Before SVL’s Branch Manager for the Gauteng Hub, Charl Pienaar, left in May 2014 to assume a seat on the Board of the brand’s holding company in Cape Town, he shared his unique insights into Stuttaford Van Lines and his career with the brand.
Stuttaford Van Lines (SVL) enjoys two unassailable advantages over competitors: a 157 year track-record (making it the oldest removal company in South Africa) and a strong network of branches in major cities across the Southern African region.
“Stuttaford Van Lines is certainly a household name, so we get the opportunity to quote a lot more than other brands. We are confident that it is the safest move you can make: we have wonderfully-trained staff, and the most modern packing material,” stated Charl Pienaar, Stuttaford Van Lines’ Gauteng Hub Branch Manager and brand director (prior to his Board appointment).
As the manager of the brand’s flagship branch – formed two years ago from the merger between the Pretoria and Johannesburg branches, and still based at the old Johannesburg branch’s premises in Olifantsfontein in Gauteng – Charl’s investment in the brand went well beyond professional pride.
With a personal 23-year career with the group, starting with an entry-level position as an Operations Assistant at Stuttaford Van Lines’ branch in George, Charl had occupied the position for the past ten years.
“It’s a challenging business, but also a rewarding one. Not one single day is exactly the same, because we’re working with so many different clients with specific needs and high expectations,” he explained. “You can never get bored in this business: I’m passionate about trucks, passionate about people and passionate about service.”
So passionate, in fact, that Charl shared an industry joke while commenting on his longevity with the brand. “They say that once you’ve joined a removal company they book a pallet box for you and not a coffin, and you just stick around,” he said with a laugh.
When Charl revealed that under his leadership the Gauteng Hub branch’s profitability had been significantly boosted – to the point where it was the top-performing branch in the group in the previous financial year – he was quick to pass praise to his staff: “It’s all the people who work for me – I’ve got a fantastic team.”
At the flagship branch, that team is a large one: the SVL Gauteng Hub employs over 50 administrative staff and 180 operational workers. As the base for the brand’s International Director, the branch controls all inbound and outbound shipments to and from South Africa through a Central Shipping Department, as well as managing ‘third-country’ moves between two foreign countries directly.
At a branch level, the secret according to Charl was simply that his team had ‘brought the fun back’. “We’ve invested a lot of time and money into training people and making them accountable,” he revealed. “People want to be accountable, and you can speak to anybody at the branch: they will tell you that their blood is green. If you create that culture and surround yourself with people you feel comfortable with and they’re comfortable, it just makes business that much easier.”
At a group level, however, Stuttaford Van Lines’ strength extends beyond its network and heritage, to its ability to work on an agent-to-agent basis – with associated benefits in flexibility and cost. Whereas many competitors are contractually obliged to utilise agents within their specific network when arranging international removals, SVL can select the agent best-suited to a client’s specific needs and budgetary requirements.
“It’s difficult to stay at the crest, but we really want to establish ourselves as the best and most successful removal company in South Africa,” Charl promised. “We’re probably already 85% of the way there, and we’re looking to improve our service levels even further.”