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Case study: Pipeline specialist eyes wider customer base after completing Seriti ESD programme

Bulwane Projects and Maintenance is a company that operates in the engineering sector, specialising in pipeline repair and maintenance, as well as in light civil work and plant maintenance. The company is based in Sasolburg, in the Free State, and was selected to participate in the Seriti Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) Programme in 2021, gaining valuable skills and tools for sustainable growth.

Client background

Bulwane Projects and Maintenance was established in 2018 by Zakes Bulwane, a former employee of Sasol who is passionate about engineering work, particularly in the area of pipeline maintenance. The company operates in the Metsimaholo Local Municipal area. Bulwane’s core functions include fabrication, wrapping, installation and excavation of gas, oil and petrochemical pipelines. It specialises in replacing steel pipes with high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipes, which are less prone to theft and vandalism. The company also carries out plant maintenance, welding and in-service welding of pipelines, as well as pressure testing of equipment such as valves. Additionally, the company carries out minor civil work like building walls and concrete slabs, and industrial high-pressure cleaning. Lastly, Bulwane also specialises in site rehabilitation and cleaning. The company employs seven permanent workers, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these employees work mainly on a project-to-project basis. It frequently uses up to 11 temporary employees. Bulwane does some work for Sasol on its gas pipeline but is looking to expand into utilities and petrochemicals, and is currently in discussion with potential clients in these fields.

The Challenge

As a former employee of Sasol, Bulwane set up Bulwane Projects and Maintenance to mainly provide services to Sasol, but this has proven more difficult than expected, in part because the company did not have the relevant accreditation that is typically required by corporate clients. To survive, Bulwane Projects and Maintenance took up smaller jobs and contracts with private companies and local municipality, which became its main source of income. The company experienced challenges related to marketing, as it was competing against established companies that could bring a host of specialist skills and resources to the table. This prevented the business from meaningfully growing its customer base. Furthermore, Bulwane also struggled to manage its finances, time and people. The financial side proved to be especially tough to manage for the company, with its cashflow management proving particularly ineffective. Despite bringing in a relatively large sum of money from some of the contracts it completed, the company regularly ran out of money, and was unable to forecast and budget for future expenses. Resource and project management also proved to be difficult, as the company lacked the skills to do this properly and effectively. As a result, Bulwane realised that he would greatly benefit from gaining more skills and knowledge about running a sustainable and successful business. He wanted to avoid the fate suffered by many of the small businesses in his community, which were seldom sustainable and would often shut down within a year or two of starting operations.

The Solution

In 2020, Bulwane Projects and Maintenance applied and was selected to join the Seriti ESD Programme, which was designed to identify Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) in the specified local communities in which Seriti Coal operates. Seriti contracted Zevoli Growth Partners to develop and implement the ESD programme on its behalf, in line with Seriti’s commitment to support local SMMEs in acquiring essential business skills needed to expand their operating capacity. A recruitment and awareness campaign attracted more than 500 applications from nearby SMMEs. The ESD programme was a capacity and capability building and mentorship initiative, held between February and July 2021. The structured mentorship and training programme was aimed at helping SMMEs improve their operational efficiency, expand market share, grow strategically and align to a level of sustainability.

Bulwane’s participation in the ESD Programme highlighted a number of issues that had to be addressed within the business, particularly around financial management and marketing. Critically, the company could not rely on providing services to a single company, Sasol, as it initially expected, if it wanted to create long-term sustainability. This meant that its marketing skills had to be developed, while its financial management side also required urgent attention. The company received training and guidance through the Mentorship and Coaching, Business Growth Learning programme and Digital Marketing modules. Several tools and resources were deployed for Bulwane, including a financial system that enabled it to unpack its cost structure and implement cost reduction measures. It also gained skills to create an effective digital marketing strategy, especially in terms of simplifying technical terminology and targeting the right audience. While participating in the programme, Bulwane also successfully obtained its ISO accreditation.

The result

Having completed the programme, Bulwane Projects and Maintenance was equipped with systems and tools that allowed it to manage its finances more effectively, giving it the ability to draw up accurate budgets and cost forecasts. The digital marketing skills and tools it acquired allowed it to effectively leverage social media platforms to target potential customers. Its ISO accreditation positioned the company to secure a gas pipeline contract with Sasol, as well as several other projects where it applied its newly-acquired skills and tools. Furthermore, Bulwane is now better positioned to participate in community business forums and has also assisted other businesses within the area to thrive.“When we introduced our Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) programme, we had two goals in mind: To develop local SMMEs to create a pipeline of supply chain-ready businesses that can secure procurement opportunities both in and outside Seriti, and to enable them to realise scale and drive supplier diversity in our supply chain. This is the intended consequence of driving transformation in our local economies.”