Esquire marks coming of age and sets sights on new frontiers
Brothers Mahomed Cassim (left) and Asgar Mahomed. (Photo:Daylin Paul)



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Esquire marks coming of age and sets sights on new frontiers

2017-08-02

Celebrations are in order for Esquire Technologies as they celebrate their 18th birthday.

Riding the waves of change in the country, their commitment to “be the change” has helped them reinvent themselves over the years and stay relevant. This is the joint story of two brothers who serve as champions for SMMEs (small, medium and micro enterprises) in South Africa. The company has grown in leaps and bounds, and aims to help emerging entrepreneurs embrace the digital age that the world has transitioned into, and also serves as one of the largest IT and digital lifestyle resellers in southern Africa.

Esquire Technologies is an award-winning company that caters to the reselling of IT, security and digital lifestyle products in southern Africa. The company started in 1999 and currently has its headquarters in Samrand, Gauteng. Their footprint extends well into the Western Cape, KwaZuluNatal and beyond our borders into Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Swaziland, with plans to expand into more regions.


Roots
Mahomed Cassim, chief executive, and Asgar Mahomed, managing director, started the company in 1999 with three employees. Today the company employs over 165 people on a full-time basis and an extra 40 external contractors. Serving the nation through their work has remained top on their agenda, enabling technology to reach distant corners while empowering employees, clients and stakeholders. The family-orientated business has grown alongside its employees, many of whom started out with the company and are still there.

Cassim grew up in Pretoria and studied computer programming, graduating with a diploma in Advanced Micro Computing at the Computer Academy of South Africa at the age of 20. His first job was as an IT developer in Johannesburg, a post he outgrew within two years.

Mahomed enrolled in the same course as his older brother, and entered the banking sector with Standard Bank, working in the foreign exchange division.

The brothers would embark on hitchhiking expeditions to travel to college from Pretoria to Johannesburg and back together on a daily basis, earning the nickname “the computer guys” as they could fix any computer problem. Word soon spread and their clientele grew over the next three years.

The brothers had learnt about running a business from their parents, who operated a general dealer. They sold toys in school to earn pocket money and while at college, they sold audio cassettes and floppy disks to students. They managed to save R4 000 which served as their start-up capital upon starting their first business venture.

With big dreams, self-determination, resilience and faith, the brothers formed Micro-Matrix in 1988. The model of the company was simple. Instead of buying whole computers from others, the brothers would source and buy parts, assemble and sell their own versions, operating from the dining room table â€" a table Cassim still eats at to this day.

As the company expanded, they soon bought their first car, a Toyota 1.6GL. This car soon doubled up as office space as they connected with clients, trading and delivering. This was a major milestone as it ensured mobility for the brothers.

The company was expanding at a rapid rate and new premises were opened in Pretoria North. MicroMatrix moved into the city CBD in 1992 in Sunnyside to gain access to students within the surrounding areas, a move that saw the company’s sales soar.

Roles were evenly distributed amongst the dynamic duo. Mahomed was in charge of the assembly line while Cassim focused on the selling aspects, as the company expanded rapidly. Seventeen stores were opened countrywide as the business continued to expand between 1991 and 1995.

The Casey PC
Around this time, their own computer brand called the Casey PC proved to be a hit. This computer mimicked the American PC brands in terms of operating but offered customers a more personalised look and feel, including the option of a wooden, granite or marble finish. The Casey PC brand, in high demand, grew rapidly alongside Micro-Matrix. The growth of the legendary PC soon surpassed their other business.

Building over 300 Casey PCs a day, in 1996 Casey Electronics was officially opened in their Centurion premises. Chain and retail stores soon opened nationwide, attracting both government and private clients. The access to government tenders helped the company grow exponentially and the Casey PC brand soon became a big player in the ICT space.

The company started building over 2 000 Casey PCs a week! Casey Electronics became a fully fledged PC distributing company. The turnover was well over R150-million.

Challenging times
In context of the South African market and world market dynamics, 1997 was the “dotcom boom” and many people were listing initial public offerings and investing in the stock exchange.

Riding the waves of change was not always easy for the brothers who experienced many challenges along the way. Operating as a previously disadvantaged company, business became tough during the country’s transition period into democracy.

Entering a highly monopolised and new field, having to work extra hard to gain suppliers’ trust and respect required a lot of energy, focus and resilience. Establishing a commitment to changing perceptions and mind-sets was needed across the board. Credit facilities entrusting them with financial aid also proved to be a huge barrier to entry, but the brothers soldiered on in spite of this and continued to prosper.

They decided to list Casey Electronics on the JSE in September 1998, becoming one of the first black empowerment companies to list on the stock exchange. Mahomed Cassim was 31 at the time and Asgar Mahomed had just turned 29.

Towards the first half of the year in 1999, a black empowerment group made an offer to purchase the holding company Casey Investment Holdings, which consisted of Micromatrix, Casey Electronics and a few other company divisions. Upon agreement, the brothers accepted a five-year restraint of trade.

The brothers decided to rest and enjoyed a sabbatical for an entire year, in which time they would relax, travel, and explore the world. This only lasted for three months â€" they soon got bored and the entrepreneurial itch resurfaced!

Birth of Esquire Technologies
With a wealth of business wisdom, they decided to help emerging entrepreneurs enter the industry and overcome challenges they faced when starting up. This was the birth of Esquire Technologies, which emerged in June 1999. It became the champion for SMMEs â€" a core of Esquire’s business model still evident today. It has become one of South Africa’s leading, award-winning distributors, with a strong focus on IT and digital lifestyle products. To date, the company works alongside 19 000 SMME customers that buy directly from the Esquire.

Loyalty as key character trait has come to serve the company well over the years, as they continue to create an entrusted buying group type for SMMEs. This comes about through their JIT (Just in Time) system, which the business follows to maintain the flow of inventory. The company has you covered in terms other technical divisions too by providing technical support, availing various assembly services and providing marketing support and access to a national distribution network, which their SMMEs benefit from directly, upholding standards of timely delivery.

2010 World Cup
As the saying goes, change is the only constant, and no stranger to such, the brothers were ready to innovate yet again. The spirit of the world cup caught the nation by storm as South Africa won the bid to host the Fifa World Cup in 2010. Negotiations for Fifa-branded IT products were underway for the brothers too. They wanted to create IT products branded under the official Fifa logo for Fifa â€" a concept unheard of back then.

Their tenacity paid off and after months of negotiations, they soon manufactured the first Fifa IT-branded licensed products in South Africa. Products ranging from mouse pads, to CD wallets and CD case holders soon flooded stores across the country and Building over 300 Casey PCs a day, in 1996 Casey Electronics was officially opened in their Centurion premises. The brothers created an e-commerce portal for their customers to trade online. The Virtual Reseller Network was created in 2012. Esquire marks coming-of-age and sets sights on new frontiers the world as they distributed IT memorabilia to filling stations, gift stores, supermarkets and retail stores, keeping the world cup spirit alive.

Esquire Technologies became the market leader and eventually introduced new brands within the IT sector including Fifa and Walt Disney. The store house is filled with memorabilia to this day. With innovation and creativity at it’s core, the company did not stop there. The brothers created an e-commerce portal for their customers to trade online. The Virtual Reseller Network was created in 2012. It changed the shape of the traditional distribution market for all its customers.The information available on Esquire’s website now filtered through to all the SMMEs plugged into their network.

This has earned the company numerous awards, including Best Innovation in 2013. The award cabinet kept expanding â€" the company has won 150 awards during its lifespan. This recognition encourages the brothers to keep going, and growing.

VRN and Courierdirect
Staying relevant through reinvention has served the brothers well over the years. Looking for new challenges, they have expanded by creating a courier company called courierdirect.com to help manage deliveries and accommodate their resellers. This has reduced costs by up to 30%. They also co-own their own internet service provider called SA Gateway, developed to host their virtual reseller network (VRN) for clients’ websites.

At the beginning of 2016, the VRN web stores expanded by virtue of customers requesting more products to be made available â€" this included homeware products! They soon expanded to sell homeware products galore and have 500 online VRN stores to date, experiencing a 200% growth rate since implementation.

The Xpress Store Retail Shopping experience has also offered customers a chance to gain a visual experience of all products Esquire offers and are located at all the branches around the country. This benefit is open six days a week including public holidays, even offering resellers access to national accounts, which enables them to service customers all around the country.

With the fourth industrial revolution well underway in South Africa, the brothers both maintain that South Africa is on par in terms of technological and product stance. Refinement and timing is in order as the next phase ensues. Enabling SMMEs to succeed, the brothers are always ready and available to impart valuable pearls of wisdom.

Asgar Mahomed asserts that investing in a good marketing strategy â€" showing others what you are doing goes a long way. They ascertain that marketing and advertising are two different concepts. Innovation needs to constantly happen â€" think outside of the box to take your business to the next level. Networking is one of the most important components, and understanding the concept of networking is essential.

The company continues to give back in various ways by actively participating in charity and fundraising events with, various corporate social initiatives empowering women, children and the disadvantaged in society.

The illustrious journey has given the brothers a wealth of options to continue growing and diversifying portfolios. Reaching the 18-year milestone and coming into adulthood as a company, they are reflecting to see how far they have come before proceeding further.

Their product line to date offers customers many options for their convenience. PC components, the latest gaming options, digital lifestyle offerings, accessories, mobility solutions, point of sales, servers, security, and large networks are all concentrated within the Esquire Technologies Company. These provide companies with building blocks to develop according to their needs and preferences.

The future is now and diversifying into property is well underway for them too. The Angel Funding Initiative serves as a start-up funding mechanism â€" helping SMMEs grow â€" a service that sees them staying true to their initial mandate. They help whomever they can along the way, sharing the wisdom gained from their wealth of experiences gained along the way.

Home industries will also benefit from Esquire. Using the same VRN platform, they are implementing IT solutions for SMMEs to plug into the network too and help widows, single mums and older women to move with the times. They will be empowered as they sell their products such as samoosas, cakes and other food items. These are some of the bold ideas the brothers are tossing around as they expand.

The brothers have bought back the Casey brand name and are expanding their consumer lifestyle division for the benefit of their customers. The year 2018 will see them adding more products to their shelves.

Grateful for the success and blessings, they attribute their employees as their greatest asset â€" most of whom have been around for as long as the company Esquire has existed.

18-year celebration
To mark this momentous occasion, a huge 18-year celebration is planned for customers, clients and partners, both locally and internationally. Demonstrations, exhibitions and entertainment for all is guaranteed on July 29 2017 at their head offices in Samrand. Maintaining good business relations and continuing to grow remains top on the agenda for both brothers, as they hope to usher in another 18 years of success and beyond.

Mail & Guardian : Special Reports - Leigh Wils




Esquire marks coming of age and sets sights on new frontiers

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