OFS Smart Repair is nothing like an average run-of-the-mill panel beater. In fact, there is nothing average about them. The motivation for Gysie Pienaar, the CEO of OFS Smart Repair, and his sister Jeani, the Executive Director, to transform OFS into the trendsetting and innovative business it is today has always been to challenge the status quo and change the perceptions of what a panel beating business should be and what it should look like. Whether you call these siblings mavericks, rebels, thought leaders or visionaries, whichever way you look at it, they have taken something that is not considered smart or trendy, and evolved it into a modern, multifaceted and multidimensional business, which embodies passion, quality, innovation and intelligence.
The original business was started by Saai Pienaar, an entrepreneur and accountant by profession, in 1984. Initially, it was a transport business and a scrapyard, but Saai quickly spotted a gap in the market and started a panel beating business called OFS Panel Beaters. Although Saai had studied accounting, early on he realised that he did not want to work for someone else. “Our dad is a true maverick. He was never afraid of risk or starting at the bottom. He carved his own path on his own terms and he taught us that we should never be afraid of big challenges, hard work, or starting in the trenches”. In the trenches is exactly where the siblings started at the family business, but true to form, they did not stay there, but worked themselves up to where this powerhouse pairing along with Stakeholder Relations and Procurement Director Busi Maile now head up OFS Smart Repair.
Building a brand
When Gysie and Jeani joined the family company almost two decades ago, things looked different and they were done differently. Jeani in her no-nonsense way explains it as follows, “When people walk into a panel shop, they expect greasy, scruffy and back yard. It irked Gysie and me that people would speak to us as if we were stupid and would dismiss us as greasy panel beaters”. But, coming from an entrepreneurial household, the siblings believed that no matter what trade or business you are in, the question should always be: “Can you do business, or not?”. Gysie and Jeani knew that if people walked into their business and had a misconception of who and what they were, it was bad for business. “If people do not think you’re smart or capable, they don’t trust you, and they don’t want to do business with you. We felt that if they could just get to know us, have a conversation with us, they would see that we’re not what they thought we were.
There is more to OFS,” is how Jeani explains it. This realisation led them to the decision to build and refine their brand. Looking back, Jeani concedes, “It took us ten years to establish the bones of our brand – if I knew that initially I might not have attempted it!”.
Being part of a new generation who loves systems, processes, planning and scheduling, Gysie and Jeani soon realised that they would have to professionalize their operations. Jeani took over marketing, PR, communications and client service. She implemented one of the very first SMS client feedback systems in the Free State. “We looked at all the aspects and components of our business and brand – tech, innovation and repair methods. We implemented proactive client service, upskilled our team on the latest cutting-edge repair trends and methods, built a state-of-the art drive-through paint shop, redesigned our original reception, and even brought in fashionable corporate wear”. For Jeani and Gysie this was part of their drive to change perceptions, “… to go above and beyond expectations”. Jeani adds, “There were no rules for branding a panel shop. We had a blank canvas. We could do the most crazy things!”. However, do not think for one moment that building the brand was slapdash. “Every component of our brand is very strategic and deliberate.”
OFS Panel Beaters becomes OFS Smart Repair
After 31 years of being known as OFS Panel Beaters, a campaign to rebrand the company was launched in 2015, and at the beginning of 2016, OFS Smart Repair was born. Jeani explains, “I collaborated with excellent designers. Because of my background in design, I’m very fortunate that I can speak ‘brand’. I understand design, form, function, thinking visually; therefore, I could brief the design team in their own language. Being a heritage brand, we were respectful and mindful of keeping our brand colours, our abbreviation ‘OFS’ and important design elements. We didn’t just rebrand for the sake of it. We wanted to break boundaries and innovate in a visual aesthetic, as we knew we had to get our ducks in a row to position our brand in the digital age.”
The birth of Smart Girl Jeani and Smart Guy Gysie
To explain the evolution of the Smart Girl and Smart Guy personas of OFS Smart Repair, Jeani says, “If you look at any big brand, there’s always a personality who you can identify with. In the case of OFS, Gysie is the brand as much as I am the brand. Wherever we go and whatever we do, we’re always Gysie and Jeani from OFS. So, we were always going to build the brand around our personas.”
When digital and social media arrived, people started noticing an online presence. Jeani explains, “I realised the digital landscape was immense. To stand out we would have to strategically position our brand online in clever and memorable ways. That’s when I started implementing the word ‘smart’ in all our marketing communications, and referring to the team as ‘Smart Guys and Smart Girls’.” For Jeani, the word ‘smart’ is the most incredible descriptive word – “It means so many different things – bright, brainy, sassy, stylish, nifty, cool, clever. It defines OFS in every way.”
The next development in the digital world was the rise of Instagram, which focuses on visuals and short captions. This further influenced how OFS Smart Repair would create content. Jeani explains, “IG Stories in particular made us realise that we needed to get ahead on the trend of video. This was also when I first decided to turn the camera around, feature in a video, and say ‘Hi guys, it’s Smart Girl Jeani’”.
“Social media also changed how people perceived OFS. We gained a following on social media. I was invited to do a specialist lecture in digital marketing for honours students at Kovsies, I did a TED Talk on translating likes into sales (which was a real pinch me moment!) and also held the Social Media Master Class with Minki van der Westhuizen at OFS Smart Repair with the theme, I love Bloem. We printed our first 100 I LOVE BFN T-shirts and almost every one sold out that day,” Jeani elaborates.
Jeani affirms, “I loved social media right from the start. I followed blogs and loved that bloggers had the freedom to create their own work. Blogs were beautifully curated online magazines loaded with personality. Many of the bloggers turned their online presence into profit launching from apparel to books, to shoes, to make-up. This made me realize that this digital space is a world to be reckoned with. It’s explosively powerful!”. “In that regard, I was lucky that I spotted the trend. Because I was on social media and Facebook I understood it was not about price point marketing. People wanted content and stories. I realised that I would have to take a different approach.” What Jeani also recognised at this time was that she was out of her depth and that she had to upskill, which led her to study Social Media Marketing through UCT. During this time, Jeani started her highly successful Hello Smart Blog, which reaffirmed her belief in being authentic because “if you’re not honest, readers and clients see the disconnect”. The blog also tied up with the company’s service product marketing; thus, “seeing the thread in everything we do and showing who we are and what we are about”.
Jeani adds that her blog was about creating interesting, original digital content showing the audience that “we know cars, but we also know fashion, we read, we have good music taste, and a lekker sense of humour”. “I wanted to show our personalities at OFS Smart Repair in the pillars of the blog – lifestyle-fashion-style. I collaborated with stylists and blogged about fashion and lifestyle, but I also brought it back to our business by blogging about cars and team dynamics, and featured inspirational content such as our favourite Ted Talks.” Jeani further started collaborating with a local photographer, FJ Potgieter, to create content for the blog and photograph the real people of OFS (not models) in Bloem locations. This in turn led to Jean’s Bright Sparks feature on her blog, which focused on inspiring people in the city. Next, she incorporated cool spots in the city. “Thus, our blog became a blog about our hometown, which gave our audience a genuine connection.” This was the prelude to Jeani’s other successful venture, the I LOVE BFN apparel brand. “I wanted to showcase Bloemfontein because people underestimate our city. They think we’re narrow-minded country bumpkins, which is simply not true! We have so much talent in Bloem. You just need to know where to look,” she explains.
The Torque Report sees the light
Organically, this led to the birth of the Torque Report. Jeani describes the process as follows: “I’ve been very fortunate in my career that I happen to have the design background and skillset required to create content for social media. I’m also relatively comfortable in front of a camera which helped immensely when video became a thing with Instagram, IGTV and Reels.”
“We did a customization of a Toyota Land Cruiser video with Gysie for IGTV and the video blew up! I realised that people really-really like Gysie and I needed to create something that would get him in front of camera more often.” Jeani explains her thinking: “We know cars. We also have knowledge of our industry, but the thing with social media is that people get bored quickly; there has to be variety. We can’t just show our audience how we spray or repair a car every day. The content has to be interesting. It has to be as much about the personality, as it is the story. It has to show you our witty side, our love of cars, our passion for our industry and our skill. This was the start of the Torque Report with Smart Guy Gysie, an online You Tube-style car variety show where we test-drive everything from the latest Volkswagen Polo to the all-electric Jaguar I-PACE. We race Mom-mobiles and showcase an all-Bloem Can-Am Maverick one-of-a-kind customization, among other things.” Jeani adds that Vodacom bought the naming rights for the Torque Report last year, which was “such an unbelievable compliment, an affirmation, and a thumbs-up for us!”. “Building our business and brand has been many years of blood, sweat and tears, but we’ve had so much fun breaking the mould and being rebels of our trade. We can’t wait for the next chapter in the OFS story”.
Find OFS Smart Repair and the Torque Report on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram
TEXT: Margaret Linström. PHOTOS: Supplied by OFS Smart Repair