Armed with a big, easy smile, a lifelong passion for cars and the gift of the gab, Thapelo Kegakilwe is perfectly suited to his job as Sales Manager at Francistown Toyota.
It is a role he has performed with distinction for the last six years.
In this latest installment of Meet the Boss, fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride as Kegakilwe takes you behind the scenes at one of the oldest dealerships in the second city.
Let’s start by touching on your professional background?
I’ve got two backgrounds in terms of education.
Before I started in Sales and Marketing, I was an IT person, that was my profession.
I worked for a company called Business Machine Services (BMS) under the office tech department from 2003 to 2008.
I then resigned, venturing into the business world to start my own thing, particularly in property and the food and beverages industry.
During those self-employed days, I started doing Marketing part-time and developed a deep love for it.
So how did a Gaborone businessman end up at Francistown Toyota?
Things were not going well in the business world, I had to start looking for a job and in January 2016 came here with the little experience I had.
I initially started as a Sales Consultant in Gaborone but within a month was transferred to Francistown.
The company then sent me to Toyota Academy in South Africa [Sandton] where I was enrolled on various Marketing courses.
By October I was promoted to Sales Manager because they could see my potential.
Over the next few years, I would go for further courses at the academy whenever any became available. In 2018/19, Toyota sent me to UNISA (University of South Africa) for a year to study Marketing and Sales. As a Sales Manager for Toyota, you need to have that qualification.
Sounds like Toyota really take care of their employees?
I have seen places through this place! Toyota measures you according to how you perform.
If you are doing something right they will reward you. I have been fortunate enough to go to Durban Toyota Plant, and even Tokyo, Japan to watch the 2019 Rugby World Cup final.
Toyota South Africa sponsored the whole trip; it was based on our performances for the year – I was one of three from Botswana that were picked.
It was a truly amazing experience.
How many Toyota outlets are there in Botswana?
There are seven Toyota dealerships in Botswana. Four fall under Motor Centre Group – that is for Mr. Dada and includes: Francistown, Motor Centre (Gaborone), Broadway (Mahalapye) and Bamangwato (Selibe Phikwe). Two (Kasane and Maun) fall under Halfway Group and then there’s Dennis in Serowe.
As a Sales Manager, what do your day-to-day duties involve?
To look after the sales executives, that is very important.
You have to take care of your sales executives before anything else so that you can achieve the sales! This includes making sure they have the products and stock they want to sell to customers.
I deal with customer complaints and also interact with clients, making sure they receive the best service.
I also have to check and sign off on every quotation, making sure the correct discount and exchange rates have been used before my execs can hand them over to the customer.
Remember, we buy our cars from South Africa in Rand, so have to make the necessary conversions into Pula.
After ordering a car, how long does it take to arrive?
It depends on the model. Some models are imports, like the Land Cruiser Pick-ups, which are manufactured in Portugal.
Others, like the Toyota Urban Cruiser, come from India. It can take three to six months for these cars to get here, depending on unforeseen circumstances.
The vehicles that are manufactured here, at the Toyota plant in Durban, are your Hiluxes and Fortuners which normally take one to three months to arrive.
It only takes one day to build a car – but remember there are about 192 Toyotas across Southern Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini South Africa and Namibia, while Toyota SA also supply the European Market.
If all these guys put in an order, obviously the Mega dealerships with the bigger orders will get preference over us.
Speaking of unforeseen circumstances, were you affected by the recent troubles in Durban?
Yes we were! Some of the stock that we’re expecting later this month, including the Cruiser 300, was actually meant to arrive two weeks ago but because of the troubles, they had to hold everything until the situation stabilized. Now the situation is okay and we have started receiving stock.
What makes a good Sales Manager?
Love what you do, you must have passion for the job. Growing up, my dad loved cars and passed that obsession onto me.
Product knowledge is vital, you must know your product inside out! And finally, listen to your sales consultants, what they want, what they need.
I prefer to see myself as a leader not a manager. We work together – I also sell and try to lead by example.
On average, how many cars does Toyota Francistown sell in a month?
Again it depends. We’re classed as a small dealership but try by all means to hit a target of at least 25-30.
And how has Covid-19 affected sales?
We’ve definitely noticed a difference in the last few months. January to March were good months.
But from April, when Covid cases really starting rising in Botswana, our sales have been down.
It’s understandable, in times of crisis luxury items such as cars take a backseat.
So what strategies have Toyota put in place to survive the pandemic?
We’re sticking to the tried and tested methods. Marketing remains the same – we still go out and hold stalls, following Covid19 protocols of course, advertise, communicate with clients via e-mail and over the phone etc.
We also follow our workshop strategy, whereby a client brings his vehicle for service – this is actually quite a big source of income for us. It gives us an opportunity to chat and build a strong relationship with our customers.
What tips do you give staff on how to deal with tricky customers?
Don’t compete with the customer. If they’re not happy or angry with something, stay calm.
Listen to what the customer is saying. If you try and talk back when they’re still upset, they’ll get even more furious.
When they’ve cooled down start talking but be respectful. If that still doesn’t work then bring the customer to me.
If that fails then I’ll take the customer to see the Dealer Principal.
It’s very rare for this to happen and is usually caused when a customer’s car doesn’t arrive on time or if there is a price increase due to exchange rate fluctuation between when they paid for the vehicle and when it arrived.
Customers sometimes forget that ordering a car is not like buying bread – they’re not ready made and have to be manufactured from scratch.
Finally, what does the future hold for Francistown Toyota?
I see Francistown Toyota growing from where it is today. Hopefully the surrounding mines like BCL and Mupane Gold Mine will re-open soon, which would be a big boost.
I truly believe we can upgrade from a small dealership to achieve medium status. Toyota is the future, Toyota leads the way!
FULL NAMES: Thapelo LP Kegakilwe
DATE OF BIRTH: 18th July…. I’d rather not say!
PLACE OF BIRTH: Selebi Phikwe
MARITAL STATUS: Married with two kids
MENTOR: My father, wife and mother
CAR DRIVING: Toyota Corolla Quest 1.8 Exclusive
DREAM HOLIDAY DESTINATION: Long Beach, Los Angels (USA)
PASTIME: Chilling out with friends, watching TV
FAVOURITE FOOD: Lamb Biryani (Indian)
FAVOURITE DRINK: Anything hot or cold
WHAT MAKES YOU ANGRY: People who tell lies!