“There are hundreds of industries out there just waiting for entrepreneurs with better ideas and better service to shake them up,” says Nicci Scott, founder of Siyaduma Auto Ferriers. At the age of 21, without any experience, she gave the male-dominated vehicle transportation industry a shake-up it’s not likely to soon forget.
With a model to rival the existing labour broker model, Scott launched National Auto Ferriers (Siyaduma’s predecessor) in 1995, specialising in ferrying car rental company vehicles across the length and breadth of the country. Within two years the company owned 87% of the car rental market. When the industry landscape changed in 1999, Scott refocused her attention to specialise in the commercial vehicle transportation market. Today Siyaduma boasts an impressive 78% share of this market, which is set to increase with the recent signing of a lucrative contract with
Scott was named Topco’s 2010 Top Young Woman Entrepreneur and the company walked off with the Top Woman Owned Company award and the Top Gender Empowered Company in the Transport Sector award.
Doing it differently
There have been many success factors along the way – Scott’s innovative business approach, her singular focus on adherence to standards, her pioneering work in transforming the industry and her refusal to lie down and die even when competitors got cut-throat. But most of all it was her ability to bring a different take to an industry that had been doing things the same way for years.
Working for six months in a labour broking firm servicing the car rental industry convinced her that there had to be a better way of doing things. “The labour broker approach was simply to supply drivers for vehicles. There was very little screening, and virtually no quality control or standards. I realised there was a business gap if someone could provide such a service,” she explains.
She approached the CEO of Avis with her idea and received a letter of intent to do business as her reward. With this in hand she approached the bank, applying for and receiving R40 000 in start-up capital and 20 petrol cards. “We provided insurance, fuelling en route, a vehicle cleaning service and managed the logistics, convoys and deliveries,” Scott relates.
Expanding into new markets
The business soon caught the eye of the vehicle manufacturers, from whom the company would collect new vehicles. “At the time, they were moving vehicles on vehicle carriers, which meant they would have to wait until the carrier was full before being able to transport any vehicles. We could put a driver in a car and have it at the dealer by the next day,” Scott explains.
In 2000 the market changed, with car rental companies cutting costs. Scott saw a new market in commercial vehicles and closed out the car rental side of the business, focusing all her energy on this new area. Building on her existing reputation, she landed as a first client the entire MAN truck and bus contract. This was followed by the likes of Volvo, Nissan Diesel and Isuzu.
Scott soon discovered that the industry faced significant chalenges. “It is short of about 45 000 drivers so the people who you work with are often ill and overworked. I found I could only employ around 20% of the drivers I interviewed,” Scott explains.
To raise her standard of service, and that of the industry as a whole, she launched a driver training academy with MAN.
“These trucks cost millions and our job is to get them to their destination as safely and efficiently as possible,” Scott says. Improving driver skills is one part of this. She’s also collaborated with a trucking supplier to develop a mobile tracking device as existing devices can’t be fitted to new vehicles that are being delivered to their owners.
The Topco awards gave Scott pause to look back on the company’s success. “It was unexpected – I didn’t have the courage to invite any of my customers to the award ceremony,” she says, “It’s still an old boys club and I still get asked if my father started the company.” For a woman not used to seeing obstacles, these things amount to little more than irritations, however. “The past 15 years have not been easy but the awards gave me a chance to sit back and say ‘Look what we’ve achieved’ – and that’s gratifying,” she concludes.