While some businesses start in the kitchen, a good number of them start in garages. Dilfa cc, which was once a garage outfit, recently opened the doors of its own facility in Windhoek’s Southern Industrial.
Originally founded as ‘Dilco’ by Robert Dien to operate from his personal garage, Dilfa derives from Dillman and Fast. Dilfa cc is an electrical wholesaler and lighting distributor business. It has become a household name in Namibian and marks over 30 years of service in the local electrical sector, this year.
The transition from operating in Dien’s garage to having a business facility has not been an easy journey, as he points out.
A qualified electrician technician, Dien made his first attempt at building his business ‘Dilco’ in 1978 after cutting short his studies in Cape Town, due to the 1976 apartheid riots in South Africa. Dilco would soon deal in pre-paid meters and electrical vending.
However, the business did not progress steadily, which led Dien to take on other jobs, to earn a salary that could back up the operations of his then small business. As such, he worked as a salesman at Cymot Windhoek in the 70s then joined an electrical apprenticeship with the then Tsumeb Technical Institution in 1979, through which he completed his artisan diploma.
He also worked with the Ministry of Works and Transport in 1988, as well as in the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development in the Technical Department from 1992 to 1997.
Towards the end of the 90s, however, Dilco became bankrupt and Dien was obliged to venture into other things to resuscitate the business from its near-death. So he set up a small and medium entreprise (SME) involved in road construction but would travel across the country’s borders into Angola, to land more electrical contract jobs for more capital.
Looking back, this was a wise move, because when he returned from Angola in 2002, Dien managed to resurrect Dilco from bankruptcy.
Fast forward to 2007, Dien, together with his late brother-in-law, bought Dilfa to complement Dilco and expand their horizons in the electrical sector.
“I bought the company on condition the previous owners would act as consultants in the business’ operations, because I valued the way they had run it and wanted them to keep sharing their knowledge with me. Although I bought it with my brother-in-law, I have been operating it on my own for the past two years since his passing,” Dien says.
Dilfa specialises in all things electronic, especially for the construction and lighting industry such as plagues, lighting bulbs and electrical cables. As a wholesaler, Dilfa supplies electrical products to various hardware businesses in Windhoek, Rehoboth and Otjiwarongo, amongst other regions.
Most of Dilfa’s supplies are imported from international electrical suppliers based in South Africa such as Waco, Schneider Electrical, Cable Management System and Eurolux.
Dilco, on the other hand, is still in the same line of business and has a particular clientelle it provides services to and specific vendors who work with it. Currently, it meets the electrical needs of various regional councils and towns such as Hardap and !Karas, as well as Okahandja, respectively.
With the expansion of the business, the rented office space, which is not far from the current office, became too small for the business operations and thus pushed Dien to buy land and construct his own business premises in January 2012.
His first choice were the offices on Kelvin Street, Southern Industrial, because he had been operating from the same street. Unfortunately, he did not get approval from the owners.
According to him, getting to the point of opening his offices has not been an easy ride. He has had to go through plan approvals by the municipality and then apply for a loan for the construction of the building, which he admits was tough.
Since the loan took too long to be processed and needed tangible collateral to be accepted, which he lacked, Dien decided to make sacrifices to construct the office premises with his own savings.
To cut the construction costs further, he supervised the electricians working on his offices himself and took part in the whole operation. “It was not easy to supervise the construction and get the business operation run as usual, at the same time.”
Now, that the Dilfa offices are complete, Dien intends to build another office block for rental. To date, he is proud of what he has accomplished through sweat and notes being a leader is not just about sitting in the boss’ chair but getting your hands dirty, by sweeping the floor, if necessary.
To keep selling the best products to his customers, he must keep up with the recent technologies in the lighting industry.
“Managing a business is not easy because I have to ensure I am up to date by always paying my suppliers on time. I have eight employees, which means I am responsible of eight families besides my own and that reminds me failure is not an option. I have to keep thriving to make the best out of my business and keep creating and maintaining employment,” he emphasises.
That his business is set on always selling excellent quality products without cutting costs in purchasing them, which would compromise their quality is a fact Dien swears by. Consequently, his products may not always carry the cheapest price tags.
His biggest challenges have taught him he could never accomplish anything without having faith in the Lord. “Knowing the power of faith mostly erupts through the challenges one goes through, such as the bankruptcy or an accident involving my wife and daughter several years ago, has shown me where my strength lies.”
Regarding the future of the business, Dien plans to open a branch in the North to reach more customers. PF