Jul

Walking the Talk

2011-07-01 19:44
 The tradition of transport in the Christowitz family goes back to 1921 when  CJ Christowitz started a transport company in Nyasaland using a Model-T Ford. It was rough and pioneering stuff.

A company which lives to the maxim that ‘˜successful businesses are built on relationships not transactions’ is Wynberg-based AC Carriers which has been doing the same work for the same client since 1990, using Iveco trucks supplied by the same dealer since 2000. And the transport link goes back much further than that writes Patrick O’Leary.

In an age where the internet, email, instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter and other such innovations have taken over from direct human interaction, it is gratifying to come across a company which still embraces the ‘˜old school’ values of maintaining solid relationships built on the ancient communication mode of eye contact and ‘˜talking’.Yes, I know marriages have resulted from people meeting over the internet but then, after the honeymoon, they conduct their arguments by firing vicious sms’es at each other instead of using the traditional ‘˜whack him over the head with a frying pan when he’s not looking’ tactic! There’s nothing that beats human interaction.

The easy smiles and warm understanding that arises between parties from years of contact was clearly evident when FleetWatch visited AC Carriers with Carl Bouwer, dealer principal of Iveco Randburg Commercial Vehicles, the man who has been supplying Iveco vehicles to owners Andrew Christowitz and his wife Elza since 2000.

Long time partners in success, from left: Carl Bouwer, director, Iveco Randburg Commercial Vehicles; Elza and Andrew Christowitz, AC Carriers; Eamonn Parker, Iveco's network and marketing manager for southern Africa; and Alberto Pellegrini, Iveco's national sales manager for South Africa and the CCU.

Long time partners in success, from left: Carl Bouwer, director, Iveco Randburg Commercial Vehicles; Elza and Andrew Christowitz, AC Carriers; Eamonn Parker, Iveco’s network and marketing manager for southern Africa; and Alberto Pellegrini, Iveco’s national sales manager for South Africa and the CCU.

Also with us was Eamonn Parker, Iveco’s network and marketing manager for southern Africa, as well as Alberto Pellegrini, Iveco’s national sales manager for South Africa and the Common Customs Union. You quickly pick up the feelings of trust and friendship. It’s all there. They’re all talking the same language. It’s like they’re in business together as partners. And that, in essence, is what the relationship is , a partnership with each taking into account the other’s needs and desires.

AC Carriers is a fascinating business. Its activities are out of the main-stream limelight but the end results of their efforts are in your face every time you enter a shopping centre for this company is responsible for the delivery of the point of sale and display posters for the whole of the Edcon group on a national basis.
FleetWatch has always stated that everything we touch, wear, eat, drink has at some stage during its life been on a truck. Well, we never really extended that to what we see but its true. Those big, colourful display posters that entice us into stores like Edgars and the CNA are delivered by truck , and AC Carriers is the company responsible for that.

The company’s roots were planted in 1990 when the opportunity presented itself to start a transport business to distribute all point of sale material for the Edcon Group. “We had no skills in transport and used Rent-A-Bakkie vehicles on hire. What we did have was a bit of business sense and hard work so that was a good start,’ says Christowitz with a smile. What he also had, however, was transport blood running through his veins which he inherited from his dad, CJ Christowitz, who was a fascinating early pioneer of transport in the then Nyasaland (Malawi).

A line up of part of AC Carriers' pristine Iveco fleet with their proud drivers.

A line up of part of AC Carriers’ pristine Iveco fleet with their proud drivers.

In 1921, ‘˜CJ’ started a transport company hauling tobacco and cotton in the Shire River area initially using a Model-T Ford which he converted into a truck trailer combination. As the business grew, he later bought 16 GUY ‘˜lorries’ and continued the business until the 1940s when he sold it. While running his cartage business, he also formed Nyasaland’s first commercial airline after going for a ride in October 1930 in a de Havilland Cirrus Moth from Salisbury to Limbe with a pilot by the name of Pat Judson. He became the first airline passenger to be carried to Nyasaland. He saw the potential for air travel and started Christowitz Air Service in Blantyre in July 1931. Operations began on August 5th with a service from Blantyre to Beira. The first flight carried two passengers.

In 1933, it was decided to form a bigger airline company and Christowitz Air Service, along with another company, the Rhodesian Aviation Company, were bought and formed the foundation of Rhodesian and Nyasaland Airways. He sold the company for the massive sum of 50 Pounds. Given this family background, is it any wonder then that the son’s destiny was inexorably linked to the transport scene? Thus the founding of the company in 1990. This was transport entrepreneurship at its best and with his wife Elza, he gave it a full go. In those days, it was all very much a manual system with the waybills being handwritten , up to 400 per day , and the vehicles still being hired from Rent-A-Bakkie on a full maintenance lease basis. By that stage, they were also hiring drivers from the company.

 Carl Bouwer (left) of Iveco Randburg Commercial Vehicles, hands over the keys of AC Carriers' latest acquisition, an Iveco Van 35S12-V8, to Andrew Christowitz.

Carl Bouwer (left) of Iveco Randburg Commercial Vehicles, hands over the keys of AC Carriers’ latest acquisition, an Iveco Van 35S12-V8, to Andrew Christowitz.

A milestone was reached in the year 2000 when AC Carriers was awarded the L’Oreal contract to transport display units to hair salons, Clicks stores and pharmacies countrywide. “These imported units were tall and had to be carried upright and needed a closed van body with a height of 2,4m to do the job.’ It was this that led to the decision to bring the transport component in-house and buy its own vehicles. “Not only did it make financial sense but we also wanted to have greater control of our own destiny,’ says Christowitz. So why did he settle on Iveco?

“I met Carl Bouwer who had just got the Iveco agency. He did a survey of our operations and said he had the ideal vehicle in the Iveco 66-12 TurboDaily. He could also arrange for the higher body to be fitted and thus, given the professional level of service he gave during the evaluation, I decided to go for it,’ says Christowitz. The first Iveco – taken into service in 2000 – was the 66-12 TurboDaily and between then and 2006, the fleet was built up to seven vehicles , all Iveco’s , which included two EuroCargo 100E17 for the longer trips, a Daily 65C15 and Daily 50C13. The latest addition is the Iveco Van 35S12-V8 used for smaller collections and deliveries. This was handed over on the day of our visit.The first 66-12 model is still in operation today looking as good as new , both inside the cab and out. It was refurbished at 500 000 kms.

In 2005, AC Carriers took on a BEE partner, Peter Makhari and FleetWatch is pleased to say that this is BEE in its true spirit as Makhari works in the company as Human Resources Manager.

In terms of servicing the vehicles, the first few were bought on lease with maintenance contracts. Because of the fact that impeccable records are kept, the maintenance contracts are no longer in place but servicing is done rigorously sticking to the manufacturer’s specified service intervals. The Netstar Vigil tracking system has also been fitted to each vehicle which allows for real time monitoring of the vehicles on the company’s PCs.

“Because of the nature of cargo, we haven’t had any hijacks so we use our tracking systems more for fleet management as opposed to vehicle recovery,’ says Christowitz. As for the performance of the dealer when breakdowns occur, Christowitz smiles and relates that breakdowns seldom happen but when they have experienced the one or two, they have been minor faults which are quickly attended to by the dealer.

Posters of various sizes are packed to Edcon specs, labelled, way-billed and then delivered where they are displayed to entice us into Edcon's various stores.

Posters of various sizes are packed to Edcon specs, labelled, way-billed and then delivered where they are displayed to entice us into Edcon’s various stores.

AC Carriers collects all the posters from the printers, packs them according to Edcon specs, labels them, does the waybills and then delivers them , either using its own vehicles or the outside courier. It truly is an impressive operation but central to the success is the reliability of the vehicles and on this front, Christowitz has no complaints.

As for Bouwer, he couldn’t be happier describing the relationship between the dealer and the client as a true partnership that works to the benefit of both companies. “They are open, honest and professional. We’ve come a long way together and it’s been a pleasure,’ he says. I’m not sure whether either Christowitz or Bouwer are able to use SMS but it really doesn’t matter. You see, they still use that ancient mode of talking and it’s still working – big-time!

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