Pivoting to power

A new team at Ellies Electronics is turning around the fortunes of the four-decade-old company.

Shaun Prithivirajh Shaun Prithivirajh
Ellies Electronics is turning around its operations to become a consumer-first, solar-focused electrical and electronics specialist.
Ellies, once best known for its ‘bunny ears’ TV aerials and satellite dishes, is pivoting the business to become a business-to-consumer player across home electrical, fibre and alternative power, to keep pace with a changing market.
“Five years from now, we aim to be the leader in the solar space, and the go-to brand for consumer electrical products,” says Shaun Prithivirajh, CEO of Ellies Electronics.
The company has seen dramatic change over the past two years, when a new board and management were put in place. Says Prithivirajh: “The new team was put in place in 2019, after years of poor performance. We set out to turn the business around.”
Fresh start

The first to go was the distribution “We were terrible at distribution. There were ongoing losses,” he says. “We had a warehouse in Eloff Street, and most of management’s time was spent in the warehouse getting stock onto trucks, and no time was spent strategising and growing the business.”
The company also had a bloated top-level operations using paper-based processes. 
“You can’t run a R1.4 billion turnover business on Excel. We brought in a lot of IT expertise and dragged the business kicking and screaming into the modern age. 
It has helped tremendously,” he says. The company also cut its exco from 12 to four people, and appointed a third party logistics provider, Value Logistics, making a dramatic, immediate impact on its operations. “This has allowed us to be far more efficient and achieve new cost savings,” he says.
Ellies also got to work pivoting to become of what we do is ‘behind the wall’ so consumers mainly knew us for the bunny enough, we still sell those as there is still a demand.”
Ellies has also become synonymous with DStv satellite dishes over the years, which remains an important area for the business. “However, we have also seen the growth of streaming, and we needed to diversify our revenue streams. MultiChoice is still our biggest partner – we do the installations and behind the wall cordwork,” Prithivirajh says.
Power play
Ellies has started becoming involved in the streaming space, signing a partnership agreement with Vox last year to bring fibre into the home through its installer networks.
A key play for Ellies is now alternative power and UPS systems, and the company into homes in future. Building on the trusted Ellies brand, the company plans to build out a new network of certified electricians to install complete solar systems for customers.
“There’s no better ad for solar than when loadshedding starts,” he says. “We are inundated with calls every time there isthat customers generally don’t understand the size of the capital investment that will be needed. Every household has different needs, so you can’t just package solar power as a retail product.”
To help customers, and in line with a swing is developing a solar power calculator that will allow customers to drag and drop appliances into the app to get an indication of how much power they need, and an idea of the cost of meeting this need with solar. 
Prithivirajh believes Ellies is well positioned to become a leader in this space. “There are many suppliers of solar to the home, but Ellies has the brand recognition and trust, as well as 19 branches around the country. Very few competitors in this space can boast that. We will leverage these opportunities to drive solar into the South African landscape through our retail stores and a new network of certified electrical service providers.”
In addition, Ellies is expanding its UPS range, introducing a number of smaller UPS products, including a ‘Cube Mini’, which weighs less than 5kg and powers a router and laptop for up to six hours. This is proving popular among families and remote workers. The company is also introducing a new, lighter trolley inverter with lithium ion batteries. “UPS and inverters have been our biggest line in the past 18 months, thanks to lockdown and the move to mobile workforces,” he says.
A major swing for Ellies will be a shift to become a more consumer-focused entity. “A focus for us is the customer journey,” says Prithivirajh. “We are used to dealing with onsellers and retailers. Now we are migrating to a business-to-consumer profile, so the experience must change. A lot of effort will go into that, with retraining and new systems. You’ll see a change in our stores, with more of a focus on end-user products and a return of lighting – which was once our mainstay. As we head to a B2C model, we will also relocate and remodel our stores, and possibly look to a ‘store within a store’ concept at key retailers,” he says.
The dramatic shift has brought with it a need for change management, and a lot of associated stress, Prithivirajh concedes. “A lot has changed. A true measure of that is when outsiders speak to our staff and they see a different culture and vibe in the business. But a key indication of whether the change is proving successful are our interim results, and they show it’s already having a positive effect on the business.”

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