African Outback was born out of African Outback Products and Big Country 4x4. We spoke to directors Adolf Waidelich (formerly African Outback Products) and Richard Ransome (formerly Big Country) about the amalgamation and future plans.
SA4x4: Why join forces?
Richard: We bought Big Country from the previous owners about five years ago. Since then we’ve been competing strongly with African Outback Products. We decided to join forces and amalgamate our collective strengths in the market. I’m now going to be predominantly involved in customisations and general product development, sales and marketing, while Adolf will be focusing on his strengths, namely the manufacturing side of the business.
SA4x4: Will Adolf be further developing some of the existing Big Country 4x4 products?
Richard: There’s quite a lot of overlap between the companies especially on the roofrack side of things and we have some ideas regarding what we want to do with that. There is scope for mixing and matching our extrusions. So where previously a certain extrusion was used on the side of the roofrack we are considering using the other company’s extrusion to make things easier, cheaper and of a better quality. For instance, on our gutter-mount roofracks we will now use African Outback feet.
Adolf: By amalgamating we now offer a bigger range and choice of products for customers. I think we have close to 1 000 different products to choose from between the two companies. Why should the customer have to look all over to find several products when we provide the entire range of what I call the ‘hardcore 4x4 accessories’? A fridge or recovery kit is an add-on but when it comes to the canopy for your double-cab, the roofrack, the drawers system etc., we call these the hardcore products and this is what we are focusing on. You will not find another company in the country that has the range that we now have. This makes us unique; we have combined many years of 4x4 experience, design, knowledge and products into one.
SA4x4: Where can one buy these products?
Adolf: We plan to supplement our larger customer footprint by expanding into the smaller 4x4 fitment centres out there that are growing; we want to pull them in so that they become regular customers. We want them to buy our readily available products that are in stock without them having to run around trying to find something suitable. We will have everything from a fender plate to a rooftop tent in stock, all available straight away.
SA4x4: What about other 4x4 products such as fridges?
Adolf: It will be a while until we get around to that. Our current focus is on hardcore 4x4 products as previously mentioned. I see Big Country and Richard adding a huge amount of value to this focus because African Outback was never able to take customers’ special requests into consideration. This was due to production demands, but Richard with his expertise has now changed this. This is clearly Richard’s and Big Country 4x4’s strength – catering for customisation and special design and fitment requests from the customer. (Adolf shows me a Defender that they have customised with three sets of drawers and drop-down shelves.) So now you can buy one of our well-proven roofracks no matter where you are, and then when you want something special or customised you can speak to Richard.
SA4x4: Anything new we can look forward to?
Adolf: We recently added one brand new exciting product, which I think is going to do well for us, and that is the Mile Marker electric winch. We have the agency for this in South Africa. Mile Marker has over the last 10 years developed a remarkable electric winch. As we fit bull-bars it was imperative that we offer our range of winches too. We want to provide a large number of quality products, made with South African ingenuity and knowledge, to both local and international clients.
SA4x4: If someone in Cape Town wanted to customise his vehicle, how would he go about it? Do you have a presence or a workshop there?
Richard: Customisation can only happen in our workshop, which is in Gauteng; we can’t customise something on a remote basis for now. However we are in the process of building alliances with a couple of key players. One of those is Safari Centre which has just been taken over by the Imperial Group. Our recent strategic meeting with them was very encouraging. Our business plan involves providing a service directly to the end user in Gauteng and supplying to the industry in other parts of South Africa. Obviously we have a couple of ideas which we are hoping to put into place pretty soon; one of these is remote warehouses which will be holding our stock at no extra cost. For example, we will have a warehouse in Cape Town which will have roller-drawers or roofracks in stock for the same cost as in Johannesburg. We will carry the transport costs and our dealers will be able to access that stock.
SA4x4: Where will the customer be able to fit his newly-acquired hardcore 4x4 product?
Richard: Our larger retail customers such as Safari Centre have fitment facilities and trained personnel for this purpose. However, we’re not going to tie ourselves exclusively to them. We’re probably going to end up with a system where’ll reward all our retailers on a tiered discount basis depending on their volume and commitment to us. So if a retailer is flying our flags, distributing our brochures, including us in their customer days and selling our products then obviously they will get top-notch discount. If someone is an occasional or ad-hoc buyer then they won’t enjoy the same level of discount.
Adolf: That does not mean we’re going to exclude such outlets as R&D – we want to look after all the dealers who have been loyal to us. Our biggest assets are our customers – the end-users – they are our focus and we want to make sure they are the happiest people on Earth. We want to make sure that they’ve chosen the right product. Richard: Our choice to supplement our trade sales with a limited retail offering is not only so that we can improve our margins but also to improve communication between the customer and our factory. If you’re dealing with a number of retailers then customer feedback comes via bush telegraph and it’s not always accurate.
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