How to start a logistics company in South Africa
January 16, 2024
Adam Wakefield

Are you thinking about how to start a logistics company in South Africa? We're here to guide you through the essentials, making entry into the industry easier than you imagined. 

The logistics industry in South Africa plays a vital role in the country's economy, influencing everything from manufacturing to farming to retail. The South African freight and logistics market is expected to reach $21.53b in 2023 and is projected to grow to $30.56b by 2029. Factors like the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), the expansion of ecommerce, and enhancements in transportation services drive this growth.

We'll help you grasp the opportunities and challenges of starting a logistics company in South Africa. From conducting market research, crafting a solid business plan, and meeting legal requirements, to securing funds, assembling the right team, and optimising operations, we've covered every step. 

Let's get started on this exciting journey!

Understanding the logistics industry

South Africa's logistics market is growing and innovating. The country secured fourth spot in the 2022 Africa Infrastructure Development Index. That's good news for logistics businesses. 

The advanced infrastructure implies South Africa offers a reliable backbone for transportation, warehousing, and distribution channels.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is a key driver fueling South Africa’s logistics growth. By removing trade barriers across Africa, AfCFTA opens up a world of trade opportunities in sectors like ecommerce and manufacturing. resulting in the rise of logistics demand. 

With the support from powerful BRICS member nations, South Africa is now the entry point for a wider group of international companies looking to set up business in Africa. This strategic positioning ensures a consistent influx of goods, trade opportunities, and investments, further boosting the demand and growth of the logistics sector.

The South African government also recognises the importance of the logistics sector. This recognition comes in the form of policy commitments such as the National Development Plan (NDP) targeting a  30% investment-to-GDP ratio, emphasising energy and transportation, to the National Infrastructure Plan 2050 (NIP) focusing on sectors like energy, water, digital tech, and freight transport. The NIP also aligns South Africa to attract foreign infrastructure investments, benefiting the logistics sector.

The surging African ecommerce sector, poised to hit $46m by 2025, directly contributes to the need for efficient logistics in South Africa. As more consumers shop online, there's a growing need for streamlined warehousing, inventory management, and swift last-mile deliveries, ensuring products reach customers promptly and securely.

Types of logistics businesses

Here are some ways to start a logistics company in South Africa:

  • Launch a freight forwarding service, managing seamless cargo transport. You'll handle bookings, schedules, and deliveries. 
  • Set up a logistics centre to handle warehousing and inventory management. 
  • Navigate complex customs processes as a customs broker, offering businesses clarity and expertise.
  • Venture into courier and parcel delivery for businesses and individual customers, ensuring goods reach their destinations swiftly.
  • Establish a cross-docking operation to optimise storage and directly transfer goods between incoming and outgoing transport.
  • Begin as a third-party logistics (3PL) provider, delivering integrated solutions from warehousing to transport tailored to each client's unique requirements.
  • Get into cold chain logistics, focusing on transporting temperature-sensitive goods like medicines, food, and other perishables.
  • Develop a digital logistics platform, leveraging technology to simplify, connect, and enhance supply chain processes for shippers and carriers.

Reasons to start a logistics business in South Africa

The logistics sector has a low barrier to entry. You don't need much capital or specialised knowledge to start in this sector. There are several ways to fund your logistics business, as we'll discuss later. The industry is on a growth trajectory with an estimated CAGR of 6.01% between 2023 and 2029. This means the potential for success exists. 

Remember how we said that logistics will grow with ecommerce? Well, the more the demand for online products, the more the growth of logistics companies to manage warehousing, transportation, and supply chains. These varied services under logistics also allow you to diversify your logistics business, ensuring lower risk and higher returns. 

If you're passionate about this line of work, you can take pride in your logistics venture. There’s something fulfilling about steering your own enterprise, making decisions that impact many, and contributing positively to the nation's growth. Every parcel delivered is a business served, a birthday gift received, or an order fulfilled. You’re not just running a company, you're powering the world.

However, like any business, logistics has its share of speed bumps.

5 risks associated with a South African logistics business

Navigating the South African logistics landscape means standing out in a crowded field and showcasing unparalleled expertise. Here are some risks you might encounter:

  1. Economic fluctuations inevitably shape consumer spending, and when purse strings draw tight, logistics bears the brunt. 
  2. Operating costs—truck maintenance, team salaries, fuel expenses—quickly accumulate, demanding vigilant oversight. 
  3. As regulatory tides shift, staying compliant could become tricky. 
  4. Guaranteeing the safe transit of goods is a non-negotiable responsibility, one that comes with many variables, such as labour disruptions. Remember that diversifying your services guards against over-reliance on a handful of clients or suppliers. 
  5. Cyber threats are common in today's times. Be sure to make data security as crucial as cargo protection. 

However, this isn't as daunting as it sounds. For every challenge, there's a strategy waiting in the wings. 

Steps to consider while building a logistics business in South Africa

Here's how to build a logistics business that stays strong despite market ups and downs:

Scoping out the market and the major competitors

As an aspiring logistics entrepreneur, you must research the market and its competitors. South Africa's logistics arena is fragmented and competitive, driven by power players like Dachser, DSV A/S, FPT Group, Imperial Logistics, and Savino Del Bene. Big names such as DHL, UPS, and Value Logistics are in a tug of war, differentiating themselves based on fleet variety, storage prowess, freight handling, and an impressive clientele.

But there's still scope for growth, especially in e-logistics. Consider how Nairobi-based Lori Systems developed a tech-enabled platform that connects truck owners or drivers with merchants needing transportation services. Then there's Sendy from Nairobi, which serves as an end-to-end fulfilment solution,directly linking producers, distributors, and ecommerce entities with storage facilities, order management, and delivery services. 

In October 2023, Johannesburg's logistics software platform, Tripplo, raised $1.8m in a seed funding extension round. Tripplo uses advanced technology to enhance various aspects of logistics, including streamlining supply chains, real-time tracking, optimising routes, and cost reductions.

With such players in the market, it's evident that digital disruption is the name of the game. Consider harnessing the power of big data analytics, IoT, and mobile tech, to optimise transport, bridging crucial supply chain gaps.

However, it's essential to drill deeper into your research. Consider questions like:

  • How can your venture differentiate itself or address unmet needs? Is there a segment still untouched by the prominent names?
  • Will your revenue streams and cost structures ensure profitability in the long run?
  • How will you navigate the pitfalls faced by established players?

Given the continent's rapid push towards e-logistics, consider how your venture can survive and drive systemic transformation in South Africa’s logistics sector.

Adhering to the legal and regulatory requirements

Understanding South Africa's legal and regulatory landscape is essential if you want to get into logistics. Here are some of the rules you need to keep in mind:

  • Register your business with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC). The registration requirements will vary depending on the nature of your logistics venture–whether it's a sole proprietorship, partnership, or a private company.
  • Ensure you obtain a tax clearance certificate from the South African Revenue Service (SARS), which attests to your company's tax compliance.
  • Follow South Africa's National Road Traffic Act that governs organisations transporting goods by road. This includes regulations about vehicle specifications, load limits, and driver requirements. Failure to comply can lead to hefty fines or even the discontinuation of business operations.
  • Follow the regulations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act if your logistics company plans to have warehousing facilities. Among these are ensuring safe storage practices, minimising risks of accidents, and regularly training staff on safety protocols.
  • Get an operating licence from the Department of Transport if you're transporting goods for profit.
  • Get cross-border permits if your logistics company plans to extend operations beyond South African borders.
  • Secure an air transportation licence if you're transporting goods by air. 
  • Get a health licence to transport food or items that need refrigeration. 

Creating a solid business plan

Your logistics business plan is your strategic blueprint for shipping, transport, and delivery. Kick off with an executive summary that concisely introduces your logistics venture. It's your elevator pitch—what you'd tell a potential investor about your business's goals, mission, and vision during a fictional elevator ride.

Following that, outline your service offerings. Given the competitive landscape with giants like DHL and Dachser already in play, pin down what sets you apart. What unique services or features will you introduce, or which unfulfilled market segment will you address? Your target market analysis comes next. A clear picture of your audience is vital, whether you're focusing on SMEs or larger enterprises. This helps tailor your services efficiently and set competitive prices. Your financial projections should show anticipated revenues, costs, and profit margins. In addition to offering a roadmap for sustainability and growth, it also attracts investors.

In your risk analysis and contingency plan, lay out potential hurdles and your strategies to overcome them. Preemptive planning prepares you for unforeseen challenges and builds trust in partners and investors keen on joining your entrepreneurial journey.

Securing funding

The startup capital to start a logistics operation in South Africa ranges from around $70,000 to $700,000, depending on the size of your business. Additionally, you need to factor in costs associated with licences, tolls, and ongoing expenses like maintenance, fuel, salaries, and driver training.  Using personal savings is often the first step you might make when starting a business. It shows your dedication to the endeavour. However, ensure you have a financial buffer for personal needs.

Traditional banking loans, designed for entrepreneurs, come with the weight of interest but can significantly boost initial operations. Websites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo let you present your business idea to the public, helping gauge interest and amass funds from those resonating with your proposition.

Angel investors and venture capitalists seek innovations in sectors ripe for disruption, such as logistics. Consider platforms like the Founders Factory Africa (FFA), a leading early-stage investor that invests in African tech-driven startups in South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, and Nigeria. FFA doesn’t just provide funding but also invaluable mentorship, guiding startups through their initial challenges.

Acquiring necessary equipment and resources

As you embark on equipping your transport and logistics company with its first fleet of trucks, your choices can significantly impact efficiency and customer satisfaction. Your choice of vehicles should align with the nature of your operations. Using a small van for substantial cargo or employing oversized trailers for minimal loads can be inefficient and damage your company's professional image. 

Before you head to the banks for transport financing, determine your fleet's needs. Knowing your requirements in advance enables you to secure the right amount of truck finance, structure your repayment plan, and set interest rates more accurately. Consider factors like the types of supplies you'll transport, the volume of cargo, and the terrains you'll navigate. For bulkier cargo and longer journeys, experts often recommend long-haul trucks. While they may come at a slightly higher cost, they offer the capacity and durability needed for extended trips.

While purchasing might give you the advantage of having brand-new or pre-owned vehicles with warranties and service plans, leasing can be a flexible option that doesn't tie down capital. Beyond vehicles, logistics today heavily leans on technology. Consider investing in advanced IT systems that track real-time shipments, ensure optimal routes, and enhance overall efficiency. 

Building a skilled team

Assembling a capable team is crucial in the logistics industry. Skilled drivers, integral to your operations, must possess the appropriate licences to ensure legal and safe transport. Beyond mere proficiency behind the wheel, seek out experienced and dependable drivers. Their expertise streamlines operations, strengthens the company's reputation, and assures clients of reliable service.

Logistics environments, such as rough weather, can be hazardous, making specialised training essential. Drivers must be familiar with navigating local routes to take shortcuts, saving time and money. They must be responsible with their communication and update their location and status efficiently.

Establishing client relationships

Building strong relationships with customers and suppliers is the key to sustainability and growth in any business. It might be tempting to sign up a client immediately, especially in the beginning, but you have to consider the long-term value and alignment with your company's goals.

Now that cargo-centred technology is progressing, clients expect seamless online experiences and real-time tracking. It's important to embrace user-friendly technology, even SMS notifications to track orders. This makes your company transparent and gives your customers confidence in your services, thus cementing relationships and building a loyal customer base. 

Managing operations efficiently

As logistics contains multiple moving parts, effectively managing your operations is crucial for sustainable growth. From inventory tracking to timely deliveries, every element must synchronise. A minor delay in one delivery can ripple out, affecting countless other tasks. Efficient operations depend on speed and precision. It’s about getting the right package to the right door at the right time.

Use digital tools whenever possible. Inventory management software can help avoid stockouts or overstocks. Route optimisation tools ensure your drivers take the shortest, fastest paths, saving fuel and time. The human element is equally important for your business to run smoothly. A motivated team, trained to handle unforeseen challenges and capable of pivoting when needed, ensures that the service quality remains consistent.

Marketing Your Logistics Company

Due to the logistics industry's fragmented nature and low barriers to entry, you need robust marketing strategies to grow in this space. Advertising plays a quintessential role. Billboards near transport hubs or radio ads can introduce your brand to potential clients. 

Your online presence is crucial in today's digital age. A well-designed website, supplemented with active social media channels, can attract clients and foster loyalty. Through search engine optimization and pay-per-click campaigns, online marketing directs targeted traffic, making conversions easier. 

Industry-specific approaches foster networking opportunities and brand awareness. The possibilities are endless. For instance, you could attend logistics conferences, organise webinars, or partner with complementary businesses. 

The growing importance of sustainability in logistics 

Due to the global push toward transparency, sustainability is becoming more important in the logistics industry. With US and EU sustainability reporting regulations expected soon, the need to integrate digital solutions has never been more pressing. Emerging technologies, including 5G connectivity in Africa, could further revolutionise logistics, enhancing efficiency and bolstering eco-friendly practices. Beyond mere adherence to regulations, embracing digital solutions would signify your commitment to sustainability, better customer service, and responsible operations. 

Logistics companies prioritising sustainable practices, technological integration, and adaptability, will undoubtedly lead the way to a greener future.

Having learned how to start a logistics company in South Africa, take the next step 

After learning how to start a logistics company in South Africa, it's time to take action. Once you've done your homework and built a solid business strategy, you might consider investor funding to make your dream venture a reality. This is where our team at Founders Factory Africa (FFA) can help you. 

We specialise in supporting African entrepreneurs like you. We understand the unique challenges and opportunities that come with the logistics industry in South Africa. 

By joining the FFA portfolio, you can access mentorship from industry leaders, gain networking opportunities, and receive assistance in navigating the unique challenges of the African market. For a logistics startup, insights into regional supply chain intricacies, regulations, and market dynamics can make all the difference between success and failure. 

Connect with us today!