Their business originated around Lebo’s own experience. “Every time I booked my car in at a panel beater there was a delay in delivery,” Lebo says. “I realised these businesses were taking far too long to repair a small scratch or dent, and it wasn’t only me being left car-less for days – many others were feeling the inconvenience too.”
That’s when the Johannesburg-based businesswoman made the decision to start her own enterprise. It was 2008, and Auto Salon was her way of providing a different service to vehicle owners who wanted bumps and scrapes seen to without the inconvenience of running their lives minus a set of wheels.
Operating a fast, effective repair service had its own little bumps along the way but she pushed on, driven by a steady stream of business from local car dealerships. By 2009, Lebo had opened a workshop and a few years later, she’d brought her daughter, Lucy, on board to help manage business operations. The next step was to become an accredited service provider to insurance companies – this would take the company to the next level.
Scaling up for change
The duo discovered Fix Auto, a global body shop network, which had yet to open a franchise in South Africa. “We saw this as a great opportunity to be a part of an internationally renowned network,” Lebo says. The challenge was to dramatically up their business intake – no problem if they were listed as an accredited supplier on insurance company lists. But to do this, they would need a lot more equipment – and that required capital they didn’t have.
“Thankfully, we found Merchant Capital. We didn’t want a huge loan that would land us with impossible repayments. We just needed support to access the working capital that would assist us in buying our first machine. In turn, this would increase our turnover, allowing us to grow the business by becoming part of the Fix Auto network,” Lebo says.
Today, the mother and daughter employ 32 people, run a workshop more than five times the size of their first premises, are an approved supplier to SA’s biggest insurers and are blazing the empowerment trail for black women in the industry – something at the core of their business values.
“If we hadn’t been able to acquire that equipment, our story would have been very different. We would not be standing here today,” Lucy says. She has since realised that building a business takes ambition, vision and backing from partners that benefit her as an entrepreneur, not just the bottom line.
Standing in the Fix Auto Ferndale workshop, Merchant Capital’s Ryan Cohen says: “This is inspiring. It’s a great example of how effective financing can give SMEs the ability to boost their businesses.”
The funding business is focused on serving ambitious growth through great service and relationships, and a unique value proposition. “We can’t wait to see Fix Auto go from strength to strength, and work with them again when they look to take the next step,” Cohen says.
This may come sooner than they think. The formidable mother and daughter have ambitions of becoming the biggest internationally accredited autobody repairer in southern Africa – and now that they’ve had a taste of success, there’s no stopping them.