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From mineral to electrical products, Pratley celebrates innovation

Mr Pratley himself, CEO Kim Pratley, underneath the 13 t bulldozer suspended using Wondafix.

Since the company was founded in 1948, Pratley has diversified into a wide range of industrial sectors. This year it celebrates its 70th anniversary, with over 1 000 products in its stable, and 350 global patents.

In 2018 alone, the company has introduced four new products, with at least another three in the pipeline. This is in addition to various advances in its manufacturing and production methodologies. “We are committed to research and development (R&D), and we see our future in our ongoing run of new products. I certainly also hope to see us establish a successful global presence,” CEO Kim Pratley comments.

Pratley’s ongoing success is a combination of its intense R&D focus and total in-house control of the manufacturing process. It even runs a mining operation to produce Perlite and Clinoptilolite (zeolite) minerals using proprietary minerals-processing technology.

These ores form the basis of a range of highly energy-efficient and eco-friendly mineral-based products, for a wide range of applications. These include ultra-lightweight concrete screeds and thermally-insulating cement plasters, pollution clean-up products, water treatment, swimming pool/pond filtration, and even farming and horticulture.

Pratley’s Electrical division distributes hi-tech cable glands, electrical junction boxes, and related accessories, while Pratley Analytical oversees a micro-analysis division that services the mining and general industry with reliable and cost-effective sample analysis.

“We supply top solutions to our customers, not only to establish longstanding relationships, but also to ensure we respond to changing market needs,” Kim notes. This has resulted in a wealth of brand loyalty over the last 70 years, attributable in part to the Group’s policy of outperforming all other competing products on the world market.

This is no idle boast, as the formulation of Pratley Putty in the 1960s not only put the company on the global map, but even on the moon, where the product was used by NASA on the Ranger Moon Module Project in 1967. Pratley Putty has since become a household name, used to repair and secure everything from swimming pools to the hulls of sunken ships.

The memorable launch of Pratley Wondafix in 1985 saw Kim stand underneath a 13 tonne bulldozer, suspended above his head using a Wondafix adhesive joint. This death-defying stunt was replicated on Friday 13 July at the Pratley’s Krugersdorp head office as part of its 70th anniversary celebrations. “I still gladly bet my life on the quality of our product,” Kim affirms, while posed underneath the suspended bulldozer with his sons, Andrew and Charles.

Kim acknowledges that the company celebrates its anniversary in an economic environment quite different from when his father George ‘Monty’ Pratley established the company in 1948. “It is a very challenging environment in which we are operating at present, with notable contraction on the industrial and mining side. However, it is equally challenging for our competitors.

“In all honesty, given our size – and we are a relatively small group – our contribution to the intellectual property of South African industry is unique,” Kim notes. Another key driver for the company has been its focus on consistently high external and ex-store service levels, thus retaining customers and securing Pratley’s brands and products.

“In order to achieve this in a South African context, we pretty much have had to do everything ourselves. Hence, we make every single thing we produce. This even extends to the design of the bottle and the nozzle used for our Superglue, as well as all of the associated tooling,” Kim highlights. This self-reliant strategy has also seen the company maintain its agility in tough trading conditions.

Looking to the future, Kim stresses that the company’s strategy is to respond appropriately to volatile market conditions. Being involved in mining means it also needs to be sensitive to the issues surrounding legislation and regulation in this critical industry.

“While on the one hand, companies cannot be cavalier about taking risks, they cannot grow either if they do not. Managing risk is therefore very important, and this means striking a balance between survival and growth,” Kim concludes.

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