Celebrating 25 years in business this year is Johannesburg-based Brelko Conveyor Products, which markets a range of cleaning equipment designed to assist in the control of spillage, carryback and dust in conveyor systems and promote the free flow of material at transfer and load points. Modern Mining recently spoke to MD – and co-founder – Kenny Padayachee about the company’s history and its current operations, as well as its vision for the future. As Padayachee makes clear, Brelko is a 100-% South African company, not only in terms of ownership but also product design and manufacture.
Padayachee makes the point that Brelko has not only survived but prospered in an intensely competitive field where companies habitually come and go. “When we tender for a contract we are typically up against eight or nine other companies,” he says. “It’s always been like this but what is noticeable is how the names have changed over the years. This an area of the market with a high fall-out rate and clearly we must be doing something right to still be around after 25 years.”
Brelko was founded in 1987 in Selby in Johannesburg by Padayachee, Peter Ellis, John Brink and Newton van der Mescht. Of the four, only Padayachee and Ellis – who is Sales & Marketing Director – remain in the company and between them they hold the entire shareholding. Reporting to Padayachee are 10 executive managers who are each responsible for various ‘portfolios’ within the company such as business development, R&D, and manufacturing.
When Brelko was established, its first product was a belt scraper but this was soon joined by several other products and today Brelko offers a full range of equipment primarily designed – as Padayachee puts it – “to keep conveyors clean and control spillage”. Included in the range are chute sealing systems, belt support systems (or feedboots), hi-impact idlers, high-pressure belt wash systems and blockage removal and bulk flow maintenance systems, all locally designed and manufactured by Brelko (and, in most cases, protected by patent).
Says Padayachee: “We are very focused in terms of our equipment line-up with around nine basic products. These are available, however, in a range of models, sizes and configurations. Take our belt scrapers, for example. We offer preprimary, primary and secondary scrapers, as well as V and angle ploughs, and in all we have over 20 different models. All our equipment is subject to constant R&D and modification, so we’re frequently introducing enhanced versions of existing models.”
The Brelko products are manufactured in a modern, spacious, well-equipped factory – Modern Mining recently toured the facility – located at Brelko’s new premises in Booysens. Brelko moved to the new property – previously owned by the SPCA – in 2010 and has since been busy renovating and extending the buildings it inherited. The factory, to all intents and purposes, is an entirely new building and provides 6 000 m² under roof. It has some state-of-the-art machinery installed, including the latest generation Leadwell V-50L Vertical Machining Centre (VNC), basically a highly sophisticated CNC milling machine, as well as polyurethane moulding machinery that now consumes around 5 tonnes of polyurethane a month – compared to about 300 kg a month in Brelko’s early years. “Throughout its history, Brelko has ploughed its profits back in the company and our factory is an example of this philosophy,” observes Padayachee. We’re in a market where we frequently have to compete with overseas-owned companies and it’s essential that we be able to match them in terms of technology. We’re prepared to invest in the latest machinery to stay ahead of out competitors. We are incidentally ISO 9001 and OHSAS 18001 accredited and also members of the Institute of Materials Handling and Conveyor manufacturers Association.” In terms of customer base, the majority of Brelko’s clients are in the mining and minerals industry. “Our business has mostly grown on the back of mining, in particular the platinum mining sector, which is a huge user of our products.” Padayachee explains. “But the energy sector is also an extremely important market for us and we have supplied many of Eskom’s power stations – and also new projects such as Kusile, where we are currently supplying belt washing systems for 13 conveyor systems.” While the bulk of turnover comes from South Africa, Brelko has traditionally worked throughout the SADC region. Says Papayachee: “We’ve seen amazing growth in the demand for our products in virtually all of the Southern African countries, with Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana particularly standing out. We also have penetration further north, and we’ve got a good presence in Ghana and to a lesser extent, Mali. We’re actually very bullish on the prospects for Africa and we see the continent being an extremely important growth area for us over the next several years.”
Padayachee adds that Brelko also exports overseas and has branches in both the UK and the US, as well as master distributors in Australia, Chile and Greece and representation in a further 20 plus countries through agents. “Overseas markets are depressed at the moment but we are optimists and believe that downturns can only last so long, so we will definitely be maintaining our international footprint,” he says.
With B-BBEE credentials being all important to customers, especially the large mining houses, Brelko is in the enviable position of being a level 4 supplier – its certification is via EMPOWERDEX – in terms of the BEE scorecard. It has achieved this rating through a number of routes, most importantly through its ownership (Padayachee owns 60% of the company), the diversity of its management, its excellent training facilities and programmes and its procurement policies.
Looking at Brelko’s success over the years, Padayachee identifies customer service as being possibly the biggest contributor to the company’s growth. “all companies will tell you that customer service is vitally important but many really only pay lip service to the concept,” he maintains. “At Brelko we eat, breath and sleep service and we consider ourselves as far more than just a supplier – not only do we provide top-notch repair and installation service but we also consult to customers, no matter how remote the site. I can remember one occasion when we sent a technician to a kimberlite mine in the heart of Angola to advise a client. To get just a few hours on site he had to travel for several days but the result was that we were able to come up with a solution to a longstanding problem which had impacted on production at the mine.
According to Padayachee, Brelko has 37 service teams – which deployed – providing an around-the-clock installation and maintenance service. These teams constitute by far the biggest proportion of Brelko’s employee compliment.
Looking ahead, Padayachee says that the enthusiasm of the owners of Brelko remains undimmed after 25 years. “Both Peter and I love the business and we have every intention of keeping it on the growth path that it’s been on for most of the years since we started up,” he says. “After a very buoyant 2011, there are signs of a fall-off in mining activity – if the problems in platinum mining are anything to go by – and this could obviously impact on sales but we are eternal optimists. We’ve successfully negotiated downturns in the past and will continue to do so in the future – they’re part of mining and we’re used to them. The bottom line is that Brelko is a healthy, sustainable business with a well diversified client base which will remain a key supplier to the mining and other industries for years to come.
Modern Mining Feature Article