHL has received delivery of over 90 tons of stock via airfreight, with more to come through within the next few days. STIHL had to integrate its systems with those of the new third party logistics partner, which required extensive testing. The first test orders were received by dealers last week and the company is gradually ramping up the dispatch of orders to its dealers.
This is positive news, after the stories of loss and destruction that some dealers have to tell…
John Bulteel of Modern Mowers in Springfield Park, Durban, a particularly hard-hit area, says the fact that they deal in larger, less portable products such as tractors, lawnmowers and golf cars in addition to more portable items meant that they didn’t lose everything in the violence and looting. He is also relieved that the premises were not burned. “They came through the main gate and roller shutter doors and we believe that they were busy for an extended period of time. We lost the portable stock and also two vehicles that were driven straight through the roller doors.”
The shop was closed for the entire week of the unrest but cleaning up began the following Monday and the shop was operational the next day. It took time to replace the smashed glass, the rammed access gates, roller doors and damaged computers, as well as restocking, so Monday 2 August was the first truly ‘back-to-normal’ day.
Craig Bishop of National Power & Plant in Pinetown, a STIHL exclusive dealer, had put almost 80% of his stock out on the floor on the Friday before the unrest broke out to shoot a promotional video. “We lost 45 STIHL machines: backpack blowers, brush cutters, chainsaws,” he says. “Luckily they were not able to get into the storage area - they were probably disturbed.”
Craig and his team were back at work the Monday after the unrest, and despite the devastating losses and damage, they were kept busy rebuilding second-hand machines from scrapped stock. “Our workshop was busier than ever, especially after I posted a video on Facebook, and luckily we could still do servicing. We also still had items such as oils etc to sell, and had stock of STIHL FS 160 and FS 280 models, which are our bread and butter lines.”
Craig is upbeat despite the situation. “We have been dedicated STIHL exclusive dealers since 1996 and remain firm STIHL supporters. I’m extremely impressed at how quickly STIHL has been able to put a solution together and it has given us the confidence to remain exclusive dealers and not panic and look for alternative brands.”
Chris Odell of Midlands Power Equipment in Howick, a small town badly hit by the unrest, was also spared a 100% loss of stock as the looters did not gain access to his storeroom.
There was a similar situation at Haig’s Mower and Chainsaw Centre in Empangeni, where Len Liversage says he feels fortunate that the looters were not able - despite two attempts - to get to where most of the stock was kept. “They took everything that was displayed - it was terrible to watch women and young girls acting like crazed animals. Our chap from armed response stopped them eventually after they’d gained access by ripping out a window and its frame (the burglar bars were riveted inside) and smashed the exterior security camera. He calmed them down and asked them to leave, saying there was nothing left to steal. They did try again later, breaking into another section of the dealership, but again did not manage to get to the storeroom. They also left the office and the computers alone.” The store has been open for 50 years, Len has been there for 48, and the building will need extensive repairs. But Len is determined to bounce back.
Umgeni Lawnmowers in Springfield Park was not so lucky. According to owner Dirk Illing, “There was not a room they didn’t get into. What they didn’t take they destroyed. Even the lever arch files were stamped on and broken.”
On Monday 12 July, Dirk was contacted by Marshall Security to inform him that the business was being looted. Despite being advised to stay away from a ‘dangerously volatile’ situation, he drove first to the security company headquarters and then to the Durban North police station before heading home. He was finally able to visit his dealership on the afternoon of 14 July.
“The Massey Fergusson tractor parked outside our front roller door had been tampered with but clearly the looters were not able to start it. The roller shutter door had been prised open and was raised by 500mm. I crawled under it and was confronted with mayhem,” he says. “The entire stock of power products was gone. There was not a single unit left. No Stihl brush cutters, no Stihl chainsaws, no lawnmowers, no generators, no water pumps, no Stihl mist-blowers - nothing in the form of a power product. The lower workshop was also mayhem, with a few jobs in transit still there. All our tools were missing including the workshop compressor, drill press, stand-by generator, bench grinder, ride-on hoist.” It looked as if a forklift fork had been used to remove the extremely stout workshop window burglar bars.
The work computers were all gone, along with the till and printer. The office safe had been opened and R16 000 was missing. Dirk estimates that about 50 % of the spares stock and all the power tools were taken from the main storeroom. The room adjacent to this is where special tools are kept - “nothing was left except leg guards”. In the brush cutter repair workshop, almost all of the customer units were missing, as well as all the work spanners and power tools. Even machines in for repairs were taken.
The looters had also stripped the kitchen area, taking everything, even the tap and mixer! The gents’ toilet was pulled away from the wall and smashed; the lower workshop was used as a toilet and left in a filthy state.
Despite the devastation, Dirk refuses to throw in the towel. “We’re not running from this. We are reasonably well insured and we will forge ahead. I have been buoyed up by my customers, who have come in to the shop to personally give us promises of support.”
Hayden Hutton, managing director of Andreas STIHL (Pty) Ltd says, “Whilst poor South Africans remain the biggest victims of the recent unrest, STIHL and its dealers also suffered significant losses. The STIHL warehouse in Pietermaritzburg was looted and then burnt to the ground, resulting in an interrupted supply of our products that support customers in the forestry, landscaping, and municipal markets, which include many emerging contractors and businesses. But it’s the individual stories of loss and of staff being afraid of losing their jobs that were so distressing. These are people who are as passionate about our brand as we are, and we could not let them down.”
With support from STIHL head office in Germany, the company quickly put into effect an emergency plan to get spares and products to the country from STIHL factories around the world. STIHL head office staff members moved to new premises and STIHL secured a short term warehousing and distribution solution in anticipation of receiving the tons of airfreight as well as containers via sea.
Don’t buy stolen goods
STIHL is appealing to those who see STIHL products advertised online, especially at suspiciously low prices, to be careful of buying stolen property and to check the product serial number at www.stihl-stolen.com to see if products are stolen or are legitimately owned. Always ask for proof of ownership such as a receipt or warranty before buying second-hand goods is the advice.
“The devastation during the unrest is really heartbreaking,” said Hayden. “It is clear that South Africa needs a social compact, to ensure that this never happens again. This means not only ensuring economic opportunity for the poor, but it’s also apparent that we need a moral regeneration, especially when considering the instances of ‘wealthy’ South Africans who took part in the looting. It is heartening to see that many culprits were ‘named and shamed’ via social media, some have already appeared in court, and in some places, stolen goods have been handed in to the police by the community. The country’s commercial sector can rebuild these businesses, but they can only survive and thrive if the government and society work together.”