Sunday, 21 July, 2024

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Father and son flourish after post-Covid new start

AVE Towbars & Steel Worx opened its doors for business in January 2021, while Covid was wreaking havoc to the economy.

Aubrey van Eck and his son Arno, both with the initials AVE, started the business because they saw an opportunity in a busy market for better value-for-money products and services.

Aubrey had been working for Woolworths for 21 years in operations and store management. But he is a diabetic, and as diabetes is recognised as a co-morbidity that increases the risk of contracting Covid, he was required to stay at home and not come into the store.

“I stayed at home from March to November 2020 because of these restrictions,” says Aubrey. “Then Woolworths offered me an early-retirement package. It was decision time.”

His son Arno first started doing steel work during holidays when he was in high school and had been working as a general-maintenance contractor until December 2020 when the two of them decided to go into business together.

“My retirement package meant that we could buy the equipment and stock we needed to start the business and we could start operating without having to go into debt,” says Aubrey.

They opened their doors in the middle of January 2021.

AVE started out specialising in towbars for all vehicles, bumpers, rock sliders and cattle rails for bakkies.

“When building a towbar, bullbar, bumper, rock sliders or cattle rails, we design each fitment on the vehicle. Each fitment is unique, although we now have jigs and templates for the products we have manufactured and fitted so far.

“The first towbars we did took us most of a day to finish,” says Aubrey. “But now a customer can drop off his vehicle in the morning and after lunch time it would be ready to be fetched again.

He says they buy wiring harnesses for the towbars; they do not assemble them themselves.

“We stick to what we do best, and that is steel work. We buy six-channel intelligent trailer modules that are properly watertight, and we install them.”

Aubrey says they do not really have a standard design for specific vehicles when it comes to the bumpers.

“Every customer wants his bakkie to be unique and we are happy to help make that dream work,” he says. “Most of the Japanese bakkies have the same dimensions for cattle rails, so it is getting easier to build and fit them.

“When we build a towbar or cattle rails, we do not just build to achieve pleasant aesthetics, they must be fully functional – and strong enough for the job.”

He says when it comes to rock sliders, they will build them to the customer’s specific preferences.

As with all products, pricing is very sensitive in the market.

“But even when customising a build, our prices still beat the OEM products. We do a lot of replacement parts for older vehicles, such as new steel bumpers, or even just bumper brackets that are not available from the dealer networks anymore.

“We will do any custom work a customer might need. We have even built pannier brackets for motorcycles. We have also assisted with a custom fitting of an aftermarket exhaust on a motorcycle.”

Aubrey says they have almost become an informal 4×4 fitment centre.

But their metal-working skills have since brought in quite a bit of other steel work. This started when a property-management company approached them to do repair work to a property and has since expanded to also doing fencing, roofing, and other steel work – to commercial as well as residential properties.

Aubrey says he was the original welder in the family, but there are now two people who can do it better than him and they now have clearer defined roles in the business.

“I look after the administration-side of things. I compile quotations, do the invoicing, and look after the financial side of the business. Arno does most of the welding, although we have another very skilled welder working for us. Arno also does the design work.”

AVE Towbars & Steel Worx operate from Prime Corner (corner of R40 and Old Pretoria Road) and can be reached on 084 509 5089.

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