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Lite Optec | Business growth | Local and internationalLeft: Aidan Romanis, Natalie Ralphs and Mark Ager. Right: Aidan and Kim Romanis.
January 2016

The Lite Optec Group is growing

from strength to strength

The Lite Optec Group started out as a small manufacturing company in a rented garage, but today it is a group of top distribution and developing companies — local and international — writes CARIN HARDISTY

Almost three decades ago, in 1987, Marc Ager started manufacturing Ram gun cleaning kits in a garage he rented from a friend. A mere two years later, he was appointed a South African distributor of internationally renowned lighting brand, Mag-Lite.

This prompted the creation of the Lite Optec Group, now consisting of Ramrod and Lite Optec: sister companies with two different areas of operation. Ramrod focuses on importing and developing new products under its own brands, while Lite Optec is a distributor of top local and international brands.

The companies both focus on products that will especially be of use in the outdoors.

There is also a corporate section that offers in-house engraving, branding and gifting options.

Developing new products

Ramrod, headed by Ager, is mainly focused on looking for areas where there are existing items on the market that they believe they can improve, as well as looking for gaps in the market where they can create new product to fill a need. One such example is their successful Tonglite range of braai accessories, which has gained popularity not only in South Africa, but also internationally.

“There is a massive need to concentrate on good quality entry level products,” says Ager. This is the drive behind developing their own products.

When the recession hit in 2008, there was a tendency among companies to save money by letting staff go. The Lite Optec Group did the opposite: they kept all their staff and their warehouses, and instead invested in their OEM (original equipment manufacturer) side by opening an office in Hong Kong. They permanently employed people to check the quality of the products being produced for them in their existing Chinese factories, as well as to source other good factories.

To address the big copying problem in China, Ramrod sources components from different factories and then puts the final product together in their warehouse in South Africa. This way, it’s harder for them to copy the final product. Overall, South African products are also not as big a target for copiers.

The packaging is also done in their warehouse in South Africa.

To further discourage copying, they hold patents both in China and in South Africa for several of their products.

This also enables them to pick and choose from which factories to order which product, thereby ensuring the best quality. They have, for example, found they can source better quality stainless steel goblets for their picnic sets from India than from China.

Ramrod not only develops products to distribute under its own brands, it also partners with retailers to help them develop their own OEM brands, or even to help meet minimum order quantities on imports.

They also don’t only rely on Chinese imported products. Ramrod also manufactures locally in South Africa, where it produces the Ram accessories and defense aerosol product ranges — both of which are very big for the company. “We are promoting many quality brands, and global points of manufacture,” Ager points out.

Distributing across the world

Lite Optec distributes a strong and diverse lighting range. Their core flashlight brand is Mag-Lite, supported in different lighting categories by Ultratec (emergency and solar silicone lamps) and Game-Pro Spotlights (hunting, security and game-viewing spotlights).

Due to Eskom’s loadshedding, they have found that their own UltraTec brand is performing the best for them. International brands Mag-Lite and Isosteel, however, are also top performers.

“We like to give retailers a good, better, best option when it comes to brands and products,” says Kim Romanis. Their products tend to cover the entry level, mid and high price points, offering retailers — and their customers in turn — a wide choice selection.

Some of their other brands are Gerber, True Utility, National Geographic, Tekut, Spyderco, Oregon Scientific, and Böker.

At the start of 2015, Marc Armstrong and Adel Al Sumait partnered with Aiden and Kim Romanis to buy a controlling interest in the Lite Optec group, which was previously owned by Timothy Oshry, James Stott and Jan Boshoff. Today the management team consists of Aiden Romanis (MD), Natalie Ralphs (Group Financial Director), Kim Romanis (Marketing), and Caroline Merl (Logistics).

Tonglite has an European distributor in the form of Firma Siegfried Hintz, Lite Optec’s Isosteel principals. Together they successfully launched Tonglite2 to the international community at the 2015 spoga+gafa show in Germany.

Not only does Lite Optec’s own brand have an international presence, the company itself has opened a distributorship in the UAE, where there is a big demand for outdoor product, but few distributors. Ramrod Outdoor, which takes the Lite Optec Group to three companies, will service the UAE market.

Ramrod Outdoor operates as a separate company, applying from new to distribute brands in the UAE. This means that it won’t necessarily distribute the same brands that Lite Optec does here in South Africa. Due to there being so few distributors in the UAE, Ramrod Outdoor will also be able to apply to distribute brands that Lite Optec might not have access to in South Africa.

Importer, manufacturer, distributor, principal, a growing group. Not bad for a company that started out in a garage back in 1987. The Lite Optec Group is one of South Africa’s fairytale stories come-to-life.

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