MS International - more service for its customers

March/April 2001 News & Events

It is comforting to know that there are still companies around where the customer is still king, and this applies especially to the electronics security business which once had a somewhat deserved reputation for inferior service.

The company that I am specifically referring to is MS International which, while acting as a sub-distributor for all the major importers of security products, is steadily increasing its own range of branded high-quality products.

MS International was the brainchild of Yusuf Mather who still takes care of the company's day-to-day operations and adds his special personal flavour to the ethic of customer care instilled in his staff. Mather himself is a qualified electrician and once sat on the other side of the fence as an installer of burglar alarm systems. One of the companies whose products he used was a local PIR manufacturer located in Durban that encouraged him to also take on sales of their products to other installers. When they eventually set up a distribution business in Johannesburg, Mather was invited to come on board but he decided instead to go into the sales business himself.

Yusuf Mather
Yusuf Mather

Together with Alan Shaw he formed MS International, the origin of the initials being Mather & Shaw, while the 'International' was the idea of Mather. As he quite frankly states if you want to grow big then you should think big! Although this is the truth behind the origin of the name there are a large number of regular customers who still believe that MS stands for More Service!

The company was launched in 1989, and to prove their credibility to the manufacturer, they launched the successful sales of these PIRs into the then South West Africa (Namibia) where no other distributor had dared to trade. The company has since entrenched itself in Gauteng through its Head Office in Johannesburg and branch in Centurion. In 1995 Alan Shaw left the company and today Yusuf operates the business only with his investment partner Dan Apteker. Apteker is involved in the more strategic planning for the company's future, but many should remember him as the successful owner of what was once the largest burglar alarm company in South Africa (some 18 years or so ago), Gemini Security.

Gradual expansion

Starting off with the local passive infrared detector line (at one time it was the largest distributor of these in South Africa) MS International gradually added other product lines from local distributors and suppliers to meet the needs of the installers serviced. By 1994, MS International was still focusing mainly on the burglar alarm business but this was the period of significant consolidation of the major alarm companies and MS International saw that its customer base which serviced the needs of the smaller to medium-sized companies could be threatened. The company then made the decision to take the opportunity and to expand out into the electronic security business in general.

Today, in addition to its historic burglar alarm business the company can offer the complete range of products including CCTV systems, intercoms, electric fences, gate motors, automated garage door systems, controllers and backup battery systems. While sales and training (there is a dedicated training room at Commissioner Street) is a prime focus, service in terms of repair is also of paramount importance. Rather than systems that come in for repair being hidden away in the storeroom to gather cobwebs, MS International has them sitting out on an open display cabinet for attention that day by the first person that has some free time.

Historically, MS International was not the importer but it has grown so as to be a significant customer and sub-distributor for such well-known names in the industry as Elvey, TRI, Sentry, BFT, Comsec, Centurion, RDC and FSK to name but a few. As a sub-distributor MS International cannot hope to compete on price with the companies that supply them, but what it does provide is usually what the other companies lack, and that is excellent personal service. MS International prides itself on the fact that it has not lost a single customer because of bad service (or price), and he only regrets the ones he forfeited because of bad debts. Because the company deals with the smaller to medium-sized installer, it is not buying in quantities that would justify a discount by the importer, but what the company does need is good service and rapid delivery. Both of these are provided by MS International, which also operates across-the-counter sales from 07h00 to 17h00 for really urgent collections. By the way if one's requirement was really critical one can phone Mather himself at any time (within reason) and he will be ready and willing to help. While product is bought in from the distributor in the case of special orders, the warehouse at the Head Office carries the most common items in stock for immediate delivery or sale across the counter.

More recently, as a result of the volumes of certain products being shifted, MS International decided that the time was right for another change and that the company should become an importer and distributor in its own right. To date agreement has been reached to act as the sole distributor for the UK company Pyronix and the Taiwanese company Kylink Communications Corporation (Kylink).

Seen with the MS VideoSonic range is from left to right: Peter Dicks, Steven Hsu (Taiwan) and Mohamed Alli
Seen with the MS VideoSonic range is from left to right: Peter Dicks, Steven Hsu (Taiwan) and Mohamed Alli

Plans for expansion

Pyronix offers a full range of burglar alarm devices and systems while Kylink has a full range of offerings in the CCTV area, including cameras, monitors, multiplexers and housings. As CCTV requires a somewhat higher level of expertise in terms of product knowledge MS International has arranged for the Taiwanese company to send one of its engineers Steven Hsu to MS International for a period of at least twelve months. At the end of that period it is hoped that both the company staff and its customers, the installers, will be totally familiar with all the capabilities and nuances of the Kylink range.

MS International operates successfully with a textbook management system which, although ideal, in theory seldom works in practice. The customer and the business come first and there are no job titles or task descriptions for anyone, including Mather. This means in practice that it could be a sales person or the accountant (or Mather himself) who delivers an order, while the traditional tea lady has had her job significantly uplifted (she enjoys the fulfillment) to include the task of filing. Mather has no doubt that the success of the company is a result of his 'casual' management style which encourages real team effort, but to that he adds and stresses his highly dedicated staff who follow his own example of 'customer first'.

The Head Office of MS International is located at the east end of Commissioner Street, far away from the hassles of the inner city, but close to the N3/M2 arteries and interchange. If you are worried about parking in the vicinity you should not be, as the company's own CCTV cameras continuously monitor the special parking provided for customers. If you want to haggle over price then this is probably not the best company to approach, but if you want a cost-effective product with guaranteed good delivery, service and back-up then MS International is worth that call or a personal visit. Ask for Mather - he will probably hear you, as this is one business where the only closed doors are those on the bathrooms. As I left, Mather was just greeting another old customer, one that has been coming back again and again since MS International first opened its doors in 1989.

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