Safe, locally made and empowering electrical products
David (66) and Jonathan Shapiro (25) are the father-and-son tag team behind LESCO Manufacturing. The electrical manufacturer makes widely used accessories such as switches, wall sockets, extensions and multi-plugs, but its real innovation is in how these are assembled. Its primary assembly workshops are situated within homes that cater to the intellectually disabled, as well as with an organisation that provides work and shelter for the homeless in Johannesburg.
David worked for his own father’s business for 35 years before he established LESCO Manufacturing in 1999. He reinvented the family business, aiming to make it more efficient and relevant through the use of new technologies, and hoping to address the social ills that the country endures. He built the business upon strong family values and these have filtered down to all the people employed at LESCO. He also completed an advanced programme in management at Wits to develop his management skills.
Jonathan, like David, joined the family business immediately after completing his matric at King David Linksfield High School in Gauteng, working his way up to becoming marketing director while completing a diploma in marketing from Unisa. Jonathan also studied management at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. His father’s attention to detail and passion for designing solid, safe electrical products influenced him considerably.
LESCO Manufacturing started in David’s garage after the liquidation of Switch King, an electrical company that was owned by David’s father for 35 years. He found himself in the unenviable position of having to “re-establish myself in a sustainable business with very limited finance.”
David combined everything that he learned from working at Switch King with the technological advances that had become available at the time and launched LESCO Manufacturing’s first product, a two-pin adapter for cellphone chargers. David used his connections with suppliers from Taiwan to help design the necessary moulds and tools. He went on to design multiple solutions for cellphones and appliances.
As some of the workforce involved in the production process is disabled, the design specifications require more detail than usual. The technical innovation in the product designs lies in guaranteeing the safety of the assembly process. Safety, not only in the manufacturing process but also for end-users, is always a key consideration for product designs, a special focus at LESCO Manufacturing.
The company was forced to depend on channel partners for distribution until 2012, when Jonathan came up with the strategy of supplying directly to the retail industry. LESCO Manufacturing targets electrical wholesalers, retailers and hardware stores. Cutting out the middleman has resulted in cost savings for the retailers and improved brand awareness, as some of their products are now sold under the LESCO Manufacturing brand where before they were white-labelled.
LESCO Manufacturing’s innovation in electrical products enables meaningful job creation. It combines strong beliefs in social impact and technical innovation to locally manufacture safer and more reliable electrical products. The business’ main goal is to be a leading, low-cost local manufacturer of high quality and safe electrical products while improving lives in marginalised communities. For David, “Dreaming up innovative ideas and turning them into reality” is what he likes best about his work, but it helps “knowing that our unique business model provides work opportunities to under-privileged and unemployable people.”
LESCO Manufacturing continues to focus on strengthening its competitiveness through its designs and improving the experience of using its products. Growth will come from expanding its customer base in the retail sector in South Africa, as well as internationally.
The major direct clients of LESCO Manufacturing are companies that operate internationally, and it has recently started leveraging these connections to establish brand awareness in neighbouring countries. It is also exploring expanding their product standards, as they are considering entering the UK market.
Competition comes from larger companies that import their products from China. LESCO Manufacturing is a firm believer in local manufacturing and social impact, and this philosophy will be key to targeting and entering new markets. Their integrated approach aligns the business’s incentives with those of the community it impacts through its mission of job creation and creating a safe, user-friendly product.
Find out more about LESCO Manufacturing at www.lescosk.co.za.