About 65 years ago Agrinet was started as VETSAK (an acronym for ‘Vrystaat en Transvaalse Sentrale Aankoop Kooperasie’), with the initial vision to serve and uplift the South African farming community by establishing a centralised co-operative buying group that could negotiate better prices and source specialised products. VETSAK was to become the co-operative for the co-operatives so to speak.
Fast forward to present day and Agrinet has evolved into a large wholesaler, supplier and distributor in ten specialist categories (Hardware, Electrical, Irrigation, Paint, Garden, Mechanisation, General Goods, Power Products, Plumbing and Outdoor) to the traditional co-operative and growing national hardware retail segments within sub-Saharan Africa. The company has enjoyed a varied and dynamic history and has helped to develop and lead various market segments over the past few decades through its uniquely developed approach to wholesale and distribution.
Humble beginnings, big vision
On 1 September 1950 in Fordsburg, only 5 years after World War II, the five founding members of VETSAK established the first central buying co-operative with only R600 and a bold vision. After the war there was a shortage of many goods in the country, which provided a unique opportunity for the company. This shortage, coupled with a valuable Yskor steel supply contract, placed the founding members on a very favourable starting block. But it was not as clean-cut and easy as would be expected as many previous failed attempts to establish a centralised buying group was still fresh in the minds of various farmers and regional co-operatives.
The founding members persevered, however, and in the winter of 1952, VETSAK acquired a larger, more centrally located property in Isando. The location was also ideal because of its proximity to the railway network, which, at the time was the main form of distribution to the co-operative groups until the introduction of Agrinet’s own fleet of trucks in 1990. Slowly but surely the company increased their product offering and in no time over 20 000 trade items were being sourced and distributed, which included products like Wolseley engines, to a wide variety of ‘farm-tested’ hardware tools.
A tipping point in the company’s history came in 1959, when the decision was made to establish a manufacturing plant to produce the now infamous orange VETSAK farm gate. This would mark the first big step in VETSAK’s history to becoming a serious contributor to farm-related manufactured goods. The drive has always been to meet the South African farmer’s needs for great quality products at reasonable prices. The company’s logo still carries the VETSAK gate to this day, which symbolises the company’s promise to not let any product pass its gates without proper investigation and stamp of approval.
To this day VETSAK farming products are still used and preferred by many farmers, which speaks to the close working relationship, R&D and understanding of the farmer’s needs during the product development and manufacturing process at VETSAK’s various plants. In these formative years VETSAK grew a reputation of trust with the farming community through various produced and imported products in irrigation, ground-engaging parts, engines and hardware ranges, of which the most famous was the Fiat Tractor. To this day VETSAK is still a household name, which is testament to the lasting impact the company had on the farming communities of yesteryear.
A few big shifts
The company’s vision to become a truly centralised and national buying co-operative was still not fully realised until the acquisition of Boeresake’s trade division in 1996. This division served the Cape region and owned the Agrinet brand. The need was identified to change the company’s name from VETSAK to Agrinet as this better represented the company’s transition to a truly national distributor.
In later years legislation was passed which enabled centralised co-operatives to sell to ‘non-members’. (Other co-operatives were referred to as ‘members’) This opened a flood of opportunities for the company to expand markets and extend their hard-earned expertise to cater for other buying groups.
In 2007 the need arose to move to larger premises that would allow for further growth and the Samrand warehouse was acquired. Agrinet still operates from these premises today and has built various additional warehouses on site to keep up with the increasing growth.
Since the move to Samrand, Agrinet’s focus has shifted from mainly supplying/manufacturing agricultural type products, to the growth of general trade type products to service the needs of the general hardware market. Agrinet however still retains its market-leading position in irrigation and competitive offering in mechanisation and power products (engines) through its specialist divisions.
Agrinet’s strength is its people
Sean Bradshaw, MD of Agrinet recognises that; “The strength of Agrinet lies within. The company has a great heritage and wealth of internal knowledge which is continually being guided to develop our service offering to the market.” The long-standing culture of Agrinet is that of commitment, camaraderie and loyalty and the company prides itself in retaining its employees due to the genuine ties formed with staff. Very recently, Aaron Mbatha, the longest serving employee of the company, retired after an amazing 48 years of valued service.
Agrinet today and the next 65 years
Modern day Agrinet is a dynamic yet grounded company which still operates according to the founding and guiding principles of being solutions-driven, knowledgeable, innovative and best at sourcing. Agrinet’s mission is to be a dynamic partner for their clients and suppliers in the retail chain and to assist their business partners in achieving growth goals and market positions through their extensive distribution and sourcing capabilities.
Agrinet’s commitment to the support and development of top brands will keep on assisting its customers in their challenge to serve the high standards of today’s consumer and build lasting relationships. Already Agrinet has enjoyed great success with their recently introduced owned brands such as Nexus, Power Master and the rebranded Kaufmann Outdoor range, which serves as testament to the company’s understanding of the consumer and retailer’s requirements for a well-priced, high quality product that serves their needs.
The vision for the next 65 years is to be the solutions-driven channel of choice for Agrinet’s portfolio of products in Africa. This will be achieved by building on a great legacy, measurement of standards according to world-class benchmarks, as well as continual improvements in terms of integrated technology, distribution, deliveries and service measures.