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 Relationship building key to success in an overcrowded market

 

 Glass wholesale and processing is a very crowded industry. As the market place has become increasingly crowded, and battling for success in what has become a commodity market, prospects for profits and growth has steadily declined. What is it that makes one small player turn into a dynamic, fast-growing business that today does work far beyond South Africa's borders?

Sean Turck, MD of Rene Turck and Associates believes that a number of factors lie behind the success of the family business that was started by his father in a small workshop the size of a double garage in 1986. Today it is a fast-growing company that takes on multi-million rand projects as far afield as Kinshasa. Among the success factors that Sean lists is their embrace of technology in 2002, which has given the company a leading edge ever since.

Another factor is diversification into the manufacture of value added products (bullet-resistant glass, double-glazed units, and aluminium fabrication and installation teams) that service both the commercial and domestic sectors. In tough times, this diversity has pulled the company through, he says.

But for Sean the most important factor that explains the growth and leadership position of Rene Turck and Associates has been their ability to build and maintain relationships, coupled to an intrinsic focus on an innovative product offering, and customer service. When he talks about the history and struggles of their business, the words “entrepreneurs and relationships” pop up often.

It is the very bedrock of the company. His late father, Rene Turck, forged a close bond within his family from infancy, and it was this fellowship that culminated in his sons joining the business, which he started from scratch in 1986, after 25 years of working for the PG Group, and today brothers Sean, Greg, Marc and Walter are the co-directors of the company.

Sean says like any family business, passion and different viewpoints can ensure vibrant debates at the weekly meetings held, but that they have worked hard on learning to compromise, and unwittingly beat into shape strong and open relationships that have allowed them to strategize, make decisions quickly and capitalize on their combined knowledge, and the trust between them. After all ‘Wars are won in the planning room, not the battlefield’

When Rene passed away in 2002, the glass industry was already overcrowded and margins under pressure. In order to differentiate themselves and move ahead of the pack, the decision was made to commission highly sophisticated glass processing equipment, which would be run by an integrated management software system and which would manage the business from order entry to order execution. This level of sophistication was unheard of and raising finance for the expansion was difficult. But they managed to take glass processing to “another level” says Sean.

Part of the expansion plan included a production line that would manufacture bullet-resistant glass for banks, embassies and the military, and another line shortly thereafter to make double-glazed units, betting that the green movement and a dwindling electricity supply would increase the need for windows that can insulate homes and commercial buildings. They broke the industry mould by integrating the production of these value added products with their aluminum fabrication and installation operations.

The timing was fortuitous as their expansion came just at the start of the boom years which lasted until the financial crash in 2008.

“A bit of good fortune from a timing point of view, but a great amount of analysis, planning, groundwork and above all, courage goes into such an expansion plan” says Sean. Suppliers, clients, regulators and even competitors have to be sounded out carefully to make sure that the investment is viable. “One of the attributes of a family business is the importance that is given to drawing on longstanding relationships with role players, and being able to draw on their expertise. And we always listen, gather, discuss and prepare the ground.”

After 2010, when the last of the World Cup boost faded from the economy and the after-effects of the great recession devastated both small and large glass processors, Rene Turck and Associates (RTA) survived because of their innovative product offering, and passion for customer service which by this time included the commissioning of the only vertical water jet cutter in Africa.

The worst was yet to come. A violent thirteen-week strike which hit the industry in 2011 almost closed them down. They lost millions, but Sean believes that the cathartic experience helped them to reset their relationship with their work-force of more than 100, and today we acknowledge that our values need to be RTA, the way we work, the way we manage. We have to live them, to mobilize our staff to live them day in and day out, and focus on what matters, set clear expectations as to what is acceptable behavior, and give our staff the freedom to take the initiative.

Sean states that Rene Turck and Associates has formally established an Employee Shared Ownership Participation Scheme (ESOPS) which embraces governments overall strategy of Broad Based Economic Empowerment. Our family is committed to South Africa, and we are passionate about our people, our cultures and the possibilities that exist in embracing transformation.

Rene Turck and Associates has never stopped innovating. But their innovation is not limited to the latest technology – they are also pioneering new markets.

About a year ago they embarked on what Sean calls an “African campaign” to do business north of the Limpopo. Today, 30 percent of their revenue is from outside the country through large contracts such as a bank in Namibia and an airport in Kinshasa. Africa’s growing middle class, its increasing political stability, its fast economic growth and its attractive talent

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