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Neil Cracknell

Three generations, one landloard

When you think about a family business in which three generations have traded continuously from the same premises, you’d imagine that they would own the building. Not so in the case of the Cracknell family who runs Chaz Printing & Signs and the Fastway franchise at 53 Corundum Road in Polokwane, which is owned by Business Partner Limited.

The Cracknells have been renting the premises since 1999 and have not only changed generations in the same building but have also changed the nature of their businesses.

Neil Cracknell says his father and his sister started Chaz Printing and Signs in 1999, providing promotional printed materials. When his father wanted to retire in 2013, Neil, who was the regional manager of a large courier company, saw it as an ideal opportunity to step out of the transport business and try something new.

Neil’s sister also left to pursue other interests, and Neil took over the printing business to run it with his daughter. But scarcely six months into his new life, Neil was approached by his old employer and asked to do third-party logistics for them in the region, meaning he would manage the physical collections and deliveries of parcels between the courier company’s depots and the clients.

“I suppose once transport is in your blood you can’t get rid of it,” says Neil, who had to quickly register a new company, Cracknell Trading Enterprise, and set up a fleet of delivery vehicles. A letter from the courier company stating that they were contracting him was all he needed to get bank finance for ten delivery vehicles.

In 2016, Neil bought the Limpopo license for Fastway, an international courier franchise that operates in five countries. His branch, which also operates from 53 Corundum Road has meanwhile expanded to 21 “courier franchisees”, drivers who each operate their own subregion as a franchise.

The two new businesses have meant that the printing operation, which had always occupied all 800 square metres of the building, has now moved to the back of the shop to make space for the hundreds of parcels that move through the business every day. Every morning the space is packed with parcels that had come in the previous day, and after about three hours of bustle it is empty again as the drivers collect them for delivery.

The new businesses have fitted well into the available space, including his fleet of vehicles, says Neil. His daughter is running the scaled down printing works, which is now much more efficient in its use of space, while he focuses on his fast-growing delivery services.

Neil says they are still happy in the building after all these years. “I really can’t complain. If we have an issue with the premises, Business Partners Ltd sorts it out. “When it comes to renewing the lease, I tell Business Partners Ltd that we’ve paid the building off for them, so they can give us a reduction,” laughs Neil. He gets the sense that the Company takes their long tenure into account when the lease comes up for renewal. “When it comes to renewing the lease, I tell Business Partners Ltd that we’ve paid the building off for them, so they can give us a reduction.”

As for owning his own premises, Neil’s approach is that he is in the business of transport and printing, not property maintenance.

Expansion certainly lies ahead, and for the moment it takes the form of acquiring the licenses for new regions. Neil recently bought the Fastway licence for Mpumalanga which takes him to Nelspruit for about three days in a month. His operation there oversees the activities of 20 courier franchisees.

Neil says moving the business to bigger premises in Polokwane has not come up as an issue yet because the businesses fit well in the premises, even with the surge of deliveries that they have experienced over the past year with Covid-19 boosting online sales.

If all else remains the same, it is not entirely inconceivable that the next generation might start working there.

About the Author: BPLAdmin

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