Driven by dreams

Driven by dreams

The story of Maseru Toyota’s rise

 Lemohang Rakotsoane

MASERU

WHEN six Basotho men sat down to start a Toyota dealership in Maseru in the 1980s their prospects were dim. All they had was a dream and passion to succeed.

They had hashed out what they thought was a solid business plan to start Maputsoe Motors. But the odds were stuck against them. They were entering a fiercely contested market with little financial backing.

They had left their comfortable jobs, some at a well-established car dealership which had the government as its main customer and sponsor.

Today their company, renamed Maseru Toyota, is one of the leading car dealers in the country. Yet four of the founding shareholders have left the company. They left one after the other when the company looked like it was going to collapse.

Now only Robert Kolotsane and Elijah Lelimo remain.

Together they have pulled the company from the precipice and turned it into a flourishing enterprise anchored by one of the most recognisable brands in the world.

“Nobody thought we would make it, our previous employer and colleagues  spread lies saying Maputsoe Motors was a branch of Pioneer Motors (our former employer) focusing on dealership, while some said that it was just a project that would soon be closed,” Kolotsane says.

“People were very reluctant to work with us, saying they didn’t believe Basotho would be able to own a car dealership.”

“It was a struggle. You can just imagine approaching people to be your customers and an already known dealership saying you are his project.”

Last Friday Maseru Toyota marked yet another milestone in its 30-year history with the opening of its state-of-the-art showroom and offices along Mpilo Road.

Kolotsane says they would not have succeeded were it not for the start-up capital from the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC). At that time commercial banks were reluctant to lend to new companies.

“During those days banks didn’t even look at you when you didn’t have money,” Kolotsane recalls.

Out of options, the partners started knocking at doors at the LNDC. And in April 1986 their perseverance paid off when the LNDC gave them a loan and a piece of land. So began the journey Kolotsane describes as gruelling but enriching.

They stuttered at the beginning because of market perception and the enormity of the competition they were facing from well-established South African car dealers.

“We received stiff competition from South Africa and from local businesses, the likes of Pioneer Motors, Lesotho Nissan and National Motors,” he says.

“There was a time when we felt like throwing in the towel but deep down we knew that we had to forge forward regardless of our challenges”.

Toyota’s system of dealing with dealers at that time was like a double-edged sword. It made it easier for dealers to get cars without paying but had stringent conditions that could ruin them if the cars didn’t sell. After three months Toyota required its payment even if the dealer had not sold anything.

For small dealers like Maputsoe Motors this was a potential disaster. The cars were not selling fast enough to meet the three-month deadline and they did not have the financial muscle to cover their short positions when Toyota wanted its payment.

“I remember there was a time when we took five cars as consignment and were only able to sell one car in a month. During the second (month) when we realised that the four cars were not going anywhere we opted to sell the cars to another dealership and we were lucky that Rand Stadium was interested,” he says.

But there was a catch in the deal. Rand Stadium was not going to pay a cent more than what Kolotsane and his partners were going to pay back to Toyota.

“Regardless of a price increase they wanted to buy them at a wholesale price, which devastated us as we had thought we would recover our expenses.”

The worst was yet to come because Rand Stadium opted to send the cheque directly to Toyota, leaving Maputsoe Motors in a financial fix.

The payment had settled Maputsoe Motors’ debt to Toyota but the company had not made anything from the transaction. Four months of hard work had gone down the drain.

Only after three years of struggling did they start to see light at the end of the tunnel.

In 1993, seven years after starting, Maputsoe Motors would pull a major business coup by buying Pioneer Motors from the LNDC.

They now owned a company that once employed them. It was a sweet victory because Pioneer Motors was their major competitor.

Kolotsane puts the success down to people who took a leap of faith and bought cars from them despite a whirlwind of negative public perception.

“When many doubted us there were a few Basotho who supported us through it all and we will forever be grateful to them. The likes of Tsebiso Moroke who was the first customer to buy a car from us.”

“We were allocated space here in Maseru where we carried our operations. However, due to the support we were getting, the place was congested so much that we feared that people’s cars would be scratched,” he explains.

“Today here we are, in a state-of-the-art Toyota building, all of this couldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t because of our hard working employees. We started with 15 employees, some left when things were tough but today we are happy to say we have 94 employees.”

He says Lesotho has one of the seven super technicians in the sub-Saharan region and “soon we will have three of those”.

“Determination and dedication got us here and our greatest asset is our employees and the continuous support of Basotho.”

Lelimo, co-founder, says local businesses can only grow if Basotho support them.

“Let us support other Basotho businesses whether it is in agriculture or anything else because by so doing we will be creating jobs for many other Basotho and helping them to support their families,” Lelimo says.

“Though there were some reservations when we were given this place with some saying we were given hills, I will forever be grateful because I can never feel guilty or be accused of building on fertile soil,” he says.

Majakathata Mokoena, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, who spoke at the official opening, said Basotho should learn to embrace the talent within themselves.

“There is no need to go to Bloemfontein or Johannesburg to buy cars that are available in the country in the hope of getting something of better quality,” Mokoena said.

“Here is Maseru Toyota, they have quality cars and by leaving them here to buy cars in SA you will not find anything better. The only thing you will find is hijacking,” he said.

He added that government is trying to develop the automotive industry.

“The more cars we buy from Maseru Toyota the more jobs we will be creating, alleviating poverty and unemployment,” Mokoena says.

’Mathabo Ntai, Maseru Town Clerk, said Basotho should remember that only their hard work will pull the country from the clutches of poverty.

“It is high time as Basotho that we start thinking about what we can do for our country and not expecting the country to do something for us in order to deliver our country out of this poverty,” she said.

“Many have been given land but failed to use it.”

She said there are several reforms taking place “to ensure that we develop our city and one of them is the issuance of construction permits”.

“We are hopeful that soon they will be issued within 14 days. We have to work hard and improve infrastructure to enable the private sector to play its role of generating employment,” Ntai said.

 

BIO

-Toyota Motor Corporation is a Japanese automotive manufacturer headquartered in Toyota, Aichi, Japan.

– The company was founded by Kiichiro Toyoda in 1937, as a spinoff from his father’s company Toyota Industries to create automobiles.

-In March 2014 the company had 338 875 employees worldwide

-As of February 2016 it was 13th-largest company in the world by revenue.

-Toyota was the largest automobile manufacturer in 2012 (by production) ahead of the Volkswagen Group and General Motors.

In July 2012 the company reported the production of its 200-millionth vehicle.

-Toyota is the world’s first automobile manufacturer to produce more than 10 million vehicles per year.

-Toyota is the world’s market leader in sales of hybrid electric vehicles

-Cumulative global sales of Toyota and Lexus hybrid passenger car models passed the 9 million milestone in April 2016.

-Its Prius family is the world’s top selling hybrid vehicle with almost 5.7 million units sold worldwide as of 30 April 2016[update]. –Wikipedia

 

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