Motor body repairers should “walk the talk” when it comes to black-owned small business

Brian Joss – The forecast for growth in the South African job market for the first quarter of 2020 has hit a five-year low according to ManpowerGroup SA’s latest employment outlook.

Payroll expansion is expected to be a mere 2%. Small businesses are struggling more than ever to stay afloat, while they are the most probable sector to take on unskilled labour.

Against this sombre backdrop, the South African Motor Body Repairers’ Association (SAMBRA),  is concerned about the challenges facing the motor body repair sector, which is in an even more precarious position than it was 10 years ago. Without an absolute focus on growth, this will not change.

“What has changed in the sector, however, is that there has been a substantial shift at business partner level toward a consensus-based business relationship, especially with the insurer sector and this is really positive,” says Richard Green, national director of SAMBRA, a member of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI).

Green says SAMBRA and many of its alliance partners have, for a long time worked hard within varying forums to establish and empower large numbers of small black-owned businesses within the MBR sector. He says, regrettably the forums engaged in over the last 20 years have morphed in form, but delivered very little direct benefit to the intended recipients. “The reason, I believe, is simple,” says Green. “We are all guilty of staying in our comfortable cocoons.  We talk the talk with the best intent but few organisations have sacrificed, collaborated unselfishly and delivered anything of real lasting value.

“Owning and operating a small business in the formal regulated sector is tough and the current failure rate high, but to ignore the importance of growth for small business in South Africa is folly. Only through maintaining and developing those we have and establishing many more, will South Africa and South Africans prosper,” he believes.

For 2020 Green says the corporate and government sector will need to adopt a far more unselfish, collaborative and transparent approach. “We need to embrace socially responsible capitalism. Big businesses need to convince shareholders to accept lower share value growth, at least for a period. Tremendous contributions are required by corporate SA to grow the pyramid base of small business service providers, which could in turn employ many thousands of South Africans. Without this mindset, the future is very bleak.

“We have all developed cocoons, thinking we are protecting our jobs, our businesses, and families but it is time for a sincere mindshift,” he says. 

This will only happen if there are some significant changes, starting with the setting of fair and ethical standards for entry into the sector. Green says this must include compliance to a universally accepted accreditation system but must not include restrictive insurer panels of any sort. “We must be able to open all manufacturer approval programmes to any qualifying business so that we can truly honour client choice within a communication environment. Clients in turn need to be well-informed, especially regarding the pitfalls of poor service provider choice.”

Green says businesses need to do everything possible to eradicate unnecessary or excessive costs, be they capital or administrative in nature, and make small businesses’ invoices a key priority. “Corporates need to make prompt payments to small business and remove any barriers to achieving the goal of access.

“Finally, on skills development, we need to ensure that initiatives are accessible to all, using technology to extend that reach and place a long term focus on developing skills and enabling those newly-skilled individuals to gain entry into the market.”

He confirmed SAMBRA’s commitment to working tirelessly with its members and increase their business efficiencies substantially so that at the end of the day their service offering contributes to excellent service, repair quality levels and the removal of any unnecessary costs.

“South African business, and the MBR sector in particular, is positioned to either fail dismally or succeed tremendously in their contribution to the growth of small business in SA,” concludes Green.

CAPTION: Sombre outlook:  Richard Green, national director of SAMBRA.

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