Zimbabwe: 'Extremely Difficult Year Lies Ahead for Unifreight'

interview

At a time most companies have shut down in line with government's lockdown 21-directive to contain the COVID-19 that has killed nearly

40 000 people globally, Swift Transport has continued its operations to provide an essential service. Business reporter Melody Chikono (MC) caught up with Unifreight Africa Ltd CE Rob Kuipers (RK, pictured) to discuss several issues, including the reason why the company decided to stay open, the steps the firm is taking to contain the spread of the virus, as well as Unifreight Africa Limited's business outlook. Below are excerpts of the interview:

MC: Considering you are an essential service provider during this 21-day lockdown, how sustainable do you this is, given the circumstances?

RK: What we mustn't forget is that the country was in an economic crisis long before this pandemic -- a large number of our customers' volumes were down more than 50%, as at the end of February our tonnage was down 6% on prior year.

We can definitely sustain our service for quite some time on a scaled down operation. Fortunately though, we are expecting bigger tobacco volumes than last year on our Mutakuri tobacco-to-floor red carpet service.

MC: How much cargo are you targeting during this period?

RK: Our usual tonnage in the month of April would be between 14 000 to 15 000 tonnes, we will be happy if it is in this range.

MC: You will agree with me that it's not business as usual in the country, and it's going to have a knockdown effect on some of your operations. Can you quantify potential revenues that you might lose during this period?

RK: Some of our customers have been forced to close their doors as they are not classed as essential services and we will lose these revenues, but this will not affect our service offering, and we will continue to offer door-to-door express service as best we can: any size, any distance, anywhere!

MC: There are risks in relation to Covid-19. How prepared is your company to deal with those?

RK: We have taken all necessary precautions in terms of the World Health Organisation guidelines against contracting and the spread of the virus as best we can.

MC: Are you into cross-border freight and what is its share to your overall freight business?

RK: We have never really focussed on cross-border transport, as this does not fit our model of express door-to-door freight delivery of smaller parcels and consignments.

MC: What is your current fleet size?

RK: Currently we have plus or minus 220 prime mover trucks and more than 330 trailers.

MC: You indicate that you have not focussed on home delivery, but you are working on solutions to be able to offer this service where you can. Do you have any timelines and do you think an economy like Zimbabwe can support such a service?

RK: Home delivery has always been very difficult business to get right, and to keep viable because of the lack of concentration of customers, and their expectations of a low price for small deliveries, as well as timing of deliveries when people are home.

Under current circumstances of "lockdown", that scenario is quite different and will be worth pursuing immediately in more affluent areas.

MC: In light of this coronavirus pandemic and its effects, where do you see your full-year 2020 turnover?

RK: We are hoping that by adapting ourselves quickly to the situation as it unfolds, that we can keep volumes on budget and still hit our revenue targets for the year -- but more importantly keep our wheels turning and keep offering essential services our customers require.

MC: What is your outlook for 2020 and do you have new initiatives in the pipeline?

RK: We are expecting an extremely difficult year ahead, that is going to require even harder work than normal and a great deal of patience in dealing with situations that are mostly out of our control. However, we can always control our response to the situation.

Our major focus this year will continue to be easy to do business with and customer convenience, which will include our home delivery focus, as well as remote access through our mobile applications, as well as our online presence. Part of our value statement is that "We solve problems" -- this is what we plan to do now, more than ever.

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