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Female panel shop owner is remodelling the automotive landscape for women

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Rosy Govindasamy spent her school holidays around cars in a panel shop from her early teens, sanding, polishing, stripping and assembling vehicle bodies with her stepfather.

The bug had firmly bitten and Rosy knew she was destined to own her own panel shop. This dream was materialised in 2013 when she opened Springfield Panel and Paint, in Springfield Park, Durban.

The structural workshop is an approved repair centre for Hyundai, Kia, Renault, Chevrolet, Peugeot, Opel, Ford and Citroën, and they also repair non-warranty vehicles.

In just seven years Rosy grew the business from a rented 200m2 facility to an owned 1 000m2 space. Today the business, which is a proud member of the South African Motor Body Repair Association (SAMBRA), employees 23 staff of which half are women and youth.

Rosy is elated to see more women showing an interest in the sector and even qualifying as journeymen.

Jacques Viljoen, national director of SAMBRA, a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Association (RMI), says it is great to see more women stepping up and fill in the gaps to grow the industry to a new level. “We are privileged to have SAMBRA members like Rosy to help us change stereotypes about the sector and help us to drive the much-needed awareness about the many career opportunities for women,” he said.

Rosy explains that her stepfather sadly lost his business due to not having a good financial background. “I had the opportunity to be financial manager at a BMW Approved Repair Centre and eventually became the manager of the ARC, but was later retrenched. “I saw this as a blessing in disguise as I could now use my financial and management experience to successfully run Springfield Panel and Paint. I am living my dream.”

For Rosy, the dream is, however, much bigger. Her own struggles as a woman in the auto repair industry have pushed her to pursue other passions – the foremost being developing and mentoring women and young people. “There is a huge skills gap in the panel industry. Learners today don’t see panel beating or spray painting as a career path. Also, shop owners don’t take advantage of training apprentices.

“This creates a huge labour cost for owners because the demand for skills is great. As a result, we pay twice as much to employ a journeyman – something our customers and insurance companies don’t factor into the labour rate calculation.” Insurance companies not showing faith in female-owned panel shops remains a challenge in Rosy’s world.

“As a woman in this industry you have to constantly prove your capabilities and this has never been easy. My will to succeed, coupled with my drive to advance other women, eventually gave birth to what we now call WomenOnFire co-op.  “The co-op gives women in the panel beating business an opportunity to market their business and build a network. Springfield Motor City, a wheel alignment, suspension and mechanical centre, is an empowerment project owned by myself and two other women.”

Being a member of SAMBRA is a dream come true for Rosy. “My business has benefited from this prestigious affiliation through improved credibility, up-to-date industry news and trends and business advice and guidance. The biggest benefit is being affiliated to a brand that promotes fair trade and integrity,” she says.

Her advice to women wanting to pursue their dream in the sector is: “be your own strength and be courageous because this, coupled with the right attitude, will help you achieve all that you put your mind to.” Viljoen agrees and encourages women to take that leap of faith into this exciting sector without fear. “Grab any opportunity that may present itself. The evolution of the sector is dependent on breaking down stereotypes and embracing fresh thinking,” he concludes.

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