Anyone who says there are no opportunities in the automotive sector must speak to the dynamic duo of Sisonke Dinga and Steven Dunn.
At just 32, Dinga is co-owner of the SD Group with Dunn (37). The two have a branch in Midrand and Amanzimtoti and epitomise just what can be achieved with a lot of passion, a love for cars and some hard work and resilience.
Dinga who was born in the Eastern Cape in the small town of Butterworth moved to Johannesburg when he was still in high school and then studied at CJC College where he attained his N3 in mechanical engineering followed by a T-Tep Technical course. Dunn hails from Northern KZN and studied at Durban Technical College. The two met at BMW Forsdick Sandton when Dinga arrived to do his apprenticeship. Dunn, who had already been there for three years, was impressed with Dinga’s passion to succeed and they both worked together at a number of dealerships doing diagnostics and repairs. Every time Dunn moved, Dinga moved with him until they ended up at Lyndhurst Auto in Melrose Arch which was the biggest dealership in the Southern Hemisphere for BMW at the time. The both were skilled in mechanical and electrical work.
“I will always be grateful for the amazing experience I received at the dealership but realised in time there were certain restrictions in that environment that stopped one from doing things the way we thought would be better.” Dunn shared the same view. “For example – if a certain component is faulty, stripping and repairing is not an option at a dealership. They prefer to just purchase a new component and replace. In the interest of time and getting as many cars in and out of the workshop as possible. For the dealership they wanted quick turnaround times and the warranty department would deal with the rest. Steven and I wanted to get to the cause of the problem. We wanted to find out why the part broke, which would mean stripping and checking etc. The only time we could strip and repair is if a certain part was no longer available from suppliers,” explains Dinga.
Already starting to see a future together, Dunn moved to Mercedez Benz as foreman to learn as much as possible about Mercedes while Dinga remained at BMW. Their dream was to take the two top brands in the country and open a workshop that could service both once they both had sufficient experience with both brands.
Finally in 2017 they decided to go out on their own, self-funding the business from their own savings. Dinga runs the Midrand business (employs 4 people) and Dunn the Amanzimtoti business (employs 2 people). Last year SD entered into a partnership with an company P & H who specialise in Mercedes Benz. “We specialise in BMW so it is great that we can now service both premium brands,” he says.
Dunn says the business has been so successful because of the gap it serves in the market. “We realised that customers often could not afford costly replacement parts and this was the perfect way we could assist these customers with an alternative. We are able to repair the component with the same quality workmanship they could get at a dealer, but just at a more affordable rate. For us, it is all about value for money and helping our customers keep the brand on the road and not at home,” he explains.
Commenting on the challenges of running one’s own business, Dunn says staffing and training is probably the biggest issue as you don’t have access to the training and education that you could get from the dealership. “Training is costly and it is difficult for privately owned dealerships to access the training centres of the brands. We would really like to see this change in future,” expands Dinga. He says the other issue is access to parts. “Certain aftermarkets parts you just cannot get. You have to go straight to the manufacturer. Also access to new technologies is a problem. We are working on an app similar to autotronix where if you are struggling with a vehicle- you have access to a tech department that will try and assist you with information they get from Germany. A platform where we share information. This is one of the main reasons why the Right 2 Repair makes so much sense. There is no reason we should not have access to this information or the parts,” he says.
This year the SD Group became a member of the Motor Industry Workshop Association, part of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) and the pair can already see the benefits as it has extended the scope of work they can perform and helped with training. “I already have four jobs this month that I couldn’t take before in terms of warranties etc. Because of my MIWA membership and the high standards they require for you to become a member, I can now repair cars with extended warranties. It’s going to help us in a big way and give our brand the recognition it deserves and improve customer confidence,” Dinga says.
Asked if they would change their independence if given a chance, the answer is a resounding no. “In the aftermarket we are able to do what we couldn’t do when we worked at a dealership. There are no boundaries. This is not a job for us. We love what we do. It’s more like a hobby that we are both very good at. We can stay at the workshop till midnight and it no burden to either of us,” Dinga enthuses.
And as for the future Dinga and Dunn are positive and feel it is high time the perception of the industry changes and youngsters view it as a professional industry. “I personally think you should be able to get a doctorate in this trade. There are lots of new and different technologies. It’s not a dirty job. You can work clean. It’s a combination of mechanical, electrical and I.T. information technology is becoming a huge part of it, more and more. A lot of the work is IT based and that is particularly exciting especially for new people entering the sector,” says Dunn.
Their best advice for young people looking for a career in the automotive sector is to first and foremost have a passion and love for cars – the brand should be a bonus. “You must have a keen interest in maths and science. This helps a lot, because what we do is about problem solving. (Maths) and the science comes into play when you talking electronics. You also need to want this as a career. It’s not a job and you should not be driven by money. Money is a by-product of acquiring knowledge. You get a good reputation and in turn people will look for you because of that knowledge – then you’ll get money,” they conclude.