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  • Writer's picturePieter Steenkamp

The value of sound business principles builds a multi-generational family business. Our Story.

Bambisana Holdings (Pty) Ltd is a leading manufacturer, importer and distributor for the retail market in South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

It had its origins, like many entrepreneurial businesses when it’s founder Christo Steenkamp had his first business set back as a company he was involved in faced liquidation. As a husband and father of three children he was galvanized into a new direction which 23 years later is a success story of manufacturing and distribution. However, the learnings from the growth of this family business are applicable in all entrepreneurial ventures and worth reflecting on.

1. Taking risk to act on opportunity in the market

Familiar with the wholesale agricultural retail network Christo knew that it carried electrical components and lighting supplies in over 700 stores nationwide. By offering a comprehensive electrical range to be branded as a house brand called Kaufman, exclusive to Agrinet, he landed his first deal. Qualis Trading was formed and opened its first office, rented from its client, in Isando, with one desk, one chair, an administrative assistant Valerie Kruger, a warehouse manager Leon Erasmus, two workers and a 1300 bakkie. One of the first suppliers to support the new formed company was GE Lighting,.Mario Biagi and Christo sat on empty paint tins and negotiated credit facilities supporting the financing of trading stock

2. The power of working in, and on, your business

Throughout the growth of the business are stories of personal involvement and hands-on commitment to meeting deliveries and deadlines. These range from ensuring the successful uptake of the new Kaufman range through an extensive nationwide road trip to Agrinet stores in the company’s 1300 bakkie to a 72 hour fit-out of building and installing second-hand shelving to demonstrate capacity to take on the nationwide distribution of household lighting for Pick n Pay SA (2001). This ethos of getting directly involved by management is a tradition that continues in the business today.

Over and above the culture of working in the business is the power of working on the business. A core principle instilled from the companies first trading is the power of sound business management.

3. Achieving growth through new partnerships and networks

While the supply into Agrinet was sound, breaking into new outlets was difficult and organic growth was slow. A turning point in the business came about through a partnership forged with R&L Electronics who were a manufacturing business supplying TV wall mounts and telephone accessories into mass retail outlets such as Game. This opened new doors and increased volume opportunity. Arnold Sharp, from R&L Electronics joined the business, and a new entity AmpuCorp was formed that bought the trading activity of both Qualis and R&L Electronics.

This new team led the drive on a major agreement with Phillips SA, where Mario Biagi was the National Sales Manager after he left GE Lighting, to become their distributor to independent retail outlets. A massive scale jump that led to the company selling a world record breaking number of CFL lamps into the agricultural sector in 2002.

The company extended into becoming the mass retail distributor for Phillips SA nationwide and Mario joined the group bringing his expertise at sales, marketing and relationships along with a team of experienced salespeople into the group. The growth resulted in a holding company being formed called Bambisana Holdings.

4. Diversifying for resilience and business growth

Bambisana Holdings continued to explore and remain open to new business ventures and partners. Even while the base of their business was sound, they extended their business to a manufacturing capacity with the purchase of the Sebor brand and plastic injection moulding manufacturing facility for pots (2008). They also built relationships with Chinese manufacturers and local retailers such as the Pick n Pay group. This meant that when the distribution agreement with Phillips SA ended, they had already opened up other avenues to the market.

The sole distributor agreement with Tramontina Garden Tools (2015) and more recently the purchase of Basic Housewares (2018) with 8 additional injection moulding machines and over 250 plastic houseware moulds along with the registered brand Basic Housewares allows the group to reach into new markets and increases its value offering to nationwide retailers.

Each of these extensions to the core manufacturing, import and distribution activities of Bambisana Holdings increases the groups value proposition to its clients. Through the flexibility to tailor-make products, or package bundles of products combined with the ability to manage volume, the next generation of the business is set to continue year on year growth.

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