MACIG Connect Series
Sean Kennedy (SK): Turbo Agencies has two main business areas: industrial installations and crane maintenance. The company was founded in Botswana and started as a family business. They ran the Botswana operation for 28 years, the Zambian company for 18 years, and the Congolese entity for 12 years before selling up to the PVC Holdings Group in 2011. For many years, the focus of the Zambian operation was supplying Mopani but we now have a much more diverse array of clients. Since it was first established, the company has evolved from a family-run business to a disciplined corporation and our scope has grown to include industrial cleaning, crane maintenance and the installation of Ravaglioli garage equipment. At present, the operations in the three countries are run separately, but a similar diversification process will hopefully take shape in Botswana and the DRC.
What changes have you enacted at the company since your arrival two years ago?
SK: When I took over the company, it was not being run very efficiently, and we were very overstaffed. It was necessary to retrench a number of the staff. However, we have made it a priority to secure jobs for all the people that we had to let go. As for taking on new recruits, there are so many people looking for work in Zambia that it is quite easy to find good people. There is still some reliance on expatriates for certain tasks, which is never popular with the ministry of labor. However, for skills transfer to take place it is sometimes necessary to bring in expertise from outside.
In recent times, Turbo Agencies has begun to diversify its business and focus on different areas, particularly with the supply of cranes. Could you go into more detail on the services you offer in this area?
SK: Recently we have entered into a partnership with Maxim Lifting Services from South Africa to provide large mobile cranes for the Zambian market. We plan to lease-hire these machines to our clients on a fairly long-term basis. They can hire the crane for a period of a few months or a few years, we will paint it to display their branding, and at the end of the lease we will take it back again. Aside from the lease-hire, we have had a great deal of success on the crane maintenance side. Our promise is to provide 95% usage on any overhead or mobile crane, even if it is 40 years old. When it comes to industrial installations, we have the expertise to take on anything from tank-house overhauls at the mines to putting in seats at a new stadium.
How prepared are the mines to invest in preventative maintenance programs for their equipment?
SK: There has been a change in the way that the mines are doing business. In the past, they treated all their tools and machinery like a disposable cup that was to be thrown out when it broke. Since they have gone through harder times when money was scarce they have become more attuned to the necessity of maintaining their old kit. Paying a little extra for a good maintenance service translates into a real saving in the long-term.
On the industrial installation side, how involved is Turbo Agencies in the front-end design and engineering aspects?
SK: We do have the capacity to design our installations and take care of the engineering side of things. However, in the past we had too many people involved in this area and the business grew to be top-heavy, considering the amount of projects that we were taking on. This aspect has since been downsized but it is something we are looking at building up to again.
Turbo Agencies acts as an agent for a wide variety of global equipment brands. Could you explain the type of relationship that you have with these partners? What is the advantage to them of using an agent rather than setting up their own distribution network?
SK: One of Turbo Agencies main partner brands is Hilti construction equipment. We keep around 10 million Kwacha worth of stock. However, today, we act as more than just a simple supplier. In some cases we will run a container on site where we manage and maintain stocks for large construction projects. Another major business area for us is lifting equipment, which is in high demand at the mines because of their high-level safety requirements. Several companies have approached us hoping for us to be their agents in Zambia but we are extremely careful in choosing our partners. Some of the companies that we worked with in the past chose to go it alone and set up their own operations here and they failed. They do not understand the reality of doing business here and fall down without the help of locals to navigate the local landscape.
With a long history of successful operations in Zambia, how do you hope to further develop Turbo Agencies’ operations?
SK: We are about to spend 2 million Kwacha on refurbishing our factory here. As we are located on the main road towards Kitwe in plain view of the public, the idea is to make the company look as good as a Johannesburg-based operation. Obviously, we also aim to provide a level of service to match our quality appearance. We have just opened new branches in Solwezi and Lusaka. The Solwezi branch is primarily geared towards servicing the mines, as Kansanshi, Kalumbila and Lumwana are all close by. At present, we tend to sell tools only to the miners but the next step is to expand and offer on-site store management.
On a company-wide level, we have recently received a large injection of capital so we are looking to expand on several fronts. This financial boost will allow us to go after larger projects. In the next few years, Turbo Agencies will see exponential growth.
This interview was part of research being conducted by GBR for its upcoming Mining in Africa Country Investment Guide (MACIG) 2016. A pre-release report on the Central African Copperbelt was released in May 2015 and can be accessed here. To participate in this report, please contact Molly Concannon at firstname.lastname@example.org or +243(0)826300684.