The ingredients of the magic formula that kept W.E.T. Sports growing over the past 35 years is actually quite simple: their wide and diversified range of products enable them to sell to a large client base of independent retail stores, whom they try to visit a few times per year, explains Andrew Wentzel snr.

“Good hard work, good quality products and good quality service and we strive to foster relationships with our customers,” add Andrew Wentzel Jnr and Patrick Franck, who now run the company, assisted by Darren Wentzel. “If we fall short of our mantra, we try and sort the problem out as quickly as possible.”

The formula hasn’t really changed after Andrew snr retired three years ago, they add, although they did make a few strategic shifts to adapt to a changing market. “Any modern business has to evolve and although it coincided with Andrew Snr retiring, many of the moves were already in place before he called it a day.”

For example, while sport still plays a very big part in the W.E.T. Sports stable, their biggest growth has been in fishing and underwater equipment (see article), with fishing tackle currently the main product category they supply.

The younger generation, Andrew Wentzel jnr, Patrick Franck and Darren Wentzel, at SAFTAD. Photo: Louis du Toit.

Andrew Snr is full of praise for the hard work and dedication of the younger generation, who managed to grow turnover and profits during the current bleak economic cycle.

When the three partners whose surnames spell W.E.T.  – Andrew Wentzel, Jaap Engelbrecht (of Somerset Sport fame) and Niel du Toit (a Hermanus retailer) – founded the distributorship in 1984, they supplied a few local fishing tackle brands. Wentzel and Engelbrecht found it was tough breaking into a very competitive market, dominated by their former employer, Logans Sports, which evolved into Sportsmans Warehouse. In the early years they had to side-step many obstacles, including a legal challenge to the W.E.T. name.

Their fortunes started improving in 1989 after they signed a contract with the Taiwanese long string pioneer RoxPro. The affordable rackets became good sellers in independent retailers – and showed how important it is to diversify your product offering when selling to independent retailers. “It is very difficult to make a living from supplying a single product category to independents,” says Wentzel Snr. “You must be able to offer a variety.”

Just over ten years after they started the company, Engelbrecht left to take up a retail opportunity in his family business. Andrew Jnr joined his father the next year after a stint as auditor, with Franck and the younger Wentzel, Darren, completing the team.

They not only grew market penetration, but also their product categories. Nowadays, when a retail customer does not need one specific product, there is bound to be another that they can supply – whether it is equipment for fishing, diving, soccer, rugby, netball, hockey, racket sports, darts, table tennis, fitness, or any of the myriad accessories they supply. Their product offering has grown so much that they have to produce three annual catalogues to accommodate all: one for sport, one for fishing and one for underwater sport equipment.

They are also constantly looking for new products and brands that would be well suited to the South African market – especially in fishing. They have all undertaken trips to the UK, Netherlands, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam and Pakistan to source products that match their customers’ needs.

“We added the Mantis squash range, which includes their rackets, bags, strings and eyewear,” explain Andrew Jnr and Franck. “It is a small brand, but there are a group of players within the squash fraternity who know the product and support us. We would like to give it a bigger footprint in South Africa and will be working on growing the brand and offering our same after sales service in support of the retailers.”

From the start, their main focus had been on providing the best service to independent retailers – and it still is. Over more than three decades strong relationships had been fostered with their retail customers, many who became good friends. This was done by visiting each customer a couple of times per year, as this is the only way to understand his business to such an extent that he/she will trust you to recommend products in quantities that will benefit the store, Andrew Snr says.

“You cannot expect a retailer to stock your products if you don’t bother to pay him a visit. Personal contact is essential to build relationships. Sure, it cost a few Rand and requires sacrifices as you are away from home for periods of time, but it is the only way to succeed in sales.”

The youngest Wentzel, Darren, visits retailers in the Western Cape, Garden Route and Namibia, where he used to accompany his father on several trips to be introduced and get to know customers. Sales and marketing manager Franck visits retail customers/friends in the Eastern Cape, Free State and Northern Cape.  As general manager, Andrew Jnr runs the office in Cape Town, but uses the opportunity to visit retail customers in Gauteng and further north during the week before the annual SAFTAD show. The main SAFTAD and satellite shows also provide them with the opportunity to meet new and catch up with up-country customers (see article).

Andrew Snr laughs at the often-heard myth that there are no more independents left. They may have moved out of the CBD areas of the major cities and some may have gone online, but they are still there for those who are prepared to leave their desks and travel a bit – or look beyond the borders. After all, their growth in sales to independents bears testimony to this.

Also read: Why W.E.T. Sports Fishing has grown for 35 years