The company’s original product range included downpipes, gutters and accessories. Du Plessis bought the company and moved the manufacturing plant to its current premises in Zandfontein, Pretoria in the early 1970’s. Koot Heunis, du Plessis’s son-in-law bought the business in 1992 and in 1999 it again changed hands when Anton Heunis took over as owner and managing director of the Company.
Anton Heunis recognised huge growth potential in the company by effectively expanding into other areas and creating added value opportunities to the existing business. In 2005, roof sheeting products were added to the range. These were delivered simultaneously with existing deliveries, thus expanding its basket size, but at no extra cost to the company.
Heunis Steel soon became one of the top roof sheeting suppliers – service and quality being at the very best. Again it was time to explore further business opportunities. One came along in the guise of Barak Products, a ceiling strip manufacturer based in Pretoria North. Heunis Steel bought Barak products and incorporated its production line into dormant space at their Zandfontein plant. The small space available necessitated the implementation of innovative automation, which resulted in the production of the same volumes with much greater efficiency. The ceiling strips are made from offcuts thus also increasing efficiency by having far less waste.
As with all businesses, Heunis Steel experienced a rollercoaster ride between its inception and now. It is hard to be competitive if you are a small company and don’t purchase raw materials in large quantities. The company decided to concentrate on delivering service levels and quality superior to anyone else. Heunis successfully achieved this and was able to still sell its products, but at higher prices. The company further capitalised on this and have shown substantial growth as a result. Another hurdle was the availability of funds to invest in technology, which was necessary to keep ahead of the curve.
Hard work and focus on service and quality eventually got Heunis into a financial position where it could invest in more sophisticated machines and ensure a smooth running and highly automated factory. Over the years Heunis Steel have had to tweak and change things to ensure ongoing profitability and today has reached optimal efficiency with very little that can be improved upon.
As with any business, economic climate plays a major role and Heunis Steel had their fair share of hiccups. One hitch was the sharp increase of steel prices in 2005 (in excess of 70%). This really affected the business due to the nature of its products – galvanised rainwater goods and roof sheeting, which services the affordable housing market. This coupled with the stock market crash in 2008 certainly made for difficult trading. Its high volume, low margin business was greatly affected and shortage of raw material did not make matters any easier. Half of the raw materials currently used in the profiling industry are imported from across the globe. This does not allow for consistency and is an area that Heunis Steel is working on with government to ensure more local production. The effects of increasing imported raw materials are huge. Logistically the ports and transport companies cannot cope. The different grades of steel required for different products or applications also make the importing of raw product tricky as desired quantities are not always available.
Heunis Steel is proud to say it has survived the hurdles thrown at it and is still a leading company in its field 50 years later, offering a solid brand with a well-deserved image of total honesty, integrity, quality and service.
In order to stay ahead of the imports available, Heunis had to invest a great deal of capital in the plant, automation and new technology to streamline its production. This in turn means having to invest in the support necessary to keep this technology going. This is an investment in skilled workers who in most instances have to be upskilled in order to be able to maintain the imported machines, a move from blue to white collar employment. These staff members need a solid understanding of production, electronics and programming.
The employees of Heunis Steel are loyal and passionate and this has been achieved through a policy of promoting from within. The company rewards ‘old school’ employees who work hard to achieve their goals and who take satisfaction in their hard fought achievements.
The company culture has its customers at its core. This is done whilst recognising the importance of family and once the working day is done, family become core.
One of the major strengths of Heunis Steel is that it is still a family business, changes can be quickly implemented and market conditions timeously responded to. The red tape common to big corporates is not an issue. The company is also big enough to be seen as a major role player in the industry and this coupled with their flexibility has made Heunis Steel a very competitive company.
To ensure continuity and retain its strong brand, Heunis Steel are constantly investing in training and technology and looking for new opportunities. The Heunis team is happy to adapt products to satisfy its customers’ every changing needs and will develop new products to customers’ requirements. An example of this is the introduction of a ‘budget’ range. This is made in the same factory with the same attention to detail and quality and delivered using the same truck – it is just manufactured from a slightly lesser quality raw material to make it more affordable.
Heunis Steel has a strong culture of social responsibility supporting the Association for the Disabled on a monthly basis. The company also outsource some of its packaging to the Association affording the people the opportunity to earn a wage. Heunis Steel has a dedicated driver who delivers and collects products to and from these associates. Heunis Steel also supports the Bathokwa Primary School by supplying schoolbags complete with stationery and other products to Grade 1 pupils each year. Other needy causes are looked at on a case by case basis.
50 years on and Heunis Steel is on a par with the best international counterparts. Its equipment is state-of-the-art, boasting a streamlined production line and distribution of goods to the warehouse and onto trucks. Double handling is not an issue. Goods are conveyed from one end of the factory to the other using an ‘operator-less’ shuttle that runs on a custom built railway track inside the factory saving on forklifts and the environmental issues that come with this. The building has been designed to cater for overhead cranes, making it very easy to move materials around and load them onto machines.
Heunis Steel has invested in logistics to ensure self-sustainability and have a fleet of 22 Toyota trucks and its own in-house Toyota workshop. The trailers are hitched and unhitched as trucks pull in and out the yard. They also have their own boiler room ensuring that there is no down time due to breakdowns.
Heunis Steel is now setting its sights on the retail sector and offer phenomenal delivery lead times with a minimum of three months stock being available at any given time. Potential retail clients are invited to visit the factory and experience the optimal flow that Heunis Steel has achieved. The factory is spotless and the pride and care that the Heunis Steel team have for the company is evident.
Testimonials from retail clients such as Chamberlains, Mica, Cashbuild and Build it talk of Heunis Steel being a honest and open partner to their businesses. They all endorse and wish Heunis Steel a very happy 50th birthday and look forward to the next 50 years.