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Andy Reid loves beautiful things. He admires quality and he’s not afraid to admit it. He’s also brutally honest, fearlessly assertive and, on most days, can be seen zipping through Joburg traffic on his shined-to-perfection grey Vespa. More than most managing directors, he lives his brand. And so he should, after bravely going where no Scotsman had gone before and single-handedly introducing the world’s most iconic two-wheeler to the South African market.
Now that you’ve heard it, you’ve seen more Vespas on SA roads, haven’t you? You’d be right. Vespa is celebrating their international 70th birthday this month but in Mzanzi, they’re just a few years into their meteoric rise in popularity. To celebrate 70 years of style, Reid takes a zip down memory lane:
Q: Anyone who knows you, knows you’re a master salesman. What’s your business background?
A: I’m a Scotsman. I’m stubborn. And I can’t resist a challenge. After moving to SA, I started my own chemical analysis equipment business, Swiss Lab, at the age of 25. I sold it to the Ellerine Brothers in 2001 and retired at 40. But I was bored with retirement and began looking for a new challenge. I fell in love with Vespa while travelling Europe and after returning to South Africa, wanted to buy one – and subsequently realised modern Vespas weren’t available here. So I hopped on a plane, headed for Piaggio headquarters in Pontedera, Italy, to secure exclusive distribution rights for Vespa in Southern Africa.
In 2002, I founded Vespa South Africa. I’m the majority shareholder and MD of Vespa SA, with six retail outlets and sixty staff members across the country. I’m actively involved in sales and marketing, and have a passion for customer interaction. I believe in empowering my staff without limits, and enjoy mentoring and developing talent – both in my business and among other entrepreneurs.
Q: Vespa has been the stylish mode of transport for Italians for decades. What do you think it is about the brand that stands out?
A: The original Vespa was designed and manufactured by Piaggio (who originally manufactured aircraft and trains during World War II). After the war was over and Europe was devastated by the effects of the war and economically in the worst depression in history, the founders at Piaggio shifted their focus to building Europe up again.
So they set out to design the Vespa as an affordable mode of transport to get Europe moving and working again. In 1946, the first Vespa was born and 70 years later Vespa is still an icon for similar yet modern ideologies. It gives you agility and freedom. It looks amazing. It’s conscious of your budget and the environment. And it’s just downright practical.
Q: How did you see Vespa being accepted into the South African market and what was the reason to bring it into this territory?
A: I saw a gap. Vespa wasn’t available in South Africa and I set out to fill the gap. Initially, uptake was slow. Vespas are fully imported, high quality, luxury vehicles with a premium price tag. Also, the landscape in South Africa is unique. Things are more spread out, there are more cars travelling at high speeds and safety is a concern.
With years of persistence, deep strategic marketing and on-going education, consumers have become more informed about the brand and its unique features. The ever-increasing challenge of congestion has also helped. Locally, Vespa has excellent brand equity and is known for quality engineering, safety, fuel saving and low emissions, commuting and parking convenience and longevity.
Q: How has Vespa performed in South Africa?
A: The Vespa population on our roads is increasing year on year. At times we can’t keep up with the demand. When we bring in a limited edition model, such as the Emporio Armani colab edition, customers fight over the bikes. We’ve gone from one showroom to six and have plans for many more. Most South Africans know the brand now and most adults want one (even if they don’t admit it to their spouses).
Q: Italian design is celebrated the world over. What about Italian design makes it the standard for you?
A: For a long time, Italians have been renowned for being leaders in industrial, fashion, furniture and architectural design. I think Italian design is discernible by its minimal form, always as important as function. I think Italians exalt in beauty that’s stripped down and pure with quality at its core. Italians would rather own a few quality items than lots of cheap stuff. And when it comes to Vespa, they’ve discovered the alchemy of style, beauty, ergonomics, engineering, technology, quality and safety.
Q: What’s been your career highlight so far?
A: Growing the Vespa population from zero to seeing Vespas in most South African cityscapes, in just under a decade. And it’s only going to become a bigger force as it reaches its tipping point. Already more South African commuters want to enjoy the style, freedom and pure enjoyment of hopping on a Vespa. They like the idea of twisting the throttle and zipping through congestion arriving at their destination on time, in style and at a fraction of the cost of a car – even the new generation stop-start and electric hybrid vehicles.
Q: What’s next for Andy Reid and Vespa SA?
A: I want to change the way South Africans commute. I want to change policy. I want to make Vespas ubiquitous, with a showroom on every corner, special bike lanes for enhanced safety, and incentives for conscious commuters who switch from gas guzzling cars to quiet, safe and efficient two-wheels. I want to see more Vespas on the roads than cars. Think it’s impossible? Watch this space.