An interview with Sunridge Importers and Wholesalers

How Sunridge Importers and Wholesalers began with a vision for an independent plumbing importer and distributor
Sunridge Importers and Wholesalers aims to serve the independent plumbing merchants in the country with the right quality products at the right price

Charles Jerome and Gavin Atkinson of Rifeng SA shared a common vision for the development of an independent plumbing importer and distributor. From this seed of an idea, they created Sunridge Importers and Wholesalers.

“We set up the business in 2019 with a focus on general plumbing products, brass and sanitaryware and specialised plumbing products of the Rifeng range,” says Atkinson. “But it wasn’t long before Covid-19 slowed our entry into the market. Despite this initial setback, we have grown the turnover by 600% since inception. We have continued to add products and numerous brands under the SUNRIDGE umbrella.”

Jerome adds, “We had anticipated that it would take us four years to achieve these milestones, so we are pretty proud of our performance and believe that the competent team that we have assembled will help us achieve more of the same, doubling our turnover over the next two years. We have always operated under the radar, getting on with the business, growing our range of products, and now we have cemented our position in the plumbing market. We have a significant wealth of experience around our boardroom table and our exponential growth has shown this.”

Atkinson says that the company has added a complement of specifiers to its sales team and expects to be adding a competent service to professional engineers, architects and quantity developers to bring to their attention Sunridge’s expanding range of quality eco-friendly products designed for green buildings and to ensure reduced water usage and wastage.

Leading Architecture + Design spoke to Atkinson and Jerome to find out more about their plans to develop Sunridge into a major force in the plumbing industry.

Leading Architecture + Design: You mention the wealth of experience. Can you expand on this?

Atkinson: “We have more than 100 years of collective experience in plumbing across a range of companies involved in the industry. We are also proud of the pioneering work that we have done in China, with some of our executives having visited China and established solid relationships with the best manufacturers who have been able to exhibit high quality and business standards, as well as conforming to international specification, since 1985. Our experience has taught us of the absolute necessity for compliance and for achieving proper standards in the products we import. Accordingly, all our approved products are regularly tested and conform to the relevant SANS specifications.”

Jerome: “Our sales focus has been on the independent plumbing merchants in the country. We have provided assurance to this group that we are there to serve them with the right quality products at the right price.”

Atkinson: “We want to remain independent to serve the independent market and strengthen the market as best we can by keeping close to the customers. Our size allows us flexibility, the ability to manoeuvre and find solutions from our depth of design and re-engineering experience.”   

Jerome: “Independence is in our blood; it is in our makeup. Our structures are right and the business is run professionally. Independence provides security for our customers who experience the same business issues as we do.”

Leading Architecture + Design: Do you see changes in the industry due to high commodity prices and supply chain issues from around the world, and will you agree that changes/adaptations in the market are happening faster than in the past?

Jerome: “It is, and it is challenging. But one must steer the ship in the direction one aims at with an unclouded vision, and with a wealth of knowledge and experience we have been able to navigate the rough waters.”

Atkinson: “We have grown the business substantially through the efforts of our staff and we are pleased that we have grown our staff complement from 37 to 73.”

Jerome: “We are particularly proud of the fact that since I took over the business in 2013, there has not been one resignation. I believe it is our culture that we are all part of an independent ‘family’ and not a corporate. We have managed to retain that culture from the beginning. We are not clock watchers; we get people in who want a career, not a job, and to have fun building their careers with us.”

Atkinson: “I believe it is because senior management actually cares about the staff, which we do. We steer them in the right direction, we are totally honest with them and we have mutual respect.”

Jerome: “We are the exclusive distributor of the Rifeng range of products in Southern Africa. Rifeng is the largest manufacturer of multilayer piping in the world, with 60 agents globally, including the US. The factory has more than 40 global certifications. Rifeng  is a household name in China and one of the most reputable businesses I have dealt with. The after-sales service and how they stand behind their product is admirable. Their mindset is that of a broad business and not just a manufacturer selling product. That is why they are the largest multilayer pipe manufacturer in the world. Their annual production would circumnavigate the globe 29 times!”

Atkinson: “We are now also exclusive distributors of the Borras range of taps. Borras is the second largest tap manufacturer in Spain and carries SATAS and JASWIC approvals. The range conforms to the DZR requirements of our market at affordable prices.”

Leading Architecture + Design: We understand that Sunridge has a substantial claims cover policy but virtually no claims experience, which is admirable. How do you do it?

Jerome: “We have the correct certification, which is regularly renewed, we do not cut corners and we invest in training. We make sure the guys know how to use the product correctly. We also follow up on projects. Once specified, we work closely with the designers and installers, taking photos and ensuring nothing untoward is happening on site. This feedback is given to the supply chain, so everyone is kept in the loop. Once the project is up and running and when water is turned on, by checking the pressure we can identify if the product does what it claims and performs to its best.”

Leading Architecture + Design: In conclusion, can you summarise Sunridge for us?

Atkinson:Sunridge started with a brief conversation. The seed was planted, and that seed grew very quickly. I had a vision of us being the largest independently owned plumbing business in South Africa in a five-year period and we are close to that already. There were challenges in getting the business up and running, but once we were over those initial hurdles, we had a business that started gaining its own momentum. It has the right people in the right place, doing the right work, with the right product range. We are a business that has come from small beginnings in truly a short space of time, and have managed to establish ourselves as one of the leading importers and distributors of plumbing and water reticulation products in the country. There is more to come, and our vision remains to see the business evolving to meet the needs of our changing market. We have set ourselves the goal of supplying the independent and corporate market and will continue sourcing products to be effective in offering a service to our customers. Being independently owned, we are free of politics and have the entire retail market available to us. We plan to grow the business with the retail groups and chains, as well as the independents. As Charles has stated, there are more exciting things to come over the next couple of months, which will take us to another level.”

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