A Square Forklift celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. In the last two decades, the Johannesburg-headquartered company has transformed itself from a small start-up into an industry leader in the materials handling sector delivering cutting edge products, systems and services.
Craig Bradford founded A Square Forklift in 1998 when he bought his first second-hand machine. “We were very green and knew absolutely nothing about this business,” he says smiling at the memory. “In fact, when I was purchasing our very first forklift, I was asked if I wanted to test drive it. I did not know how, so I politely declined. The man I was buying the machine from made me get on and drive it. He is still one of our biggest partners.”
Since then Bradford has not only driven his fair share of forklifts but there is little about these machines he does not know. Today, the company is a leader in the South African forklift industry saving their customers valuable time, money and resources by allowing them to concentrate on their business, whilst A Square takes away the pain of ensuring that the materials handling equipment is available when needed.
“I think a big part of our success can be attributed to our entering this industry with very little experience and knowledge. It allowed us a clean slate,” he says. “We had not picked up any good or bad habits from the industry, but built what we thought were the right operating principles for a material handling company. We were really not influenced by the what was already existent in the industry and so came in with an inexperienced view yes, but also a new approach.”
And whilst the past twenty years has seen them merge into the market and how it operates, many of the unique features developed in those early days as newbies have been integrated into the very heart of the business.
Bradford, who still owns that very first forklift, decided to move into material handling on the back of a struggling construction industry at the time. “My father owned a company called B-Square Projects that he started in 1980. By the late nineties we decided to diversify our business because of the cyclical nature of the construction industry,” he says.
The idea of forklifts came from a client who B-Square had serviced on the construction side. “They had a forklift business, but had sold and moved away from South Africa and suggested we look at the opportunities in the sector.”
Deriving the name from their construction business A Square Forklift was born.
“Part of our decision to go with an A in the name was also because we wanted to be in the front of the Yellow Pages, which at the time was the place to market your business,” says Bradford.
Building a business
A Square had humble beginnings. “We started very small, we bought two forklifts and refurbished them and then put them out for rent to the market. It took a couple of months before we even signed our first contract,” says Bradford. “While we had workshops for our construction plant and understood the mechanical side of it all, this was for all intents and purposes a new model and a new business altogether.”
Today it has a rental fleet of more than 400 machines while it also is the importer of Nichiyu (formally NYK) electric forklifts. Nichiyu pioneered the electric forklift in Japan in 1937 and has remained ahead of the curve ever since.
In addition to the Nichiyu range, A Square Forklift also distributes the Aisle Master articulated narrow aisle forklifts from Monaghan in Ireland as well as Japan’s Mitsubishi Forklifts and Zapi’s motion control systems for electric and hybrid equipment. According to Bradford much of the business’ success can be attributed to the focus on good quality machines and systems. “From the beginning, we have always tried to be brand specific even for our second-hand market. It makes sense from a maintenance point of view as it allows one to have the right spares, technology and knowledge at hand all the time.”
Another important element for success is the 100% customer centric approach that is never veered from.
“What our customers want is what we deliver,” he says. It’s a focused approach that has paid dividends. It is with this in mind that they also took the decision to only focus on the material handling sector and left the construction business completely following Bradford Snr’s retirement a few years ago. “It is all about exceptional service delivery,” says Bradford. “While we continue to see year-on-year growth we manage it very carefully so that we are not just pumping numbers but are able to deliver that bespoke and personal service to each and every one of our clients.”
Having gone from a 200 m2 facility to the more than 3000 they operate from today, 2018 is a year not only to celebrate but also to reflect and plan for what is still to come.
“The delivery of a bespoke, honest service that meets the need of each and every client is what we have built our company on. It is all about paying that forward as we take on the next 20 years.”
With a massive party being planned at Gold Reef City it is also a time to say thank you to past and present staff, stakeholders, partners and clients. “We want to pay tribute to everyone that has added value to our company, that has helped us get to where we are today from the customers that continue to retain our services to the associates that maybe have just given advice or encouragement along the way.”