EOY winner the embodiment of real entrepreneurship
Martin Beyers is no Richard Branson; he does not instantly draw you into his world with a wealth of charisma.
Neither is he a Steve Jobs; intent on taking over the world one iPod at a time.
He also does not remind you of Lakshmi Mittal; the creator of a global empire.
Yet, Beyers beat hundreds of South African business owners to win the 2010 Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year ®.
The reason for his success in the competition – and in business – is clear within minutes of meeting the man: he is the embodiment of real entrepreneurship.
Vision, creativity, innovation, careful planning, passion and hard work are the best adjectives to use.
Beyers studied ceramic technology and worked as a production manager and product developer for a large multinational.
He explains that in the ceramic industry, volumes and standardised products are the name of the game.
“My passion lies in product development and I realised that my interests were not aligned with that of a big firm.”
Because the industry is so specialised, most players know each other and partner Dave Kelly approached Beyers in 2000. Kelly operated as a ceramic reseller but saw the potential a production line offered.
Today, CERadvance is completely focussed on providing its client base with specialised ceramic solutions.
The Jet Park based business is a niche player in a market filled with large conglomerates and Beyers intimately understands the operation’s place in the food chain.
Beyers says that the ceramics industry largely focuses on the hardness aspect of their products to add value. But, ceramic is also a material that is extremely heat and corrosion resistant.
“It was only logical to focus on these elements. If you focus on solutions that are commonly available, you need to be volumes driven. This means that it is difficult to focus on niche products where you need to have a lot of interaction with the client. You only have one chance to prove yourself.
“There is space for both approaches in the market but they are extremely different.”
CERadvance acts as a technological partner to its clients where specific solutions are developed using ceramic technology. While this approach might take some time, the eventual solutions offer the client significant cost savings and improved efficiencies in the long run.
Beyers explains that the less often you have to replace a component through wear and tear, the less downtime you have in a production facility. It is this practical cost saving that allows the business to be a niche player in a standardised, volume-driven market.
“You need to understand your product and what it can do. Then, you need to able to look at specific applications. I was lucky in having clients who were hungry for better solutions and who essentially challenged us to come up with products.”
The proof is always in the pudding and CERadvance has managed to double its turnover in the last year to about R15 million.
Beyers explains that the business has grown exponentially in the last number of years as the recession has forced its clients to improve efficiencies.
For a small, niche player it always difficult to compete against large competitors. Beyers says that from day one, he attempted to provide CERadvance with a professional image that would instil confidence amongst clients.
This included ISO 9001:2000 certification, lecturing at local universities, being visible at seminars and expos and joining industry associations.
He explains that it was extremely important to let the market know that the business was not a fly by night and that their solutions were practical and offered direct value.
“No amount of marketing can beat offering value,” he says with a smile.
CERadvance finds itself in a Catch 22 situation when it comes to product development and capacity. Beyers explains that if a contract is secured, the business needs to be able to deliver immediately. But, this means investing in machinery and infrastructure when the contracts are not yet on the books.
“If you don’t take the risk you will never win. But there is a whole lot of educated guesses behind the decisions.”
This strategy has paid off over the years through continual reinvestment and at the moment, CERadvance’s factory is rapidly becoming too small for its 25 staff members and their production lines.
Beyers’ solutions are unique to each client and he explains that you cannot implement a specific solution developed for one scenario in another.
This, to him, would be a dangerous move because he will be unable to completely guarantee the results his clients have come to expect.
But, this reality also means that there are a number of products being developed at any given time. The lead times range from a few weeks to a number of years.
“Some of our products have been in a constant state of development and improvement for six years. The secret is to have a number of products in the pipeline.”
Beyers expects that some products might become standardised as the business moves into a new era but he is quick to add that philosophy has always been “one client, one solution”.
He seems to take the pressure that comes with this business approach quite easily and the secret lies in the enjoyment received through successful product development.
“Creativity is close to everything I do. I think that if an artist does something (remarkable), it is called creativity and if an engineer does something (remarkable) it is called innovation. To me, it is the same thing.
“You don’t have to write a business plan that says: “we will innovate”. It comes to light through the daily operational processes; by finding solutions to problems as they arise…
“There are two parts to innovation. The first is to come up with an idea and the second is to pitch this idea in a way that it defends and sells itself.
“I think there is a shortage of people in South Africa who are able to successfully commercialise their ideas.”
Beyers has learnt to constantly revaluate himself and the business and this was one of the reasons for entering the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year ® competition.
He explains that the process allowed people outside of his daily reality – the judges – to enter the operation, identify shortcomings and successes and help him to improve.
“Winning acknowledges that there is a legitimacy to the business, that it adds value and that it is worthwhile. Entrepreneurs want to know that they are on the right path.
“You constantly have to revaluate yourself to ensure that you are on the right path because the small business reality constantly changes.”