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MAKING IT IN A MAN’S WORLD

Rene Baker is a woman making significant strides in the traditionally male-dominated automotive industry, achieving notable success.

Barriers look intimidating until one day somebody shows just how surmountable they are. Rene Baker’s success in the traditionally male-dominated realm in the world of tyres, shocks, batteries and the like is an inspiration, especially when one considers just how far out of her comfort zone it was.

Rene began her working life as a maths teacher, but after three years decided she needed a career that was more financially rewarding—and that allowed her to explore a newfound interest in sales and marketing. Thus began a 34-year second career, during which she ended up managing a factory supplying products to the décor industry.

Like most industries back then, décor was primarily run by men. “All the buyers and managers I dealt with were men, although this slowly began to change over the years,” Rene recalls. Like most women who have succeeded in a previously male-dominated world, she benefitted from the mentorship of supportive men—a debt she readily acknowledges.

Her journey into the automotive industry began when she saw a Supa Quick franchise in George for sale. After 34 years, she was eager to begin experimenting with semi-retirement, and the then-sleepy Garden Route town was her destination of choice. She took the plunge and bought the franchise in 2014.

Once more, her confidence to delve into a business she knew little about stemmed from the human factor. In this case, the deciding factor was that she could rely on the help of one of the existing employees, Divan, who had been working for the store for the previous eight years and wanted to continue working there. “Divan and I made a pact that we would support each other through this journey and knowing that I had the benefit of his knowledge and strong customer relationships persuaded me I could do it,” she says. “He’s still with me to this day.”

Being familiar with how to negotiate a predominantly male world is one part of Rene’s strengths, another is her reliance on the franchisor, Supa Quick. She credits its powerful brand and support with helping her to weather the first few years, before George began to grow. Rene swiftly acknowledges the occasional tensions that arise in business relationships, but her years in the décor industry have taught her to prioritise fair treatment of suppliers and go above and beyond to meet customer expectations.

“At the end of the day, I feel happy and, frankly, lucky to be associated with Supa Quick,” she says. “It’s the strongest and most sustainable brand in the market.”

When running a franchise business, how to differentiate yourself without compromising the tried-and-trusted formula can be a challenge. Rene relies on her belief on customer focus. For example, she offers the large number of local senior citizens a battery-replacement service if their vehicles won’t start. If a job is going to take a long time, she always makes sure the customer is offered a lift to the local mall, or a pleasant space to work, complete with WiFi.

“Small things, but they can make all the difference when it comes to building solid customer relationships,” she says.

Ingredients for success

Rene advises female entrepreneurs to avoid expecting special treatment based on their gender.

“In business, there’s no such thing as special treatment. More importantly, you should aspire to be treated equally in terms of respect as a professional and remuneration,” she says. “Sell your personality and professionalism, not your appearance.”

It’s also important to keep asking questions; it’s the only way to learn, she rightly notes. She believes that continuous learning is vital to success.

Finally, recognise that you will succeed if you have the right support systems in place. Your home environment must be behind you but so must your work one too. “Your staff needs to know they are a valuable—and valued—part of the business. If they understand that you depend on them, they will rise to the occasion,” she concludes. “A loyal and committed workforce is not only essential to success, it is also the mark of success.”

INFO SUPPLIED.

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