STIHL bounces back

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.”

Bell on the move with JCB, haulage tractors

Bell Equipment has updated their haulage tractors, withdrawn from the John Deere dealership and acquired the JCB dealership.

After four years of development and testing the new Bell Series V Haulage Tractor has rolled off the production line.

“This latest version of an old stalwart is our best ever,” commented Bell’s Product Marketing Manager for Forestry and Sugar, Ettienne Terblanche.

The Bell haulage tractors have been around for 45 years. The designers have acted on customer feedback to build on the original by updating the drivetrain to deliver best performance and productivity benefits, and ultimately lowest cost per tonne.  

The new series comprises four models, the 1406A, 1406AF, 1736A and 1736A, all designated according to engine power and whether the machine is a 2WD (A) or 4WD (AF) configuration. Together they provide solutions for a wide range of operating requirements.

“Across the range we’ve reintroduced the well proven John Deere 6,8l engine, to deliver more grunt than our outgoing series. Farmers love the John Deere engine and we’re confident that this latest turbocharged, common rail diesel powerplant and a superior cooling package will meet and exceed customer expectations. Feedback we’ve received on our prototype units that have operated in South Africa and several neighbouring countries all indicate that the fuel economy of our Series V Tractor is the most economical in its class,” said Ettienne.

The engine is available in two power ranges,140HP (104kW) and 173HP (129kW) and achieves the Tier 3 emissions certification without the need for a complex exhaust gas recirculation system.

“The engine and transmission work so well together,” says Ettienne. “The transmission is electronically controlled and features the latest hardware and software to deliver exceptional comfort and fuel efficiency. The minimal torque interruption in the transmission allows the tractor to pull away smoothly and without loss of inertia through the gears even when towing a full ‘cane train’. In addition, we have introduced Bell Traction Control as a standard feature on the 4x4 configuration. These tractors normally run in 4x2 but when the system identifies wheelspin in poor underfoot conditions it automatically switches to 4x4. The operator can also manually select 4x4 on the dashboard.

“We’ve upgraded the braking system to increase stopping power by about 15% over the previous series,” explains Ettienne.

The cab has been redesigned with increased space for the trainer seat, a comfortable flat floor and a standard HVAC system. The internal panels are custom moulded with ABS thermoplastic to enhance the luxurious feel of the cab. For improved reliability, standalone switches have been incorporated into a single, sealed switch module (SSM), which includes transmission control on the 1736A and AF.

“The fabricated steel chassis, heavy duty rear axle and hitch positioning ahead of the axle centre line - for improved steering and traction when trailers are fully loaded - have all been retained along with key safety features, such as the ROPS/FOPS certified cab and pneumatic trailer braking,” continues Ettienne.

The bonnet opens upwards to 70 degrees to provide excellent access for servicing, maintenance and daily checks. 
 
“The Bell Haulage Tractor has been around for 45 years and has been trusted by thousands of owners to carry out the toughest haulage work. With our Series V we have been inspired by what our customers want, and we are proud to carry on this proud pedigree while offering our customers improvements over our previous generations,” he concludes.

JCB dealership
Meanwhile Bell Equipment has been appointed as a JCB dealer in South Africa, and no longer represents John Deere.

JCB provides Bell with diversity and strength in the local market, according to Bell Equipment Marketing and Alliance Partner Manager, Stephen McNeill.

“JCB is a strong, well respected brand in South Africa. They have been selling machines into the market for over 40 years and have an extremely high machine population in the country. JCB and Bell share many similarities and values, and our partnership has clear benefits for both companies. In terms of our own benefits, we see potential for increasing machine sales volumes in some of our key product lines.

“Due to challenges in the market, we are seeing a gradual move away from premium European built machines and JCB provides us with solutions to satisfy both requirements, as well as opportunities to ‘compare and share’ in different areas such as dealer management.”

Bell is selling a wide range of JCB products including backhoe loaders, wheel loaders, excavators and rollers.

JCB also provides Bell with an opportunity to sell telescopic handlers and skid steer loaders for the first time.

While Bell is no longer a dealer for John Deere forestry equipment and will soon handover distribution rights for Bomag machines, Bell will continue its partnerships with Japanese excavator manufacturer, Kobelco, and mobile crushing and screening specialist, Finlay.

McNeill explains: “It has been agreed by all parties that the JCB and Kobelco Excavators will be sold alongside one another in the South African market. The larger Kobelco excavators are important to our ADT business as they give us ideally matched machines for our large ADTs in mining and quarrying applications, and they’ve been well accepted in the forestry and construction industries. We believe that there is a place for both ranges; it enables us to offer the widest range on the market and give our customers the best choice.”

Commenting on the implementation of the JCB arrangement, he concludes: “Our goal was to make the move to the JCB product line as smooth and seamless as possible for customers. Although the introduction has had its teething issues, I believe this has largely been achieved. A great deal of resources and effort has gone into ensuring adequate parts inventory and machine stock holding as well as making sure our sales and support staff are full trained and versed to handle the new product range.”

AfrEquip moves to new premises

South African-based forestry equipment supplier AfrEquip has relocated their head office to a bigger, new facility in Pietermaritzburg.

“Over the past few years, AfrEquip has continued to invest heavily in parts, and our old premises were bursting at the seams,” said John du Toit, AfrEquip’s managing director.

“We searched for the right spot to house our main support location and found a property virtually around the corner in the same suburb,” said John.

“The facility required significant alterations to meet our requirements. We built a new workshop to house equipment for delivery inspections, and we added a new floor to the parts facility to safely house our significant parts holding. This new facility is just another tool for us to offer world-class support to our customer base.”

The new workshop can fit four big forestry machines, two more than the previous facility. It has also received the thumbs up from AfrEquip’s technical manager, John Barbour.

AfrEquip supplies and supports a range of forestry equipment in South Africa including Tigercat, Logmax, Morbark and Gierkink. The company has five branches in key forestry regions: Pietermaritzburg and Richards Bay (both in KwaZulu-Natal) Mbombela (Nelspruit) and Mkhondo (Piet Retief) in Mpumalanga, and Ugie in the Eastern Cape.