ORIGINALLY from Cape Town, Elite Fibre are Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP, or fibreglass) truck body builders for all truck brands. The company’s network of branches manufacture insulated and semi-insulated truck and trailer bodies, and also offer repair and maintenance service to all truck and trailer load bodies (including steel repairs and spray painting) across the country.
CBN caught up with company cofounder Mark Watters, at the Cape Town branch, to congratulate him and his partner Shawn Mulder and staff on 14 years in the industry, and find out about the huge expansion that the company has undergone in the past five years.
It is no secret that business, across the board, has been gruelling for the past five years or so, but on arrival at the 5,000m2 factory in Montague Gardens, there is no sign of anything slowing down. The factory and yard are packed with huge trucks and gleaming white bodies that seemingly never end. The sound of machinery and compressors roar from inside the factory and a team are cleaning and buffing a trailer in the driveway. Inside, Mark Watters is busily negotiating on his phone and constant streams of people are industriously moving in and out of the office area. Elite Fibre is thriving.
When asked about business, and the teeming facility, Watters comments that although business in 2013 is undoubtedly tough, Elite Fibres is fortunate to have the customers that it has on its books. “Due to our large client base, and excellent relationships that we have been built over many years, the company has managed to sustain its turnover through the past tough years, even with the rising costs of resin (linked to the cost of oil) and raw materials. We count ourselves extremely lucky to have the clients and relationships we have. As such, we have been able to keep our factories running at full capacity.”
The company specialises in trailers for the food and beverage industries, with clients who move everything from frozen products, including ice-cream, fish, chicken as well as butchers that require specialised, reinforced bodies to hang carcasses, and fresh produce that require ambient or refrigerated temperatures. It also services the courier industry that uses dry-freight bodies to move parcels, and furniture companies. Elite Fibre has also identified a huge growth market in the pharmaceutical industry, as a change in legislation means that these companies will be legally required to transport certain medications (including insulin, some antiretrovirals [ARVs] and many vaccines) in closely monitored, refrigerated trucks.
Watters says that fibreglass bodies have many advantages over steel and aluminium bodies. “Fibreglass has no joints and rivets, ensuring that there are no leaks, and it is a clean, solid, quality panel. The fibreglass is also easy to clean and repair if necessary. Aesthetically the finish is a smooth bright white, making it easy to apply decals to brand the end product.”
The attention to detail does not end there. “We only use the best quality materials in the construction of our goods, be it in the construction of the floors (the company only use meranti wood for its floors,) where you can’t see it, or what you can see.”
“To achieve this high quality,” says Watters, “we insist on using the highest quality materials. Our suppliers success lies in the quality of their goods, we only use the best quality materials available, and choose our suppliers for the quality of their merchandise. We will up the volumes of our orders with them to ensure we get the best prices, but never compromise on quality.” The relationship that Elite Fibre has with its suppliers is one of mutual respect, “We always push for the best prices from our suppliers, but they have always been good to us, and we have been good to them.”
In its 14 years of business, the company has expanded significantly, maintaining it’s 5,000m2 Cape Town facility, while growing into a 12,000m2 facility in Johannesburg with partners Frans van Vianen and Rediwaan Khan. Within the past three years, Elite Fibre has also opened branched in Durban and Port Elizabeth, and a branch in Centurion (Gauteng) that specialises in repairs.
“Repairs are an extremely important support service for clients. Trucks tend to take a lot of abuse whole being loaded and unloaded, and downtime costs our clients money. To facilitate repairs and maintenance, we opened this facility in Centurion as many of our big clients have their depots and head offices in Gauteng. We need to be where our clients are. With this in mind, we also opened a branch in Durban and Port Elizabeth, thereby ensuring that we are able to service the main delivery arteries across the country.” The company also have mobile repair units, to do on-site repairs, thereby minimising downtime for clients.
The company continuously trains people on the job. “Fibreglass is not an easy material to work with, and takes time and commitment to master. Training is done by pairing unskilled and skilled people on the factory floor, thus sustaining our massive growth. The company employs 350 staff across South Africa, with around 100 based in Cape Town.
Mark Watters is no slouch. He knows his products. He knows his clients. He knows and trusts his partners who proudly wave the Elite Fibre flag across the country. From his office, Watters can see every truck as it leaves the factory. He proudly points to every body in the yard and can tell you who it is for, how far it is in the production or repair cycle, what the special features are, and what the unique challenges have been on that truck. He comes alive walking through his business, introducing his staff and pointing out the quality and intricacies of the workmanship.
CBN join Elite Fibres suppliers and customers in wishing Mark Watters, his partners and staff a happy 14th Anniversary, and wish them every success for the future.
Elite Fibre: Standard features offer extended service life
- All floors have quality plywood placed on closely spaced support beams of machined meranti.
- Refrigerated trailers are insulated with polyurethane foam and have overall panel thickness of 115mm (floor,) 100mm (roof) and 65mm (side walls.) The front wall is strengthened to cope with the braking of the vehicle with a mounted refrigeration unit mass of 1,000 kg.
- Bottom of sidewalls are strengthened in vehicles to be loaded with side moving pallet loaders.
- Front wall or false bulkhead strengthened for high impact of first pallet being “rammed” into the vehicle.
- Detail given to ease of maintaining hygiene conditions of interior.
- All bodies including, dry freight, are dustproof and water tight.
- Dry freight bodies have 50-75mm of insulation in the roof.
By Jenni McCann
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