While Bridgestone South Africa’s (BSSA) consumer-facing retail business, as well as its manufacturing facilities have suspended their operations during the National Lockdown, the company’s small, medial and large (SML) commercial unit continues to support key industrial customers to ensure essential food and medical supplies are delivered on time around the country.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a lockdown of all non-essential services due to the COVID-19 outbreak in March, consumers around the country were worried that they may not access vital food, medicines and other consumables but lockdown conditions made provision for essential services such as major food retail shops amongst others to operate during this period.

This meant that deliveries to grocery stores would still need to take place, and what if delivery trucks experience tyre damages in the line of duty? It would mean the vital supply chain system would collapse, subsequently impacting many South Africans who would be unable to get groceries or medicine for their families.

Vernon Slack, executive manager of Bridgestone’s SML fleet, explains how a co-ordinated team of technicians is going above the call of duty, working with logistics and commercial operators, to ensure that essential products make it to their destinations without disruption.

“While we shut down our trading stores to adhere to Government regulations, we still have to service several commercial customers such as Afrox, which delivers oxygen to the medical field,” Slack says. “We also support Shoprite’s logistics network based at its depots around the country and Lieben Logistics, which transports shipments for all the Pick n Pays along the coast of South Africa.

“We managed to get our back office and administrative staff to work successfully from home, but we needed to ensure that the workers deployed on site would have the necessary support to work efficiently and safely,” he says.

Bridgestone separates its teams into two distinct support levels. The first level is onsite servicing, where teams stationed at the premises of customers fulfil the full tyre solution, to ensure optimal daily vehicle performance.

The second level is on-road breakdown, where teams linked to Bridgestone’s 27 commercial stores around the country travel to vehicles stranded on the side of the road to get them going again in as fast a time as possible.

Within Gauteng, which is densely populated, teams travel typically between 20 to 30 kilometres on a round trip. However, on the Harrismith branch of the N3 between Johannesburg and Durban, the busiest freight highway in the country, teams could travel as far as 150 km in one direction and Bloemfontein teams could travel over 200 km.

Every day, just over 100 BSAF service specialists, made up of 60 on-site technicians and 50 on standby to respond to roadside incidents, report for duty.

“We collect batches of tyres each week that need re-treading and bring out teams to the plants to complete the work, then close the plant afterwards,” says Slack. “We have to be as efficient as possible and in cases where new tyres are needed, we have adjusted our stock inventories through careful management and planning.

“While we can’t replenish tyres through our manufacturing sites, which are closed, we are able to make use of the import market when absolutely necessary. The entire operation is managed by our teams of call centre agents, administrative staff and sales teams working hard from home.

“In compliance with the prevailing regulations around COVID-19, Bridgestone remains committed to the health of all employees in our network, as well as the health of our customers, their families and communities,” concludes Slack.