Going it alone in the lifting business is not easy, but for two Cape Town businessmen it was the best decision ever. Twenty years later they are still going strong having become a force to be reckoned with.
Joseph van Huyssteen still remembers those early days after he and partner, Kobus Steyn, launched Blue Cranes.
“It was not easy in the very beginning going up against big name companies, but sheer determination and hard work paid off. It is truly the best decision we ever made,” he tells “Bulk Handling Today” from the company’s head office in Killarney Gardens in Cape Town.
Above the hook specialists, the company today specialises in a range of services including servicing and repairing cranes and hoists, load testing and inspecting equipment, the manufacture or lifting equipment and light cranes, spares for cranes and hoists as well as supplying and testing rigging equipment.
“We simply decided to take a chance and see if we could make it on our own,” says Joseph who at the age of 18 joined the lifting industry as an apprentice working his way up through the ranks. “We were working from a garage and did not have any staff. We knew, however, that we had the ability to really add value to clients.”
In the early days clients, however, were few and far between. “Our first job was actually not in the lifting environment at all but doing the electrical wiring for a shoe shop,” he adds.
“We were willing to do just about anything to get our business off the ground and even though it was difficult, giving up was simply not an option. Our commitment paid off and one by one, the customers started knocking on our door.”
Never looked back
Within three months Joseph and Kobus realised they were onto something. Not long after which, they employed their first technician and have never looked back.
Celebrating 20 years in business this year Joseph says they still have clients who use their services after first signing with them when they just opened.
“Therein lies a big part of our success. Although our client list is wide and varied, most of them have used our services for the better part of 20 years. A big compliment I can tell you.”
Today the company operates from an 850 square metre workshop facility in Killarney Gardens about 30km from the city centre. In Saldanha Bay just up the West Coast, they have also established a 540 square metre workshop with overhead cranes. From here, they effectively cover the west coast of Africa up to Ruacana power station on the Angolan border.
Having worked across the world, in some difficult circumstances, Blue Crane is capable of manufacturing box and beam girder cranes of up to 25 metres long, jib cranes or crawl beams to customer specification or even renovating massive overhead cranes or undertaking small repairs to chain hoist.
As the company looks toward the next 20 years, it is clear that an upgrade of facilites is required. “We outgrew this current workshop several years ago already but it was just not the right time to move. We have since invested in a piece of land in a business park in the area and are currently in the process of building a 2 000 square metre workshop and offices that we will move into before the end of the year.”
With a staff contingency of close to 50, the company has gone from strength to strength attributable to the staff’s dedication and commitment to quality work.
“When a business starts off like ours, two people taking a chance, investing so much of their self into making it successful, there is a real focus on personalised service. It remains a strong element of our business,” says Joseph.
Part and parcel
“Nothing was impossible in the early days and we worked around the clock to deliver solutions to our customers.” Initially part and parcel of their establishment strategy, this ethos has become entrenched in the business.
“No job is too big or too small for us. Our technicians are on 24-hour standby, with the back-up support of various original equipment manufacturers, servicing at set intervals, responding to breakdowns or we are able to place a technician at a client’s premises on a full time basis, maintaining only that company’s equipment. No matter what the requirement, we deliver the solution.”
There is something to be said for reliability and dependability. “We have also always taken responsibility for our work. We break it, we fix it. We place a lot of emphasis on delivering personalised service and talk to our customers continuously to ensure we understand their needs and are able to deliver that which they require.”
Investing in staff and equipment has therefore never been a difficult decision for Joseph and Kobus. “Having the right people and the right equipment is crucial to success. The store is chock-a-block with stock of most spare parts normally required on a day-to-day basis, or consignment stock as required by some of our customers.
“No matter the customer’s stock requirement, our goal is to be able to sort out any problem in the shortest possible time.”
Joseph believes that quality is the differentiating factor. “There are many companies out there that can service a crane or do a load test. For us it is about doing a quality job at a reasonable price. Our workshop is stocked with top-notch tools that enable us to do the job well. We can do the work anytime and anywhere because we have the capacity right here in our workshop. We don’t have to rely on anyone else or hire in goods.”
The same goes for training. As one of only a handful of lifting equipment service companies accredited to train apprentices, much effort goes into sharing and handing down knowledge. “One of the biggest challenges facing industry is knowledge transfer. Finding skilled workers is becoming more difficult and so we have embarked actively on training our staff and making sure they have the right skills set on hand.”
At the same time, Joseph concludes, it is important to encourage young people into the lifting profession. “We have to create opportunities for people and draw them into our industry. We have to be willing to give people a chance.”