‘Literally living in Pietermaritzburg’

Barloworld's dealer principal, Lauren Norman, could only shake her head when her dealership made the headlines in KwaZulu-Natal after a cheeky vagrant calmy got into a Ford EcoSport that was being delivered by Barloworld car-carrier on Thursday, 20 May, only to crash it into three other cars after a short joy-ride.

Barloworld Denise Nair and Lauren Norman

She said Barloworld Pmb had not yet taken delivery of the vehicle from Human Auto in Bloemfontein, but the Freestaters now understand a recent tweet that is doing the rounds, stating, “stop complaining about your life, there are people literally living in Pietermaritzburg”.

Not that Norman is a stranger to weird crime, living in Pinetown, or as she said the locals call it, “CrimeTown”. Coping with crime is all part of making the most of life’s journey.

Her journey to become a dealer principal has been a long one. She told Dealerfloor when she decided to leave her job at the Bearing Man Group to sign up for Barloworld's dealer principal training programme in 2013, she was very aware of the risk she was taking as part of her own long-term life plan.

“It is a tough 18-month course, with mentored training as well as classes and assessments at Rhodes (University) towards obtaining an Automotive managerial qualification (NQF 8) designed for this specific industry. You were not guaranteed placement as a Dealer Principal once completed. You had to work smart, understand the industry and prove yourself in order to be placed as a manager when a vacancy becomes available.

She said studying required total dedication and was very demanding, especially as she set high standards for herself.

After completing the programme, her first posting was in Centurion at a Barloworld GM dealership, as parts manager. “I dealt with a lot of Isuzu-driving farmers, most of whom did not expect a woman in this post.”

Two new faces at Barloworld Ford & Mazda Pietermaritzburg, financial manager Denise Nair and dealer principal Lauren Norman.

Having grown up in Harding in southern KwaZulu-Natal, where her parents still keep a range of animals (which her two-year-old son thoroughly enjoys), she knew all about a farmer’s needs and could solve problems before they happened.

After nine years in Gauteng, her next posting was to Pinetown, where she managed Barloworld Ford’s parts department in KwaZulu-Natal.

When the DP position became vacant at the Pinetown dealership, she stepped up and assisted in a DP’s absence. Within a short period of time, a DP post became available at Barloworld Ford & Mazda in Pietermaritzburg, “and this has become my new home” she said.

Lauren now commutes daily between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. “My Maritzburg colleagues ask me how I can handle the long commute, but after living in Gauteng, where this is a short journey, I find the drive is perfect to switch my mind from business mode to mommy mode.”

She took the post in December 2020 and regular clients told Dealerfloor the new boss in “Sleepy Hollow” has totally changed the atmosphere at the business.

Call to reduce taxes on cars

This could be because Lauren always tries to put herself in her clients’ shoes, arguing if you can save your clients money, they will keep on coming back.

In this regard, she fully supports the National Automobile Dealers’ Association’s (Naamsa) call for lower taxes on cars. “People blame dealers for high ticket prices, but the bottom line is that taxes make up 42% of the price. As Naamsa said, if the government can reduce this to 35% for entry level cars, dealers could increase sales by an estimated 28,000 units a year, boosting tax income and creating jobs.”

She also supports the Right to Repair movement, which calls for dealers to unbundle the service or maintenance plans from the purchase price to allow vehicle owners to service their cars at any qualified workshop without voiding the warranty.

“Giving customers freedom to choose is just good business,” she says, adding she is confident customers will soon realise that the dealership’s workshop gives good service and fair rates.

ALSO READ | Right to Repair's Les McMaster points out dealerships often quote lower than specialist mechanics.

She is looking forward to Barloworld’s 43 franchise dealerships in SA and Botswana being housed within the NMI-DSM group, as part of the R947 million restructuring deal announced in December.

“NMI is a big group, but it is still a family-run business, which I think will soon reflect in how we do business in our dealerships,” she said.

Another change that she looks forward to is the roll-out of the BSI-Auto paperless system at the Ford dealerships. “We generate a thick stack of papers with each transaction, all of which can be in the cloud where it can enable real time audits and transparency, with people using a thumbprint on screen instead of pen on paper. Best of all, with a paperless system, we will not have any lost job cards,” she said.

Norman said the Mazda side of her business has been an eye-opener. “Mazda’s systems are as lean and fast as they get. When it comes to technical support from the OEM, Mazda is setting the benchmark and is simply way ahead at the moment, and I’ve learned a lot from their protocols and systems. They are extremely pro-active.”

A personal crusade

On a personal level, Norman is a Christian lady, coming from humble beginnings under the guidance of her parents. She also gets involved in charity organisations with the focus on women and children.

“For our last outreach, we had sponsorship from the Motor Industry of SA (Misa) to deliver Christmas hampers to children in deep rural areas. Coming from a small town myself, I know personally what a difference such an outreach makes to young people,” she said.

Her personal crusade is to create an awareness for women trapped in destructive relationships who feel they have no choice.

“Ending gender-based violence starts with mothers (and fathers) having to teach their children, both girls and boys, what is acceptable and what is not. Give our children the strength and wisdom to be the difference in our society. Cycles can be broken. The children are our future, guide them, mould them, never fail them,” she said.

“Change for the better starts with each of us guarding our thoughts and checking our words, which automatically lead to a life that considers others.

That is how I try to live and do business each day,” she told Dealerfloor.

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