LEARNING CURVE | Partners with vision fill gap in market
Engineering and automation firm KDA provides professional services across SA, and overseas
They used to joke that they should start a business in the technical and electrical automotive field after noticing a gap in the market. And that is exactly what Johan Kruger and John Duxbury did when they founded their firm Kruger Duxbury Automation Solutions (or KDA for short) about eight years ago.
From their school days at Adelaide Gymnasium, they have come a long way, with their business boasting a clientele list which includes the likes of Volkswagen SA, Ford Motor Company and Continental Tyres, to name a few.
Please share some background on yourself and how the business was started?
We studied electrical engineering at the then Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. We both worked at various companies where we gained valuable technical experience.
In September 2011, we decided to take a leap of faith and started KDA together.
It has grown in leaps and bounds into an engineering and automation company that provides professional engineering services across SA, with a few international projects in between.
George Rudman was a teacher who played a huge part in building this foundation, and he has been a key role-player in setting up our skills development training centre. What is your core service? Project management – helping our customers purchase, install and commission production facilities according to their standards and specification.
Factory automation – we offer turnkey production facility solutions and with the help of mechanical and electrical partners, we can take on large size projects and offer design, manufacturing and installation. Some examples of these partner companies is our mechanical partner, Protec Engineering, and our electrical partners are RTSA and Scope Electrical.
We also offer technical training, such as electrical training from basic courses to trade test preparation.
Where was the idea born?
When we worked together at a larger corporate company, we identified a skills shortage in the technical, and especially the electrical automotive, field.
What makes your business unique?
We offer good quality solutions and we are extremely passionate about our field. We are addicted to problem-solving and cannot be beaten by a challenge – well, most of the time! We strive to deliver automation projects at the highest quality and support our customers, even long after final sign-off.
We aren’t afraid to take on new and innovative jobs. We always try to use the latest technology available and offer training on all projects upon completion.
We also take pride in developing and training our customers, hence the in-house electrical and automation training centre at our office.
If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?
Ensure that you have the expertise and knowledge base to start the business.
We didn’t start with a formal business model, but knew that our training and experience would carry us through.
As time progressed, we established a business model that works for us, based on partnerships with companies with the same core principles and strengths.
What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before getting off the ground?
Building our brand so customers could know us, and building the trust to manage and execute a turnkey project for them. Cash flow was also a huge inhibitor at start-up and requires detailed planning to manage.
Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs?
You must have a passion for what you’re doing – passion drives perfection. Hard work and dedication is a given, and build a customer base that has trust in you.
What are some of the biggest challenges in day-to-day operations and your particular industry?
Staying competitive with an ever-increasing influx of international contractors in the local market. Also keeping our customer base satisfied while remaining competitive and still deliver a good quality product.
What is the best advice anyone gave you on success?
Never give up – persevere. Remember, if it was going to be easy, everyone would do it. How do you measure or define success in your business? We measure our success based on the satisfaction of our customers and the efficiency and happiness of our team.
It is also important to ensure that you are showing growth and acceptable profit.
What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful? Transparency, business integrity and delivering what we promised on time to satisfied customers. We know that KDA’s success is not only our own doing, and because of this we try to always align our business principles with strong Christian principles. Straight talk breaks no friendship. This has been a motto and core principle for us from the start.
What kind of advertising do you do?
Most of our advertising has been by word of mouth. We have since hosted some charity events and used social media to advertise our training facility and the courses available.
What is your company’s vision?
The vision of KDA automation is to provide the best automation solutions to our customers, to grow and work with these customers.
For KDA training, the vision is to become the most trusted automation and training partner in the industry.
What is your target market?
The automotive manufacturing sector, the catalytic industry, chemical industries, as well as food and beverage industries. Our product fits and offer solutions for any automated manufacturing concern or requirement.
What have some of your highlights been in running your business?
One of the biggest highlights was definitely being given the opportunity to do projects abroad, as well as turnkey projects. Our training centre has been a huge milestone for us, as we have always been passionate about uplifting and developing skills.
How many people do you employ?
We started with a head count of two and have grown to 16 staff members, all with high levels of experience and specialised skills.
Do you have any plans for expanding the business, and how would you go about this?
We are currently developing our international customers. We definitely would like to expand our training facility to the point where it will be a technical centre on its own. We are excited about the possibility of giving back to the community to grow their skills in the field.
How did you acquire funding for the business?
KDA was started with funds from the operating members. This is a very hard road to choose, but the reward is great when we look back and see what the end result is.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?
Hard work and sacrifice is the only way to succeed. Taking shortcuts and the easy way out could be costly in the long run.
What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like Port Elizabeth?
Running KDA in a city like Port Elizabeth has advantages as word of mouth travels fast in a small city. If you provide a good service, it might lead to your next opportunity with different customers.
How do you motivate staff?
The best way is to lead by example and to work with your staff. You must also know them well enough to understand what you need to do to help them advance in their career and feel satisfied within their positions.