WOMEN’S MONTH: Two decades in the auto repair business and still growing
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PRETORIA - You could say it was happenstance that landed Annelie Kruger in the automotive industry, but regardless of how she became part of this vibrant sector she believes it was God’s plan for her and it’s where she is meant to be. This farm girl, with a strong family foundation, turned maths lecturer, wife, mom and grandmother says she couldn’t be more thankful for her 21-year-old auto body repair business in Pretoria and wants to see more women achieve success in the industry.
Kruger (59) is the owner and MD of Carty Carvenience, in Garsfontein, a member of the South African Motor Body Repairers’ Association (SAMBRA) and Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI). “Many people are definitely surprised when they hear what I do for a living – ‘Really? Is that not a man’s world?’ is often the reaction. There are those who are genuinely impressed though. I never get tired of seeing the look on customers’ faces when I say that I am going to be the one doing the repair assessment on their vehicle,” she expounds.
Kruger explains that her and her husband wanted to start a business in the automotive industry when they had three children (the youngest then six). Before she knew it, she was flying solo in the business – and loving it: “My husband continued in his civil engineering business and I was thrown in the deep end – with his moral and ‘logical’ support. Carty Carvenience was up and running and I was hooked. You do become addicted to this industry.”
But, when did the bug bite?
Until the early 1990s, there was no indication Kruger’s path would lead to the automotive industry. She was a market researcher at the Department of Agriculture (1984), lectured in maths and statistics from 1986 to 1988 and in 1989 joined her husband in California where he was studying. She took up an au-pair job as she had no work or study permit.
“When we got back to South Africa I started in market research at Nissan SA head office from 1990 to 1992. This is where my love for the industry started. For the next seven years I was a full-time mom and then we started Carty Carvenience. It was based on a concept we’d seen in the USA; a small dent repair business combined with car wash and valet. Carty Carvenience was the first of its kind in South Africa,” she notes.
There is some work to be done to attract more women to the industry, Kruger says, including making them feel like equals: “We can do what men do in this industry! There should also be more awareness created about the opportunities for women and apprenticeships offered.” In her opinion, an apprenticeship to qualify as a spray painter or automotive body repairer is where women will really get to grips with the industry.
Carty Carvenience became an accredited SAMBRA non-structural motor body repairer in 2008. “It is great to ‘belong’. Being a SAMBRA member has given me a better understanding of the industry and it gives credibility to my business. You also get guidance and advice – Covid-19 being a good example of a time this has proven invaluable to my business.
“Being a member of the SAMBRA NEC and Business Network International (BNI) also supported me a lot regarding the business issues we are faced with due to Covid-19 and lockdown. My advice to others is to not just be a member, but get involved in the industry wherever you can; build relationships and networks.”
Plans for the future?
Kruger’s dream is to be build Carty Carvenience into an even stronger business and open doors for a younger generation of management she can mentor while having more time to pursue family and leisure interests: “I’d also love to help start-ups in the industry as I am passionate about empowering people with new skills and qualifications. It’s definitely a tough career, but today I know I’d choose it again and again over anything else I’ve done in the past. The number of life lessons my children and I have learned and the exposure and the energy in this industry is invaluable.”
“Of course there are many days I just want to be a mom or grandma, not a businesswoman. Wherever my business takes me, I want to enjoy quality family time, support my husband and children and be a fun grandmother,” she concludes. Kruger notes that her success is owed to guidance from above, the support of her husband, children, friends, family, the Carty team (present and past) and, of course, their loyal customers.