With many business owners in the automotive sector struggling to make ends meet, Jayson Bulterman’s story is a stark reminder that to succeed one often needs a second chance and one must never be too scared to take a leap of faith.
Today Bulterman is the proud owner of two Power Steering businesses, Power Steering Solutions and Power Steering Supplies in Stikland in Cape Town. He is an accredited member of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) and specialises in the reconditioning of power steering and manual steering boxes, pumps and racks for the commercial, LDV passenger and Bakkie markets. The business also supplies full diagnostic capabilities, mobile or telephonically, and employs 16 people.
When Bulterman first started working in the power steering industry, he got a job with his uncle as a sales rep. He wasn’t comfortable selling something he knew nothing about so he insisted on learning the technical side first hand in the workshop for about four years. Unfortunately things did not end up working out well with his uncle and the following year he was left with no job and just a R16 000 pension to support himself and his wife. “I took R12 000 of that to pay my debts,” he remembers describing how he will never forget sitting under the bridge in Cape Town and getting a call from one of his uncle’s clients a month or so later. “I explained I no longer worked with him but the caller was emphatic. He didn’t want to work with my uncle he wanted to do business with me. He said he had a 45 ton truck that needed testing and could I do it?”
The first thing Bulterman did was call his wife who encouraged him to use his last
R4 000 to buy the equipment necessary to do the job. And that was the beginning. He bought some tools, got a friend to build him a pressure tester and did that job literally in his back yard. “That was my first independent job on the 14 October 2007 – I still remember the date.”
Excited to be starting, Bulterman did some research with a good friend exploring the possibility of opening a power steering business in George where there was a gap in the market. None of the banks were willing to take a chance on a start-up business so he took a chance using his wife’s credit card to buy the necessary tools to set up a small business. The gamble paid off. “I made double my salary in the first 2 weeks, with R27 000 profit. A couple of months later things were not going as well. The business was very up and down but we persevered.”
A friend of Bulterman, Nazeem Ryland, then offered him a 6m² space to run his business from. “I built my first test and work bench and incredibly in my first year I made just R5000 short of R1 million.”
Two years later, Bulterman was able to employ 2 people and now needed bigger premises as he wanted to expand from just doing commercial repairs into passenger repairs as well. Fortunately Nazeem needed to downscale at that point so Bulterman took the bold decision to take over more of the space. From paying just R2 500 for 25m² each month he was now liable for R10 000 per month.
Every new business at some point in time hits a road bump and that’s exactly what happened next. “The day we had to move into our new premises in 2009, the guy who was going to help me with the passenger repairs, decided he was going back to Angola. I found some new people to assist and at that point ended up with six employees. Everything was going well until July that year when my entire team – all six of my guys – decided to resign and start a business of their own.”
Power steering is a lucrative business explains Bulterman and it’s quite common in the industry that once you train the guys they often go off and start on their own. One of the six had a change of heart however and said he would prefer to stay with me. “That weekend, to clear my head I went for a little getaway with my family to Strandbaai and I read a book called “who moved my cheese?” I’m not a reader but I read this book three times that weekend. That was the beginning of my next chapter. Everything started making sense,” says Bulterman.
In 2012, Bulterman went to Germany to investigate new types of Power steering as he noticed that vehicles already needed electronic steering repairs and at the time, no one in South Africa knew how to do it. He saw the gap and grabbed it but in order to get the right technology for electronic testing equipment, would have cost €155 000 – a number way out of reach. Finally in 2017 he came across a company in Europe that manufactured and trained technicians for electronic testing equipment. He phoned them in April and by October that year had flown over and bought the equipment.
“At the time we were moving into our new workshop so I didn’t unpack anything,” recalls Bulterman. “When it arrived. four months down the line and I finally opened the equipment. I had literally forgotten everything and had to fly back to Germany to refresh my training. I got the required knowledge and certification. A year later we got so busy I needed another technician (electronic steering technician).”
In March this year he managed to open another company called Power Steering Supplies and now operates as a wholesale supplier to his own opposition.
Commenting on the success of the business, Bulterman has the following 10 top business tips:
• Be courageous to make the big leaps
• Don’t let setbacks hold you back
• Treat everyone as family. The more you put into your staff, the more you get out.
• Ensure everyone is working together for the same goal.
• Make your staff feel appreciated. Focus on the smaller things. “I decided to buy my guys lunch every day for example. In one month my turnover increased by 25%. I spent R1 1000 per month on lunch but had an increased turnover of 25%.
• Don’t police your staff – build up trust. “I don’t have to police the guys. They police each other.”
• Make your team a part of the big decisions. “My staff know we own the workshop and if things get tough like now, we can pay salaries for 2 months. That’s it. That’s the agreement. Two and half years ago we bought ourselves our own factory. When we decided to purchase this new workshop, we made the decision together. I had to take that buffer money and use it to put down a R1.2 million deposit on the workshop. We agreed together to use that money which was their safety net in case business failed. Fortunately everything worked out. So much so that by the time we were hit by COVID I had already built up safety funds. I squared up all my 30 day accounts. So I have had no salary cuts etc.
• Break your own rules. “As a rule, with the exception of my wife Joanne who is my accountant, I don’t like family working with family. But then sometimes you need to break the rule. By way of example, one of my senior technicians comes from the Northern Cape. For a couple of days he came into the workshop looking very miserable. Eventually I sat him down and asked him what the problem was. His wife wanted to go home because she couldn’t find a job. I don’t believe in separating families, so I didn’t have a job for her but I created one. This is probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. This lady is still with us today and she’s amazing. She runs my seal department, captures credit account etc. She is a key part of the business. This is the one time I went against my rule and it has really paid off.
• Give people a chance. Everybody deserves an opportunity.” I personally
suffer from Asperger’s autism, so I can’t keep anything in. If I feel something I say it, sometimes makes people uncomfortable. I remember when doing my trade test, one day our lecturer was giving a lesson and he went on and on and I just blurted out, I’m sorry sir but I don’t agree with anything you’re saying. It turns that he was speaking nonsense just to test the class.”
• Never say no to an opportunity. When you get offered an opportunity, take it. Take it. Take it. Take it! Don’t walk away from anything. I grew up in a poor area. I know what it feels like to have nothing. In my view no-one person is better than another person.