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AVTS Roadworthy Stations: Ferose Oaten

A Cape Town entrepreneur has built a first-class vehicle testing business.

Monique Verduyn

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Ferose Oaten of AVTS Roadworthy Stations

While she was growing up, FeroseOaten’s family was in the business of passenger transport, so it seems onlyfitting that today she heads up AVTS Roadworthy Stations, a Western Cape-basedchain of test stations that offers vehicle inspection services, weighingfacilities, licensing and registration, number plates and quality management consulting.Oaten studied librarianship, worked ina variety of positions, and got a business school qualification under her beltbefore deciding to join AVTS as test station manager at the end of 1992,shortly after the business had been launched. Five years later, she bought outthe owner and grew AVTS from one to seven branches in the greater Cape Town area.“When the opportunity came to buy thebusiness, I had no security or property,” recalls Oaten. “With BusinessPartners’ help I compiled a business plan and was then able to access fundingfrom NedEnterprises through the Khula finance guarantee scheme. I did not applyfor Business Partners funding for the initial purchase, but later I receivedbacking from the organisation for the purchase of two properties, a weighbridgeand to enable further expansion.”

DrivingQuality

Oaten is uncompromising about quality.The result is that AVTS was able to achieve ISO 9001:2008 certification in2002, and has maintained this status at all branches for the last six years. “A quality management system is thefoundation on which businesses flourish,” she says. “It helps enormously tohave documented policies and procedures for all the activities within thebusiness. We are in a highly regulated industry, with our activitiesgoverned  by the Road Traffic Act. Sincethe opening of the first AVTS 16 years ago, we have not had to close down anyof our branches as a result of any irregularities, and we have not had onestaff member arrested due to any transgression or corrupt behaviour. It’ssomething we are proud of.”It’s an ongoing effort to ensure thatall staff members act with integrity. To achieve this, AVTS has created anenvironment in which every staff member has a sense of ownership, and ismotivated to be best ambassador for the company.

GainsayingThe Naysayers

It’s a tough business to be in. AVTSdeclares vehicles roadworthy – or not. “It’s not possible to please allcustomers all the time,” Oaten notes. Among the challenges AVTS had toconfront early on, was a shortage of cash flow, a scenario all too familiar tomany entrepreneurs. Worse still, she had to deal with cynics who did notbelieve that a private enterprise could flourish in a sector previouslyserviced by the traffic department.

Despite the naysayers, word of mouthpaid off, and continues to do so.

“We advertise in the print media, andon billboards and bins. We also have branded vehicles which help to spread ourmessage throughout Cape Town,and we use networking opportunities to create awareness of the business as wellas of vehicle safety campaigns. But our reputation has been our biggest assetwhen it comes to bringing in customers.”Oaten herself is a networkerextraordinaire. She currently serves as the president of the Retail Motor Industry(RMI), and has previously served on the boards of the Cross-Border RoadTransport Agency and the South Africa Roads Board. She is also the regionalchairperson of the National Vehicle Testing Association and plays an activerole in the NVTA’s Free Safety Test Campaigns where motorists are offeredsafety critical tests of their cars prior to holiday seasons. Oaten is alsopart of the Businesswomen’s Association and serves as its nationalvice-president and chair of the Cape Town chapter.

Survivingthe times

The last six months have seen adramatic decline in the motor industry, something which has hit AVTS hard. Tosustain the business, the company has put stringent cost saving measures inplace, in both payroll and operations. “We are not unionised as we have aworkplace forum,” says Oaten. “Its role is to ensure that not one AVTS employeeis retrenched. The strategy they have come up with has assured the stability ofAVTS at least until the end of the year.”

Theroad ahead

Passenger vehicles are currently testedfor roadworthiness on change of ownership; buses, taxis and trucks are testedannually. The government plans to enforce periodic testing of all vehicles inthe near future. Should this happen, it will obviously bode well for teststations. Oaten says she is not keen to expandAVTS in its current form; instead, she is hoping to franchise the business. “Weare ideally suited to franchising as we have a proven business model, an ISO9001 operations manual and experienced management and staff, some of whom seethemselves as prospective franchisees.” Contact: www.avts.co.za

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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