Managers are taught no one is indispensable in a business, but at Toyota Hillcrest, Workshop Manager Elsa Mollentze comes very close to being that one cog that keeps the machine turning.
Elsa is, however, the first to tell Dealerfloor: “I am nothing without my team”, which is why instead of a photo of Mollentze, you get a photo of the top team that runs the Express Service like an F1 pit crew.
Hillcrest is one of only a few Toyota dealerships to offer the Express Service, which has client’s cars serviced under an hour. Thanks to constant fine tuning with daily staff meetings, Mollentze team can now claim to be the “Queen of Quick”, with her team servicing 70-80 cars a day. Even in lockdown mode, the numbers fell to “only” 65.
While she walked Dealerfloor about the premises to explain the finely timed work-flow that can service eight cars in an hour, she bumped into a client, Dave Stanton, from Hillcrest, who was making a latte at the client’s large coffee station. “Dave, how are you!?” she called out, and sat down for a quick chat at the table reserved for Express clients.
“If I tell them (Dealerfloor) how good you are, will you give me 50% discount for life?” joked Stanton, before explaining he realised he had forgotten about his service, having not driven his Corolla for a month. “I called this morning and asked if they could fit me in, and they said, be here at in an hour.” He said he doesn’t mind waiting, adding the coffee is excellent and the WiFi faster than his line at home.
We get 25 of 60 customers waiting here while we work. They often end up kicking tires on all the new models, and our sales staff encourage test drives,” says Mollentze.
In the workshop, his Corolla was on the lift, oil draining, brake pads checked, wheel nuts torqued with two mechanics moving in an unhurried dance around the car, keeping an eye on the large timer counting down on a screen. “They have 15 minutes but mostly finish earlier,” says Mollentze, proudly looking at her crew. She says all her mechanics get to work at the high pressure Express Service bays. “The staff rotates, it adds excitement to our days. They all add ‘go faster’ work ideas when they work against the clock.”
Explaining why two mechanics, she said it all boils down to not wasting a movement or a moment. “We have split the car into left and right, and each mechanic only works on his side,” Mollentze says.
The same goes for the wash bay, where two ladies vacuum the vehicle before it moves to the wet area for a wash where two more wash each side. “We vacuum first because our Quantum owners often need their taxi back before we have time to wash it, and this way, they get a fresh cabin inside.” As we watch the ladies wheel vacuum machines around, Stanton’s Corolla arrives. “Good, they are ahead of schedule,” says Mollentze.
A qualified petrol and diesel mechanic “with papers from Olifantsfontein” — Mollentze cut her baby teeth on spanners as she followed her mechanic dad about. She got her first car at 15. “It was a Ford Capri with the engine on the seat”. (For the Capri fans, it was a straight six, not the eight cylinder.)
She started working as a mechanic at what was then Key Delta in Pinetown, and now really appreciates having carte blanche to run her workshop how she wants things to be run.
Standing back in the surgically clean work areas, she points to the female touches that makes the busy hall “home from work”. “I spent more time here than at home, so I want it to be comfortable,” she says, and points to the décor which displays large gear wheels painted in muted colours on the walls. “We take turns to link our music to the PA, so every day, we listen to something new. Some of the guys have very weird music and my office is right under the speaker, but luckily I like almost anything.”
She is justifiably proud of how her team keeps improving the finely tuned process of the Express Services though daily meetings at 3 pm. The process starts with each client’s name printed in large letters on a plastic plate that slips into a displayed slot at each receiving bay. The named bays are purely a practical matter to ensure no snags in the hourly flow of vehicles into the limited space of the parking lot, but clients like this personal touch and often take a selfie with their name on the wall. One of the two mechanics working on the car then greets the client and moves the vehicle onto the lift, where the clock starts ticking as soon as the car goes up.
For all her joviality, Mollentze runs her shop like a general. “I cannot abide slap-dash work. That’s why my team is the best,” she says.
For fun, she likes loading up the Hilux and taking her boys fishing, with a trip for tiger fish at Jozini Dam already on her dairy. “Since fixing the Capri, I’ve moved onto Hiluxs, it fits my lifestyle perfectly,” she says.
Going forward, Mollentze’s team is working on a plan to fetch cars from customers’ places of work. “Our systems can email the customer an invoice to arrive with the serviced car. It will certainly help our clients with their schedules and alleviate our parking problem,” she says.
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