Women brings unique passion to the motor industry

Mika Heeraman shares advice on being a woman in the auto industry. She recounts where her love of cars started and the challenges she has had to face.

Mika Heeraman, the proud proprietor of Unique Auto Panel and Paint in Tongaat, KwaZulu-Natal, embraced the auto industry with gusto. As a car enthusiast, she is no stranger to breathing new life into the damaged.

Her journey to establishing an auto body repair shop at the youthful age of 26 harkens back to her upbringing in Chatsworth and Richards Bay. These towns buzzed with car aficionados, and Heeraman’s father, a spray painter, became her mentor during school holidays. Witnessing the metamorphosis of wrecked cars ignited a fervour for auto body work. She recalls the thrill of reassembling the puzzle pieces of a damaged vehicle and the enduring challenge it presents.

However, entrepreneurship is not all smooth sailing, as any small business owner knows. For Heeraman, the resilience of Unique Auto Panel and Paint was tested by the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, swiftly followed by the KZN riots and floods.

Navigating these challenges demanded adaptability. In the face of Covid-19’s economic toll, the business operated on a modest setup, lacking cash flow reserves, a stable customer base and dependable contracts. Rebuilding momentum post-pandemic was short-lived, as riots and floods compounded the adversities.

Yet through sheer tenacity and dedication, Unique Auto Panel and Paint rose above the tumult. Notably, they expanded into a larger premises and got upgraded equipment, underlining the importance of agility for small businesses.

Heeraman underscored the need to embrace change, highlighting the transitory nature of circumstances. Amid the turmoil, her auto body shop flourishes, despite encountering a barrier of gender bias from male peers, customers and industry stakeholders.

This disparity, combined with the challenges of youth in business, has added complexity to her journey. Nevertheless, Heeraman’s success shines as a beacon, challenging preconceived notions within the auto body sector.

Charles Canning, the chairperson of the South African Motor Body Repairers’ Association (Sambra), hails women like Heeraman as catalysts for change. It and the Retail Motor Industry Organisation’s endeavours to diversify the sector have found an ally in Heeraman’s pioneering efforts. The auto industry’s skills gap can be mitigated by women stepping up and embracing this domain.

Heeraman’s affiliation with Sambra has been instrumental in her journey. Membership has bolstered credibility, offering industry insights, trends and invaluable guidance. She acknowledged the uphill battle women face to prove themselves but advised channeling this energy into propelling dreams forward.

Heeraman’s advice to aspiring young women: “Stay authentic, resilient, and steadfast. Excelling in the motor industry, or any field, dictates consistent excellence, unyielding determination and an unwavering pursuit of success.”

Source: Cathy Findley PR


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