With virtually every panel builder in South Africa using ubiquitous technology distributed exclusively by ElectroMechanica (EM), the major supplier continues to build on its strategy of providing the right product at the right price, for the correct application and specification at hand.
This strategy has stood the company in good stead since it was established in 1984 by CEO Dave van den Berg. Finder plug-in relays and PC board mounting relays and Lovato connectors, manual motor starters, and motor control switchgear were its first major breakthrough agencies in the local market.
EM still distributes these brands today, and is the oldest distributor globally for both these international leaders. “When we started with Lovato, it had a limited range of contactors. It has grown tremendously since then, and now has one of the broadest product ranges in the market,” van den Berg comments.
Straddling the divide between sophisticated electronics and heavy-duty equipment, EM has found a unique niche in the market that it continues to capitalise on. “We essentially supply switches and relays to panel builders, and to wholesalers to a limited degree,” van den Berg explains.
Elaborating on the company’s guiding motto of always supplying the right product at the right price, van den Berg points out that, while there are cheaper products out there, the quality is not nearly as good. “Unfortunately, in our market many customers are tempted by the better pricing, especially with the flood of cheap Chinese imports.”
EM is well-positioned between the high and lower end of the price scale, and always strives to provide the best-quality products. “Our suppliers are as important to us as our customers. Hence, we look for good European products that meet all of the relevant safety and technical standards, and then we negotiate the price levels. This means we are highly competitive, to the tune of being about 20% less expensive than our closest competitors,” van den Berg reveals.
Maintaining a leading edge is critical, with about 70 companies supplying contactors in the market at present. Van den Berg stresses that what continues to give EM a leading edge in this highly competitive environment is the high level of service it prides itself on.
“We break our backs to offer the best service possible. For example, at the beginning of 2015, the Rand/Dollar exchange rate necessitated a major price increase. In order to mitigate the impact of this, we gave our customers the opportunity of buying our products before the price increase came into effect,” van den Berg points out. “We are one of the few suppliers that, when the exchange rate improves, we subsequently reduce our prices accordingly.”
Not only has the company improved its stockholding significantly, but it also introduced a new accounting package in April, in order to boost service delivery and inventory control. With about 18 000 line items, ensuring stock availability is critical, with the supplier holding about R300 million worth of stock at the moment. The upgrade coincided with the launch of its latest product catalogue, featuring a range of new products and technologies available to the market exclusively.
In terms of latest developments, van den Berg adds that the company’s foray into the automation side of the industry is finally yielding major dividends. “We have found it to be a knock-on situation as anyone buying PLCs needs contactors, DIN railing, and trunking, for example. On the other hand, customers buying switchgear are now also buying drives and PLCs.”
This has resulted in EM boosting its staff and customer training significantly. “We conduct a lot of training courses whereby we teach our customers how to program PLCs, as opposed to the traditional methods and equipment. A modern PLC has ten times the functionality in half the time.” Van den Berg highlights that EM continues to see a 30% to 40% increase a year in its sale of Delta automation products, for example.
While EM has a full basket of products at present, it continues to add new brands as and when needed, especially in terms of complementary products. For example, Lovato now offers sophisticated metering devices and power factor controllers, which has opened up new opportunities in industries such as oil and gas and power generation.
Looking at its further expansion, van den Berg reveals that EM has just opened its first branch on the East Rand in Johannesburg, in order to better serve its customers in this area. “Our plan is to establish branches throughout the country, piggybacking on our new accounting package. This is a work-based system, which means it can be accessed via tablet or smartphone anywhere in the country.” In addition, EM is also looking to establish a presence as far afield as Namibia and Mauritius, in addition to focusing closely on the rest of Southern Africa.
“We do not deal with contractors necessarily, but mainly consultants. This is a new focus for us, as traditionally we have sold to every major panel builder in the country. However, our aim is to become a preferred single point of contact for all our customers’ electrical-product needs,” van den Berg stresses. This is largely due to the supplier’s continued growth and success. “We have been successful with every product we take on, mainly due to the high level of service we offer. Yes, we might be a little bit more expensive, but our support and training are unparalleled,” van den Berg is proud to say.
One of the latest international brands to be represented locally by EM is Cembre of Italy, a global manufacturer and supplier of high-quality cable lights and crimping tools, ranging from hand crimpers to hydraulic and battery or electric operated units. Additional products include a thermal marking system, together with its own printer, to tag everything from cables to wires, terminals, and relays.
EM also has a local production facility to manufacture its own slotted trunking, in order to cut import costs and reduce lead times. Following a successful rebranding that will ultimately see the full ElectroMechanica name replaced by the eponymous EM, the supplier is well-positioned to continue expanding into the future.
“There is a lot happening in the industry, despite external factors such as political uncertainty. We are in a good position to continue increasing our market share. The fact that we carry such a comprehensive stockholding not only means we can ride out exchange-rate fluctuations, but that we can continue to supply all of our key customers whenever needed. We just have to ensure we remained focused on clinching all business opportunities that come our way,” van den Berg predicts.
Part of this strategy is to continue negotiating with its international supplier base to offer the best deals possible for its local customers, in conjunction with the latest trends and technology. “There is a major emphasis in the industry at present to use high-end products due to their energy efficiency and quality. For example, we are sole distributor for Mercedes-Benz lithium ion batteries for energy storage, which has resulted in our foray into the renewable energy sector,” van den Berg elaborates.
Here EM supplies a range of connectors specifically for solar panels. “We have specialised 1 000 V DC fuses and fuse holders, as well as surge protection for 1 000 V. More recently, the move has been to 1 500 V systems, and we even have a solution for this latest trend.”
Other new products from EM include pressure and flow sensors from Huba Control of Switzerland, as well as Panasonic sensors, which are among the most compact in the world. “We have also introduced the latest-generation PLCs from our longstanding technological partner Delta,” van den Berg affirms. In addition, a brand-new range of metering products is now available from Socomec, giving major users such as office blocks and shopping centres the flexibility to be able to monitor the energy efficiency of individual plug points.
ElectroMechanica was established in 1984 by David van den Berg as a specialised direct importer and wholesale distributor of high-end industrial electrical products, motor control switchgear and electronic automation products. A wholly-owned South African company, ElectroMechanica offers its clients state-of-the-art products, sourced from leading local and international brands, all complying with recognised international safety standards and performance specifications.