The Pitout family story
Ladysmith family run business Marks Tyres Dunlop Zone is made up of Mark Pitout, the Owner who forms the integral part of the company. The only time you find this dedicated business man behind his desk is at 4am every morning, Monday to Sunday when he catches up on paperwork and emails, otherwise he is on the floor greeting customers and getting the job done. “ I do spend a fair amount of time away from Marks tyres running our Oakpark BTS Truck Tyres breakdown services which is based in Ladysmith, Harrismith, Newcastle, Pietermaritzburg, Durban and Pretoria. This doesn’t leave me much time. This is why my daughter Lucy Hills has taken on the role of running the business when I’m away.”
Lucy will be found on the sales counter helping customers with their tyre requirements. Behind the scene is Mark’s wife Lizette Pitout who does the bookkeeping for all the businesses, currently working from home as she is looking after her grandson, Connor.
Their son Justin Herbert Pitout is a qualified Attorney and Conveyancer of the High Court of South Africa. He practises at Maree & Pace, Mpulo where he is the majority shareholder and an executive director. Justin furthered his tertiary education at the University of the Free State and University of KwaZulu-Natal (Howard College) respectively. In 2009 Justin was admitted to the Degree of Bachelor of Laws and the Degree of Master of Laws (Business Law) in 2010. Justin is the head of the litigation department at the company and also specialises in conveyancing (property transfers and bonds). The Pitout family business started many years ago with Mark’s parents, Herbert and Yvonne who were the founders of Lyell Street Service Station.
“Both mom and dad were raised in a difficult time. The families were poor and life was hard. My grandfather was a postman and then became the caretaker of the local graveyard. Both of them grew up in loving homes and everyone had to bring his or her share. Things were so difficult that dad walked 10km a day to get to school, barefoot, as family didn’t have money for school shoes. He used to work at the Guinea Fowl Service station to earn some pocket money to buy school shoes. He would still walk bare foot to school and when he got there, he would clean his feet and put on his school shoes. Herbie had to leave school in standard 8 (grade 10) as he needed to find a job to help support the family.”
Herbie wanted Mark to do something that he enjoyed and something that could benefit the business.
Herbie started working for the NPA, and did a trade as a mechanic. He was renowned for his skill in solving car problems. He left the NPA and joined VW, later moving on to Ford. He became the workshop manager for Murchison Ford and also purchased the Guinea Fowl Service Station. He worked hard and put many hours into the company and made a success of it.
Herbie sold the Guinea Fowl Service Station and purchased Lyell Street Service Station in 1982. This is also when his son, Mark joined the family business. Herbie accepted that his son would not follow in his footsteps by becoming a mechanic. Herbie wanted Mark to do something that he enjoyed and something that could benefit the business. Mark travelled to Durban to get the latest Corgi Wheel Balancer at the time. “ I was trained on wheel balancing and eventually offered it as a service to all motor dealerships in Ladysmith. It made business sense as none of the Tyre businesses in Ladysmith at that time had the latest equipment in balancing. The tyre concept grew even further when a customer dropped a tyre off to have a puncture repaired. This was not a service that the company offered. We made another trip to Durban and purchased the latest tyre stripping machine. A fitter and I were then trained to do tyre repairs. Lyell Street Service Station then became Lyell Street Supa Quick. From there I started to run the small tyre shop. With tireless hours of hard work we grew to the point where we needed a bigger premises to fulfill my vision for the company’s future. In 1986 the company’s name changed to Marks Tyres and we moved into a bigger premises on the corner of Lyell/Princess Streets. This premises enabled us to meet the needs of the community of Ladysmith.”
Herbie didn’t retire, he worked until the very last day. Since 1990 Mark slowly started to take over the reins in running the business. Mark and Herbie not only had a father son relationship, but were the best of friends . Most decisions were made together. Mark’s mom Yvonne was not active on the floor, but in the back office and kept the two Pitout boys on their toes.
“My dad taught me to handle a shot gun as he had his Springbok colors in clay pigeon shooting. I soon shared his passion for Clay Pigeon shooting and even achieved Natal Colours in the sport,” Mark proudly says.
Mark also has a passion for security and helping people something that stems from his time in the Weenen Klipriver Commando. He has a company Secure SA which is the first step in a panic situation. The Ladysmith community and surrounding farmers that are registered have a panic button on their phone which allows for immediate help. Mark is a no nonsense kind of person. “It is a requirements in running numerous businesses.”
He is described as a caring person, not only towards his family, but also his community by his wife Lizette. “Mark is a true Pitout just like his father who taught him honest business ethics and to know what you want and to achieve it.”
Being such a close family it was inevitable that Lucy would follow in the Pitout family footsteps. Her family’s love and passion for the tyre business rubbed off on her. After school Lucy joined in the family business.
Lucy has learnt everything from her grandfather and her father. “The two of them not only taught me the trade but also that ‘your reputation is your integrity and don’t ever compromise it’. One of the sayings my dad learnt from his dad and passed on to me, which I in turn, will pass on to my son is that ‘your attitude determines your altitude.’ This has helped me rise up and be better and give the best that I can in everything that I do.
The family business philosophy is that we always do ‘good business’. Excellent Service is one of the most important thing we like to give to our customers. We also don’t just have employees working at Marks Tyres, they are family. We have numerous staff members that have worked for Marks Tyres for over ten years, which is a testament to how we like to run our family business, as a family. In 2015 we felt Lyell Street was too out of the way for our customers, so we moved somewhere more central. We settled at San Marco Centre. Customers can leave their vehicles at Marks Tyres while they do their shopping.”
There is a lot to love about South Africa
Lucy would like to see the future of Marks Tyres being that her son, Connor Mark Hills would hopefully follow in her footsteps and be joining the family business.
“Motherhood has made me so happy and fulfilled me in a way that I never understood before Connor came along. It’s as though my heart has suddenly grown. I just feel so blessed to get to be on this journey of being his mommy. He is just such a happy, content little boy who makes motherhood so easy.” Lucy has a love for gardening and interior design something she shared with Lettie Holder, her late maternal grandmother. The Pitouts enjoy just being together as a family, it doesn’t matter what they are doing. Whether it be a braai at home or breakfast in town or their annual family holiday. As long as we are together that is all that matters.
Heritage day with the Pitout and Hills family will be spent how everyone should spend it, obviously having a braai. “There is a lot to love about South Africa, it is a beautiful country with beautiful people. Living in our small town of Ladysmith we are blessed to be part of this close community. We are proudly South African and proudly Ladysmith citizens.”
Get It Northern KZN & Midlands October 2018