MechChem Africa

MechChem Africa talks to Burtie Roberts, CEO of BI – formerly Bearings International – and the company’s head of the products and engineering, Ross Trevelyan.

Ross and Burtie“The South African economy remains depressed, but at BI, we remain optimistic for several reasons,” begins Roberts.

First among these is that BI has a history of focusing on South African markets. “While many component suppliers are looking north, we believe there is still a lot of local mileage with respect to growth,” Roberts tells MechChem Africa.

Also though, “BI’s market share for many of our brands is lower than we feel it should be but we see this as a huge opportunity for growth. So we are on a mission to raise awareness of our brands, the underpinning technical knowledge, the advantages of our products as well as our superior servicing levels,” he says.

“We are not yet ready to spread north of our borders, because we still feel that we ought to remain 100% committed to local markets until we achieve the penetration and service levels that South Africa deserves,” Roberts notes.

Describing the change in market conditions over the past five to ten years, he says that conditions have become much more challenging due to an expansion in the numbers of companies offering engineering component distribution services as well as the increasingly cost-constrained conditions being experienced by equipment operators. “It has become increasingly difficult to differentiate one’s offering in today’s industrial environment,” he adds.

In response to this difficulty, he says: “We have repositioned ourselves towards being a preferred supplier to our customers as opposed to being component or brand suppliers. It’s a broad concept, one that incorporates a host of different products and brands to best suit the holistic needs of a plant or customer.

“The concept relies on strong trust-based relationships, stock availability and technical know-how so as to provide, not only products but solutions, backed up by cost-effective quality brands. We don’t really like arguing about which brands are best. Instead, we strive to offer the product that best suits the need: with respect to the specific application; the duty and life required from the product; the cost imperatives of the operation; and the risk factors involved.

“We have access to a number of different suppliers of interchangeable components. On our entire range, we now run with premium European and Japanese brands and lower-cost equivalents from eastern countries such as China. This gives us the flexibility to evaluate the most cost-effective solution for an applications based on the full set of operational requirements and risks,” he explains.

Total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) principles are inherent in this approach. “We invest substantial amounts on internal training for our sales people to evaluate market sectors and, in cooperation with our suppliers, to spread the advantages of each product and brand. In principle, we want all of our sales people to be able to recommend a best-fit solution rather than simply selling one product,” continues Trevelyan...

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