Words and pictures by Jess Fogarty
Leon De Rouwe has been running Creative Wheels in Boksburg for fourteen years. This business used to be strictly a tyre fitment centre, but now includes a Willard Battery Centre and, more recently, a 4×4 fitment centre. We chatted to Leon about the future of the 4×4 side of his business, as well as how it all came about.
SA4x4 So, Leon, what made you add the 4×4 aspect to your business?
Creative Wheels has always offered a wide variety of tyres (local and imported) and mag wheels – it’s also offered batteries, brakes, shocks, towbars, wheel alignment, and mag wheel and puncture repairs. But, being an avid off-roader myself, I decided to introduce the 4×4 fitment centre seven years ago. This allowed us to offer suspensions, roofracks, fuel tanks, bullbars, roll bars, dual battery systems, and most other 4×4 accessories.
SA4x4 What makes your business different to those of other tyre dealers or 4×4 fitment centres?
Some businesses believe that the customer needs them to survive; I know that it’s me who needs the customer. As a result, I’ve tried my best to provide a convenient one-stop shop so that vehicles don’t have to be sent away for parts or repairs, but can stay at one location, which means getting dealt with in less time and at a lower cost. Working at such basic costs, and keeping labour costs to a minimum, makes you think how freely we all give away money. If you don’t know how much something really costs to make, and someone tells you the price, you assume that’s what it should be. You never ask the basic cost, and they feel free to mark up the price as they see fit. Customers also seem to really appreciate our open workshop policy; you can walk right in and inspect your vehicle, or discuss changes or ideas with me and our mechanics directly. I feel that the customer is an important part of the process. It only becomes difficult when the occasional person watches and judges our every move, hanging around every day; then you have to try and ask them politely to leave. (Leon chuckles.) But I do understand the need, as I would feel the same if my ‘child’ went to the doctor.
SA4x4 What are the challenges of being an independent owner/ operator?
I’m a hands-on owner, and there’s nothing my employees do that I can’t do myself. I do all modifications personally, but the problem is that there is less time for me to do so, as I still need to make sure that everyone and everything else is still on track. There are times when it becomes tricky, so I cannot do custom fittings every day. It is harder without a production line or huge panel of experts, but that’s what happens when we try our best to go that extra mile. It may be harder work, but at least we offer services unique to our company.
SA4x4 What kinds of services do you mean?
Well, we’ve teamed up with Eco-Psych 4×4, just 40 minutes away in Bronkhorstspruit. Eco-Psych 4×4 offers 4×4 training, recovery training, and 4×4 trips – all conveniently close for our customers – but the 4×4 experience is not their only interest. Eco-Psych is all about Ecological Psychology; it is not just a case of learning how to drive off-road, but also about the impact nature has on people. They specialise in going into wilderness areas that will have a real natural-wilderness impact on you. It is not just about the driving – there is also the fauna and flora, and spectacular views. It is an ultimate learning experience in every way, and our customers have provided positive feedback about their experiences. The trails are guided by Johan Klopper from 4×4 @ Kungwini, who’s a specialist in 4×4 expeditions, a conservationist, and a trail designer and developer. He’s a fount of knowledge about 4×4, ecological, and environmental subjects, and is well worth travelling with, as his information about nature and culture is fascinating.
SA4x4 What made you decide to add the 4×4 fitment centre to your business?
Being a very independent person, I left Hi-Q to take over the family business started by my grandfather. This gave me more freedom and time for the little things one wants to do for oneself. I love overlanding, and being my own boss gave me more time to do so. I have travelled some of southern Africa, but dream of driving to the Serengeti one day soon. Because of my passion for the outdoors, I am able to go out into the bush and test the products I sell in all sorts of conditions and terrains. This gives me insight into, and trust in, my own products, which is necessary because I won’t sell them if I don’t believe in them myself. This brought me the idea of the 4×4 fitment centre. I work with something I understand first-hand, as well as believing in what I tell my customers.