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Prime Invest Transport November 09 www. bus- ex. com 163 identified an opportunity in clothing and related products. As everyone knows, fashion is a fickle business and rapid response is essential for retailers and design houses. " The manufacturers actually act as design houses," says Edwards. " They ship the production work out to CMT ( cut, make and trim) operations, who deliver back to the design houses. From the start, we focused on that transport space." Prime Invest was in very much the right place at the right time, with a strategy that harmonised with the clothing sector's development. " Edcon, the retailer, decided to outsource their distribution centre and delivery work in the Western Cape in 1998; we tendered for the contract and got it." That win effectively doubled the company's size. At the time it had six trucks, it acquired six more from Edcon with the contract and proceeded from there, region by region and state by state. " They outsourced the Free State at the time we were looking to expand, and we got that contract, too. Then we got northern KwaZulu Natal; then the north and south coast of KwaZulu Natal." When Boardman Stores was purchased by the Edcon Group and the tender for distribution became available, based on its previous performance Prime Invest was able to secure it, starting with Johannesburg and followed by other areas around the country. Piece by piece, step by step, Prime Invest Transport was expanding. Its distribution centres are now in the key locations of Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban, Ladysmith, Johannesburg and Bloemfontein. As its customer base grew, so did Prime Invest- by delivering to the standards required. Also essential to Prime Invest's growth strategy is building its people. Everyone in management knows transport inside out. " Two of our directors began as drivers, and we're all actively involved in the business," Edwards explains. " We're very hands- on and watch all aspects of our operations. We have great regional managers." Prime Invest complies with South Africa's economic empowerment laws pretty naturally. It is 26 per cent black owned; and previously disadvantaged groups are represented at all levels, from loaders to supervisors and managers. It invests heavily in training, teaching new recruits to become truck drivers, constantly upgrading their licences, from which they will perhaps go on to become managers. " We have people training to become accountants: we put them through their exams. Our HR people go through courses learning to handle people, how to conduct hearings and so on," says Edwards. " We are helping our staff to improve, which helps us as a business and almost incidentally helps us to score well on the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment scorecard." In fact, the company is rated as a level 3 contributor on the scorecard. All of which is excellent but it's the performance of the company in practice, in serving its customers, that is the key to growth and success. Prime Invest runs a tight ship and has invested in technology to ensure its costs are under control. They have to be- transport is a competitive business and cost can be the difference between winning, keeping and losing a contract. All its vehicles have tracking devices fitted- Edwards is able to look on his computer as we are talking and see where every single truck is and whether the engine is running or not. The company's Global Telematics Orchid system enables complete trip records to be printed out, covering where the truck went, its speed, driver breaks and so on. " We can set exclusion zones on the software. If a truck goes into an exclusion area, alarms go off. Whether it's a hijacking, piracy or an unauthorised detour, we know about it immediately," says Edwards. " We use it as a tool for driver debriefing, which enables us to help them to be better, to drive more economically and to identify route improvements." Planning itself is a busy process. " We get our daily requirements for carriage and set our schedules accordingly," Edwards explains. " Tomorrow we need 13 trucks in Durban. Where are we going to get them? We source and arrange them appropriately. We're always planning and making sure our trucks are working as effectively as they can, which means carrying economical loads both ways." Prime Invest Transport's customers appreciate that it is working to deliver the best service possible. " We take responsibility for their transport issues; they can leave the headaches to us." Naturally, the company's success relies heavily on its fleet. " We run a fleet that is predominantly Isuzu vehicles; without the support of Isuzu Truck Centre in Cape Town, the rest of the Isuzu dealerships around the country and General Motors South Africa, we would not be the success that we are," says Edwards. " Isuzu helps us by servicing after- hours or on Saturdays." Edwards has clearly been able to recognise that a strong relationship with not only customers but suppliers is invaluable. " Standard Bank, WesBank, Vebody and Caltex have all made our success possible as well," he concludes. - Editorial research by Vincent Kielty " We grew by being flexible. We revolve around what the customer wants"

164 www. bus- ex. com November 09 That's spirit