Bell 'cautiously optimistic' about mining and construction sectors

Published: 16 March 2018

While 2017 was an unprecedented year for the southern African heavy equipment industry, which experienced a year-on-year market increase of about 15% across all product sectors, the current year has started much slower than anticipated reports Marketing Director of Bell Equipment Sales South Africa, Mark Hughes.

"Last year we'd come through a few tough years during which many companies opted to age their fleet and deferred the replacement of assets; in many instances sweating them beyond their economic life. The articulated dump truck (ADT) market, for example, grew 40% on the previous year. This sudden and somewhat unexpected increase in demand created a massive opportunity for suppliers who were able to match stock requirements and provide finance. However, traditional sources of funding were pressure tested and this forced suppliers to be innovative with their funding models and offerings in order to meet customers' requirements."

Although 2018 has been slow out of the starting blocks, Bell Equipment remains hopeful that resolving the Mining Charter logjam - a top priority of the country's new administration - will re-energise the mining industry and boost investor confidence. "Commodity prices have been fairly good but the investor appetite of funders into the mining industry has remained under pressure because of ongoing uncertainty surrounding the Mining Charter," said Hughes.

While the lower exchange rate will be a challenge to Bell as an exporter of products, the company is cautiously optimistic that 2018 will see resurgence in infrastructure work, such as roads and civils developments, by central and regional governments. "We are expecting to see some progress in 2018 in the run-up 2019 which, being an election year, we expect will bring some uncertainty and a more conservative approach to the release of government work."

One-stop-shop solutions

From an equipment perspective, Hughes believes that Bell is well positioned in southern Africa as a one-stop-shop with its carefully selected offering of Bell and partner products, with Kobelco excavators and Kamaz heavy duty tipper trucks being the newest additions to the range.

"In the past six months that we've been distributing Kobelco machines we've seen tremendous interest and uptake. Although it's still early days, initial feedback from the market speaks very favourably of fuel consumption, for which Kobelco is world famous, and we are encouraged that the manufacturer's claims in this regard are being borne out by our customers' experiences."

After initially launching the medium-sized machines from 21t to 35t, Bell will now augment and complete the range with the introduction of the larger 38t, 50t and 85t models as well as the mini excavator range, which comprises 5,5t, 7,5t and 13,5t short rear swing machines. "We see a good market for these mini excavators, which are ideally suited to light construction, demolition, grave digging and forestry applications," said Hughes.

Following the sound experience Bell has had running left-hand drive Kamaz trucks in field over the past few years, the company has received the first right-hand drive trucks, which will be officially launched at bauma CONEXPO AFRICA. "There has been tremendous interest from customers looking for low cost per tonne haulage solutions and we believe that this robust and capable range will complement our ADT offering well. We are thrilled to have one of the Kamaz Dakar trucks on our stand, which is sure to draw huge visitor interest while showcasing the passion for excellence that is shared by the racing and day-to-day products, both of which have the same design philosophy and are built with the same pride," said Hughes.

Customer and sales support

Apart from providing customers with a one-stop-shop, Bell has a strategic focus on customer relations and promoting continuity, and has recently filled vacant regional sales manager positions. Tyron Ravenscroft, who has been the Finlay Product Manager and Sales Manager for the Central Region since the end of 2016 is now joined by Johan Hanekom, the company's Bomag Product Manager, who fulfils the dual role of Sales Manager for the Cape Region. Twan Bell, formerly Aftermarket Product Manager, has a strong background in sales and is now Sales Manager of the Coastal Region while Clyde Visser, who has almost 20 years of experience in the heavy equipment sales, has been enlisted to manage key accounts and Africa.

Bell Equipment has also commenced the process to recruit a new managing director for its southern African sales operation after the outgoing incumbent, Menzi Dumisa, accepted a new role and challenge in an allied industry and left the company in February. "Menzi had recently celebrated 10 years with Bell and served the company commendably, both as financial director and later as managing director. We take this opportunity to thank him for his valuable input and wish him well with his career progression," said Hughes.

In the interim, Bokkie Coertze, who served as Managing Director of BESSA from 1995 until his retirement in December 2016, has filled the breach. "During his retirement Bokkie remained involved in the business in a non-executive chairman role and we are grateful that he has agreed to step back into an executive role to maintain a steady ship and once again support a seamless transition once a new candidate has been identified."