The manufacturing sector is one of South Africa’s economic mainstays. It has held its own amidst national, regional, continental and international downturns. With the Covid-19 induced national lockdown, many a South African company lost revenue and, in some instances, had to drastically downsize or, at worst, close shop. It is, however, a good story to tell for Stewarts & Lloyds, South Africa’s leading supplier of quality steel and tube products, pipes and fittings, valves, pumps, irrigation, fencing and hardware products. The pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for the company’s manufacturing division which has witnessed double-digit growth since 2020 and is poised for further expansion in South Africa and across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.
According to Bob Harvey, General Manager at Stewarts & Lloyds Holdings, the manufacturing business unit has had a very good year despite the coronavirus pandemic that ravaged businesses big and small. “Our manufacturing unit experienced larger growth this financial year-end compared to the previous year. This is almost double the growth we saw the year before. This is a significant achievement for the company because Covid-19 has been a particularly difficult period for our sector,” he shares.
Innovating for Client Satisfaction
The manufacturing division appears to have been spurred on by the pandemic if its balance sheet is anything to go by. When other players were winding down or reducing their footprint, the opposite is true at Stewarts & Lloyds. The steel supplier opened new branches in Cape Town and Limpopo in 2021 and [recently] opened another one in Windhoek, Namibia in May 2022. Harvey says that these developments are a glimpse of what is to come. Harvey states that: “Our South African branch network has since grown to 32. As the manufacturing division, we will continue to supply all our branches with all the products they need to contribute to the parent company’s growth.”
Stewarts & Lloyds has more than a century’s successful track record. Harvey emphasises that past success is not a guarantee for future success and growth. Thus the company is always innovating; bringing new innovative product ranges to market in a bid to better serve an ever-evolving 21st Century client. “We have, therefore, added new equipment and products to our channel division and extended the sizes available for many of our existing products to give our customers a wider choice. The palisade fencing department also grew even though palisade fences are being regarded as a dying security measure,” shares Harvey, adding that they anticipate more growth soon. The company will introduce more fencing products in future in addition to the roofing line.
Growth Amidst Challenges
As with any success story, there are bound to be hurdles that had to be skilfully navigated to get to the other side. Stewarts & Lloyds had its fair share that added on to the challenges brought by Covid-19. Harvey indicates that the division had to manoeuvre skilfully during lengthy periods of labour unrest. Harvey notes that they had to introduce extra shifts to make up for the losses incurred during the lockdown. “Strikes are part of South Africa’s ecosystem and they can have disastrous consequences. We experienced a month-long strike but we were able to overcome its negative impact on the business. Our employees realise that they are important stakeholders within the business and we commend them for putting all hands on deck to ensure that the manufacturing division got back to its feet as soon as possible after the strike action,” says Harvey.
Manufacturing is Critical to SA’s Economic Success
South Africa is because it has had a strong manufacturing sector that’s unmatched in Africa. Thus, Harvey believes that the government and industry role players, like Stewarts & Lloyds, should work together to ensure the sustenance and success of this vital economic branch. According to Harvey, for its part, the government should deliver on its infrastructural promises. “If they deliver on this every year, then it’s a win-win for all players in the manufacturing sector. Big businesses will get orders and will subcontract small businesses; which means that more jobs will be created since SMEs are important for economic growth. Job creation means economic growth for South Africa. If we do this right, then we will be better able to service the rest of the continent and beyond,” he opines.
The 2022 Manufacturing Indaba: Reigniting Economic Growth through Manufacturing
Harvey believes that the 2022 Manufacturing Indaba should be used as a platform to showcase South Africa’s engineering capabilities. “South Africa’s capabilities are unmatched in Africa. It would be foolhardy for us to let all that go to waste. Thus we should go all out at such platforms as the Manufacturing Indaba to tell the world that South Africa’s manufacturing sector is a giant to be reckoned with – one that you ignore to your peril. Keep in mind that all eyes will be on South Africa during the event and the opportunity is ours to lose,” Harvey elaborates. He stresses that, indeed, the industry has the skills to deliver on any manufacturing mandate.
For the manufacturing sector to thrive, Harvey concludes that the government should introduce incentives that will encourage industry role-players to create more jobs and adopt new technologies to ensure that the sector remains competitive. “More than anything, small businesses should be supported because any sector’s growth starts with small businesses. Red tape, as a barrier to entry into the manufacturing sector, should be cut to allow more players. We strongly believe that this is one of the most effective ways to keep the manufacturing sector on a winning streak. Further, I would urge industry players to collaborate and network more vigorously and more often for information sharing,” Harvey concludes.
The Sky is the Limit
Stewarts & Lloyds is one of the symbols of how resilient South African companies can be if they focus on their core business. For over 100 years, the company has evolved, even amidst challenges experienced throughout its life cycle. The company’s success is a critical indicator that shows that with the right mindset from industry role players and the government working together to achieve a common goal, the sky is the limit for South Africa’s manufacturing sector.
This article was first published at https://topclickblogs.co.za/a-mainstay-in-south-africas-manufacturing-industry-2/