Since leaving school, Hesley has started a gym and a beauty salon, a commercial centre, a coffee shop and a panel beating company in her home town of Witbank and in adjacent Middelburg.
Today, a decade or two later, they still run three businesses and show no inclination of slowing down. “Both my husband and I are workaholics. We never stop,” she says.
Bart runs the operations and finances of Monaco Panel Beaters, a state-of-the-art workshop with 15 workers in Middelburg, while Hesley does the admin and human resources. She also runs their coffee shop, Boerelicious, and Marcello Square, a commercial centre which she converted from an old house in Witbank.
Monaco Panel Beaters, which focuses on Toyota vehicles, was started by Hesley and her first husband, Willie Meyer, in 1995. In those days, Hesley had been running her own gym in Witbank, and persuaded Willie, who had been working for a panel beating concern, that they start their own workshop.
In the early years Hesley spent much “blood, sweat and tears” in building up Monaco Panel Beaters, but after giving birth to their son Marcel, her entrepreneurial restlessness prompted her to start a brand new venture of her own again. She bought an old run-down building in Fransville, Witbank, and converted it into a commercial centre that could house several businesses, including her own Boerelicious coffee shop.
Tragedy struck in 2009 when a drunk driver killed Willie on his motorcycle. Hesley, widowed with a young child, somehow kept the businesses going, and when the manager of their panel beater business suddenly announced his resignation, Bart was on the scene to take over the business.
Bart, who also grew up in Witbank, had never run a panel beating shop before, but he managed building projects in England where he had spent a few years, and knew mechanics from his technical schooling and interests.
Bart says like any business the staff at Monaco Panel Beaters had settled in too much of a comfort zone, and he quickly set about increasing productivity levels. His introduction of modern water-based paints also met with some resistance among the old hands who preferred working with the old-fashioned oil-based paints. Most of the old staff members left and Bart was able to build a new, more productive team.
Soon Monaco was ready for expansion. Hesley and Bart looked around for finance for new equipment and the extension of the workshop onto the adjacent property, which also belonged to the business. The banks were wary of the complicating factor of building on two erven, but Business Partners Limited, who was willing to be more flexible, approved their application. Meanwhile, the two plots have been consolidated into one.
More recently, Bart and Hesley have brought in a BEE partner. Hesley says they are determined to make the deal a true empowerment project, and their BEE partner already spends two days per week at the panel beating workshop in order to learn every aspect of panel beating.
Meanwhile, Monaco’s increased BEE score has already started paying off as more work from the insurance companies come rolling in.
Bart and Hesley see more room for expanding, even though competition is tough. Not only do they want to build more spray rooms and work space, but they are moving towards becoming a training centre for the industry.
Today, the Monaco team pride themselves on their modern, sustainable approach to business. As a major structural repairer, they can repair a car that others would write off and build it up like a brand-new car off the factory line.
“A modern panel beater is way different from the old image,” says Hesley. Nothing is thrown away or dumped in a yard somewhere. Everything, down to the plastic bumpers, is recycled. The top-quality paint they use is itself made from recycled materials.
Most of all, says Bart, their honesty in contrast to the reputation of some in the industry has been a powerful driving force of their growth.