Kanu Equipment

Kanu Equipment: Hard Work Pays Off

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When a business rents, leases or purchases equipment, it is really trying to solve a problem with that equipment. Equipment downtime due to mechanical breakdowns result in additional cost to operations and frustration on the work site.

Support is the catalyst of service operation and discipline and this is what places Kanu Equipment in a league of it`s own. In equipment rental, effective service and maintenance of machinery guarantees a satisfied customer experience yet in Africa it has been sorely missed  within the industry. Masterfully, Kanu Equipment has filled this gap securing their path to success. Kanu is all about optimally functioning equipment…. all of the time.  We caught up with company founder and CEO Stephen Smithyman, to find out about Kanu’s latest developments, and what is continually placing this company ahead of the opposition

For a young company, Kanu Equipment already has an impressive reputation. In essence, Kanu Equipment realised that the key differentiator between them and the opposition was service excellence. Through this devotion to service, the five-year-old company quickly carved out a space for itself in the equipment rental field for Africa’s key heavy industries, including agriculture, forestry, mining, earthmoving, construction and road construction. When working in some of Africa’s more remote locations, this support can literally be operation-saving, and the loyalty this has won Kanu, speaks for itself.

Kanu understands that good customer experience leads to brand loyalty. This brand association is ultimately what manufacturers are after. Excelling at customer service leads to manufacturer preference for agents that are able to provide the ultimate level of support, to sell and distribute their brands. Kanu Equipment has forged strong working relationships with several large equipment manufacturers: Bell, Liebherr and Wirtgen, who focus mainly on the construction and mining industries, and Case Agriculture, providers of top-of-the-range farming and forestry equipment. Kanu’s entrenched relationships afford them the ability to keep world-class equipment available for their customers, as well as a generous supply of related spare parts. This allows them to provide a maintenance support service of their own, and consignment stock on the ground in order to ensure that the equipment is working optimally and downtime is kept to a minimum.

“Our mission is to reduce our customers’ cost of doing business. In part, that’s through the support we provide. Our slogan is ‘Experience the Support”, as we differentiate ourselves by being a support organization to our customers in the hard areas where they do business”, states Stephen Smithyman.

The ability to have access to spare parts on site can mean the difference between a minor hiccup and a costly delay. This is true anywhere, but particularly in some of the more remote and far-reaching locations where Kanu’s African clients do business. “We have a very strong mutually beneficial relationship with all our OEMs and have maintained this relationship because we provide  good service on the ground. Previously, African customers would accept the fact that in these countries, they needed to provide their own support.” Many African markets still operate with this model focused on selling rather than on customer service. Once the equipment is sold the problem becomes the customers’. “What has fundamentally changed now is that the world has become a smaller place and customers require first-world support. Companies need to adapt to that or they will lose relevancy.”

The company started out in Congo, followed by rapid expansion into West Africa, Botswana and now East Africa.  “We basically started out in the hardest countries and then worked our way around.” The idea for the company came to Smithyman when he encountered his own difficulties in hiring equipment for a mining exploration project. “We were trying to find a bulldozer to rent. We couldn’t find one, and then when we eventually did, the rental rate was really high.”

“What inspired me to start the company initially was that I saw there was a real lack of support for people who are running machines in some of the markets. I was optimistic about the business opportunity – I knew that if we could provide exceptional support and service to our customers, we would succeed. What inspires me now is that we employ over 570 members of staff across 14 countries, who very often work in adverse circumstances. These are the people that drive me to continue to grow this business so that their lives and that of their families can be improved. They keep equipment humming under trying conditions to make a difference to our customers and this, I believe, will grow mechanisation in Africa.”

Smithyman’s praise of his employees is well-deserved. The Kanu name is inspired and derived from an old African tale ‘Kanthu N’khama’, a story about a small but brave and resourceful bird that flies into a dark and formidable forest, where it overcomes challenges eventually emerging wiser and more resilient.  It is the story of how ‘hard work pays off’ and it is the ethos that is felt throughout the company from their operational decisions and expansion plans right down to the daily choices of their employees.

Kanu’s dedication has pushed them to heroic acts of service: whilst expanding its operations, Kanu moved into several areas that were in the throes of dealing with the Ebola virus crisis. Instead of leaving their customers unsupported, they stayed firm. Truly going above and beyond the call of duty, Kanu proved that it values its customers as family and that its promise to provide support will hold true no matter how challenging the conditions. “We have shown our customers that we were prepared to support them even in the middle of a crisis. Many of our staff put their lives at risk to provide that support.”

Despite stormy waters, Kanu’s loyalty to their customers has led to their success in every market they move into. “Some markets are very new to us, whilst other markets like Botswana have more established customers. We’ve been very successful in a variety of countries all for different reasons but with one common focus, that we represent quality brands and we provide exceptional customer service”. As well as spreading their on-the-ground support throughout Africa, the company also has a physical presence in Europe, to reach the decision makers of larger industrial groups. Many companies that operate in Africa have decision-makers based in Europe, so our sales-arm in Switzerland meets with these key customers who wish to work in areas where we don’t currently have an active presence.”

This face-to-face contact is important, and Kanu is constantly branching out to increase this physical in-market presence even further. Kanu continues with expansion into Africa. “In Tanzania, we’ll be very successful – we have a very strong customer support base there. Kenya is also a very exciting market for us, because there is a lot of machine demand every year, so we’re hoping to gain market share there.”

Another exciting expansion plan is currently Namibia. “We are now the largest independent Liebherr Mining dealer in Africa as we represent Liebherr Mining in Namibia and Botswana. We’ve got a number of customers currently operating Liebherr Mining machines in Namibia. We believe there’s a lot of strong growth potential for mining in this region, especially now that mineral resource prices have increased. These customers have not been supported as well as they should have been in terms of stock, spares or on-the-ground service. We are going to introduce a level of sophistication around our IT system, and the support we can offer. We will also store a wide range of spares. We believe it will be a win-win for us and the market. Everybody’s really excited about the launch.”

Of course, not even Kanu can expand indefinitely. “Next year will be a year of consolidation. The year thereafter, we will look at expanding further, but only if we get the support we need to ensure top-class customer service. Largely we would look at going further into Africa – it is where we are mostly based, and where our customers want us to be. Over the next few years, we aim to be in 18 different countries, and then we’ll look at listing the business on the stock exchange. We want to double revenue every year – that’s our plan.”

It’s an ambitious plan, but given the loyalty Kanu enjoys from their markets and suppliers, it’s a goal that is well within their grasp. True to their mantra, however, their own growth isn’t the only one that interests Kanu. Project Hummingbird, taking its name from Kanu’s inspired logo, is a proposed initiative that will allow Kanu Equipment to empower and establish a network of small and medium sized entrepreneurs that will serve as independent spare parts suppliers for their products. “Project Hummingbird has been set up to finance local entrepreneurs. We will buy a container and give them training and IT support, allowing them to open up their own spare parts business in areas where heavy equipment is used. We’ll give all the technical backing, knowledge and spares to them, and they will operate like a distribution centre for us. Through Project Hummingbird, we believe we could create about 1000 entrepreneurs throughout the continent.”

“Training is a very important part of our service offering. It’s arguably one of the key drivers of our expanding business. Making sure that local staff are trained well means we have an opportunity to grow.” This development project not only contributes to Kanu’s operations and the increasing number of customers their support services can reach, but also creates jobs and serves as a boost to local economies. They are running feasibility studies on the proposition, and are hoping to receive government backing to supplement their own contributions. If successful, the project will be a fantastic boon to Kanu, but it will also be a life-changing one to the entrepreneurs empowered by the programme. Once again, this dynamic organization will not only achieve success for itself, but will ease and enable the industries and business around it, truly allowing Africa to ‘Experience the Support’ like never before.

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