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Road transport into a future clouded by the coronavirus

Road transport into a future clouded by the coronavirus

Broadening its product range and striving to be first out of the blocks to take advantage of business opportunities are among positive developments which have occurred at South African truck and trailer body building company Serco in the wake of the coronavirus.

And in the process the company has sharpened its vision of what its customers want as they adjust to the “new norm” hastened by the worldwide impact of the virus.

Without a doubt uncertainty and unexpected events – such as COVID-19 – occur in business life so there is a need to be focused on being agile in response and part of that means being able to identify opportunities when they arise and be in a position to take advantage of them quickly, says Serco CEO, Clinton Holcroft.

“The pandemic also reinforced the need to do the basics properly particularly in the area of cost discipline because we can become complacent during the good times and let things slip – but a crisis certainly gets you focussed on what is important.”

To improve reaction times, Serco now does its strategic planning monthly instead of quarterly and has introduced weekly reviews. The corona crisis also got the company to re-examine opportunities and fast track its reaction to get them off the ground.

“We made a decision to grow the dry freight part of our business and that required building prototypes and getting our costing models right,  upskilling our staff and sales people and getting information into the market about what we were offering. As a result, we have picked up direct orders to fill the gap in vehicle sales for perishable goods.”

The surge in online shopping since the outbreak of COVID-19 has resulted in Serco now offering purpose-built vehicles to deliver goods to front doors. Orders for the lightweight bodies- which vary in length from 3,5m to 6,5m - have grown and there is potential for further business.

“We have solutions for both dry and perishable goods in this this sector. The vehicles must be light weight, protected against theft and water proof – which Serco offers,” said Holcroft. “We have increased interacting with clients in that segment in an effort to ensure we provide good value for their needs.

“There has been a marked improvement in inquiries as we move into the final quarter of 2020 and orders have picked up with customers seemingly more confident that the virus is slowly becoming less threatening.  Overall there has been a marked drop off in business compared to last year, but with the strong showing into the last quarter we are now revising our numbers and are optimistic that the last four months may just turn out to be better than last year which is good under the circumstances and will go some way towards clawing back the lower sales as of the year to date.”

Looking into the future of the truck and trailer body building world, Holcroft said Serco was working with suppliers to offer clients Smart trailer features such as telematics which provide information on axle weights, tyre pressures and service intervals, among other details.

“Over the next decade I believe we will see a lot more use of telematics to improve efficiencies in maintaining trailers. In the past it was quite expensive but what we are seeing now is technology becoming more affordable. All this is very positive for reducing wear and tear on the vehicle as well as improving safety and reducing running costs.”