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BIG Machinery in Africa

Published on: 03-Jan-2015


                                                      Interview: Henny van den Biggelaar, CEO BIG Machinery

What does Big Machinery do?
We started nearly 30 years ago in the port of Rotterdam in the transport and handling business. We started out as a rental service for heavy equipment. Nowadays we rent and sell. We employ around 35 people, of which around 6 are mainly active in Africa. The economic development in Africa has created a lot of opportunities.

Where in Africa is Big Machinery active?
We currently have branches in Guinea and Burundi and a joint-venture in Cameroon, with one in Mozambique on the way. Northern Mozambique is really booming because of gas explorations. The infrastructure there still needs a lot of work, creating a need for our equipment. Parties primarily want to rent, not buy, so we are looking to set up a rental business in a joint-venture with local part - ners. Depending on developments we might also open an office in Zambia.

Could you explain how the rental business works?
Our goal is always to sell. However, rental is a profitable option when it is for a longer period of time. This gives us the opportunity to offer a standard package, which includes service, repairs and workshops. Another impor - tant factor is that we train our own operators and provide them to the client. By assigning personal responsibility to equipment, we create continuity, appropriate use and we have less accidents. Even more important, we give local people the opportunity to earn a steady wage and con - tribute to the needed development of vocational training.


What are your unique selling points in comparison with the competition?
We do what others promise. We have a 24 hours a day emergency line, so we can always assist our clients. We also invest in distinguishing capabilities. A few months ago we have added floating cranes to our assortment. Our cranes can be put in the water and stay there, greatly sim - plifying the work. Since we are the only company that can provide this service, the accompanying positive exposure has caused a substantial increase in the sales of our reg - ular assortment.

Can you give us a little insight in your Africa strategy, how does it differ from the European context?
Doing business in Africa is not that much different from business in Europe: personal relations are key. However, generally speaking these relations are more intense in Africa than in Europe. You strive to have frequent contact, both in person and by phone. An example of a run of the mill interaction: you reach an agreement with your African counterpart and after 2-3 days you call him and talk to him about unrelated things: how is your wife, has your daughter graduated yet? You do not mention the deal the two of you made. This will repeat itself a few times and slowly but surely you start to build the trust that is neces - sary for your business.

You indicated that Big Machinery is working on open - ing branches in Mozambique and other countries. Is your strategy aimed at opening local branches?
Eventually it is. However, this really depends on our abil - ity to find reliable local partners. You have to find a part - ner that is willing to co-invest. Our partner in Mozam - bique has 800 employees and more than a 100 trucks. You can rest assured that they know the ropes of doing business. We complement each other and together we can start building, as our goal is to be in it for the long haul.

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