A world-leading e-commerce distributor

RS Components is the largest distributor of industrial, electronic and maintenance products


The company was founded in London by J.H Waring and P.M Sebestyen in 1937 under the name ‘Radiospares’, supplying radio repair shops with spare parts.

“They pioneered white labelling innovation by persuading key component manufacturers to brand products featuring the Radiospares’ ‘flying man’ logo,” explains Brian Andrew, the Managing Director for RS Components in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“When televisions became popular, television parts were added to the range as early as 1947. By the end of World War II, the company was a national distributor and in 1954, the founders shifted their focus from fix-it shops and home users, and started selling electronic components to the industrial sector,” he adds.

According to Andrew, the company listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1967 as Electrocomponents plc and in 1971, changed its trading name from Radiospares to RS Components. Over time, the company has expanded and serves its customers in over 80 countries through its 32 operating companies, shipping over 50 000 parcels daily around the globe.

“RS was the first mainstream distributor to use a CD catalogue and was one of the first industrial distributors to create a trading website, which launched in 1998. Now, over 60% of global revenue comes from e-commerce.

“The main benefits of having a one-stop shop with a broad range of products, same-day dispatch and great service, is that it saves customers time and money through one supply source, allowing supplier rationalisation and the reduction in total maintenance, repair and operating procurement costs,” he says.

Products and innovation

RS offers over 500 000 products across 2 500 global industrial brands in automation and control, electronics, electrical, test and measurement and tools and consumables. They are able to offer a range of different options at various price points, giving customers a choice to select a quality product that fits their budget.

“This includes our own quality, well-priced private label brand, ‘RS Pro’, continuing in the tradition of ‘Speedy’ from the 1930s. All our products meet international quality standards and come with one to three-year guarantees, depending on the category,” Andrew says.

The company is constantly launching new products and brands, as it is crucial to keep the product offering fresh.

Andrew explains that they support their customers through the design, build and maintain phases of the product lifecycle.

Design engineers are constantly looking for the latest technologies and innovations to include in their new product designs and RS supports this need by adding around 5 000 new products to their range monthly.

“We’re always excited each time we get to distribute the latest Raspberry Pi board—a credit card-sized computer board that functions as a normal PC. The Raspberry Pi was developed to help anyone learn coding and physical computing, and only costs around R600.

In terms of innovation, RS is a pioneer in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and offers a range of innovative products in the IoT space as well as free design software and resources for engineers, students and innovators through their DesignSpark community platform.

“We are constantly introducing new 3D printers, robotic kits and the latest innovations in IoT to our range.

“Something special for me in 2018 was the global introduction of the IoT-enabled X-Chips, a South African innovation from XinaBox. It’s a modular set of reconfigurable computer chips that can be used to develop IoT solutions depending on your requirements. This product has been used with great success in the USA, and was also recently purchased by the South African National Space Agency (SANSA),” he says.

RS offers the latest sensors and IoT-enabled devices for industrial environments and wearable technology. They carry ranges from Siemens, Arduino, XinaBox, Intel and Brainbox to name a few brands that are used to create smart factories and connected devices.

A digital platform

RS uses a digital platform to deliver products—a revolutionary move in the industrial distributor space.

“It was unheard of to distribute industrial products to business customers using a website in the late 90s but with the launch of our trading website, we changed the landscape in B2B trading, which was traditionally through a paper catalogue. Furthermore, we launched our free e-procurement service in 2002, ‘Purchasing Manager’, which is an online procurement management tool. It allows procurement managers to set individual spend limits for employees and includes authorisation processes, flows and reporting. We now also offer integration with our customer’s procurement systems with our ‘Punchout’ solution further supporting them in reducing their total MRO procurement costs,” he says.

Andrew explains that broad range industrial distribution requires holding large amounts of stock, and using digital platforms allows the customer to self-serve with detailed product information, pricing, stock availability and delivery times available at the click of a button, making their jobs easier.

A successful business model

The company’s business model was designed around the needs of their customers, and as a global industrial, digital distributor, they support their customers with a broad range of industrial and electronic products and services that are essential for the successful operation of their businesses.

“We support them across the product lifecycle, whether via innovation and technical support at the design phase, improving time to market and improved productivity in the build phase or reducing purchasing costs and optimising inventory in the maintenance phase. We offer our customers tailored product and service propositions to help them save time and money,” he says.

Andrew says that research shows that companies spend 80% of their time sourcing items for only 20% of their procurement spend. At RS, they take the hassle and cost out of that whole process, freeing up time for more important things.

Reliable, global delivery

RS has a global distribution network with warehouses all over the world that carry significant amounts of stock. Regardless of where a part comes from, you will be given a delivery date at the time of order, with constant updates via email on the status of your order.

“From the early days, the business was built on a ‘’same day dispatch’’ model, and we continue that today, whether from our local warehouse in Kyalami when an order will be delivered within 24 hours for main centres, and 48 hours for outlying areas.

If orders come from one of our global warehouses, delivery is normally within four to six working days.

“The customer pays the rand price on the website, regardless of the warehouse it is being delivered from, taking the hassle out of any hidden import or foreign exchange costs. Altogether, it’s a fairly seamless experience. A customer places an order online, either they pay with their credit card, or they can use their 30-day credit account. Once the order is placed, the stock is allocated automatically from the nearest warehouse, whether it is available locally or internationally,” Andrew says.

The leader

From an early age, Andrew developed a love for technology while playing on his friend’s Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer, and then on his brother’s early Apple computer.

Growing up, his goal was to run a business and that set him on the path to a commercial degree, leading him to obtain a B.Com in Accounting and a postgraduate, Bachelor of Accounting degree.

“My working career started with an auditing firm, completing my articles before being offered the Finance Manager position in the plastics converting industry. Thereafter, I followed my dream of running my own business, which was in online education. Unfortunately, that was not successful so I fell back on my finance background, joining RS in 2001 as the Finance Manager and taking over as the Managing Director in 2003.

“My finance background gave me a strong foundation in business principles while my interest in technology, the Internet and innovation was a great fit with RS. It’s a great company to work for,” he enthuses.

As the Managing Director, his role entails driving growth and profitability for both South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

“It’s quite easy to maintain my passion as I am in an industry that I love and I get to help companies reduce their costs and improve their processes.

“RS as a global company is always pushing the boundaries and continuously trying to improve the way we operate so we’re always growing, learning and challenging ourselves to do better and to stay relevant in a constantly changing world. Most importantly, I work with a great team,” he stresses.

Of his leadership style, Andrew says it has changed remarkably over the last 16 years, “from being in total control, trying to solve everyone’s problems, to working hard on letting go and trusting the people around me to do the right thing”.

For him, a big lesson has been the realization that people matter. “People are not a company’s greatest asset, they are the company,” he explains.

“If one has a healthy organisation, the chances of succeeding are significantly improved. Happy, engaged employees feed into both the top and bottom line.

“Treat your people well and give them a common purpose in the business. Give them a ‘why’ that has meaning and the company will do well.

“I have made many mistakes along the way and still do, but I believe I learn from those mistakes and as a result, continue improving as a leader,” he says.

In terms of what good, effective leadership means to him, Andrew says he believes in being authentic, acting with integrity and doing the right thing, remaining curious and continuing to learn.

“I also believe in the principals of extreme ownership, that everything that goes wrong in the business is my fault as the leader. I don’t always get it right, but that’s what I strive for,” he concludes.

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