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Q & A with Bunmi Solabi of Ladymek Stores: A Biologist Turned Mechanic

   

 

In search of fulfillment, Bunmi Solabi, a mother of two, left her banking job to work as a biologist, which was the course she studied at the University of Ilorin and University of Lagos. She resigned in 2013 and trained for one year and six months as a mechanic.

Four years later, Bunmi, who is popularly called Ladymek, does not regret her decision. She runs diagnosis on all cars but repairs and maintains Japan-made cars.

In a chat with Sola Abe for Woman.NG, Bunmi Solabi talks about her journey into the world of mechanical engineering.

How it started

Being a lady mechanic is not something I’ve always dreamt of, like some people usually say. It was just something that came out of wanting to fulfill a part of me that was being restless. I’ve worked as a banker and a biologist in a pharmaceutical company for over five years and I wasn’t getting fulfillment. But the one thing that has always attracted me is that I’ve always loved cars. My love for cars wasn’t initially to be a mechanic but for me to be in car racing. Had it been I was born in an advanced country, I would have been an F1. I actually taught myself how to drive. So, I’ve always loved cars.

My friends have always known that I loved cars; I could tell you the names of cars even from the side mirror. That was how good I was with cars. So, I thought to learn how cars work and how to treat cars and that was how the passion developed. Immediately, it struck, I held on to it.

Training

When I wanted to train, I went to a place where I was charged over N200, 000. I couldn’t afford it because I just resigned from my job at the time to get trained as a mechanic. Then my husband advised me to go to a local mechanic who may not be educated but would still give me a practical training.

So, I approached a mechanic in my area, who has a very big workshop. The mechanic used to service my mum’s car, so, I went to him. When I told the man my intentions, he asked if I was sure I wanted to train as a mechanic and I told him I was serious. He was so excited that a female was coming to train under him. He asked me to get some little things and then start. This is a man who is a stark illiterate but if he works on an engine, you would think he obtained a mechanic degree from Germany. That is how good he was and luckily for me, my first six months with him, we were just coupling engines, so, I had so much practical work with him in addition to the personal online training I was doing.

So, we were just helping each other. There were some things he doesn’t know the right name for it in English, once I get the name on the internet; I tell him what it is. While I was educating him on the theoretical aspect, he was educating me on the practical aspect. After training, I went for my diagnosis training at Adedams Autos in Mobil house where I was taught how to make diagnosis on cars. Then, I started my own garage which I’ve been operating since 2014.

Challenges while training

When I first started training, I was seriously sick for the first three months. I thought I wouldn’t be able to do this work again. My body totally broke down. After a lot of rest and treatment, I became fine and I asked myself, “Bunmi, do you still want to continue this?” because if I stop now, there is no point leaving the 9 to 5 job. I just had to continue because I felt like this is the only thing I had to do to make an impact.

Moreover, the first lady mechanic also inspired me to continue. I came across her after my training. And I said to myself that, if this woman can do it, I should be able to do it, so, I continued.

Being her own boss

Truly, I was scared but being who I am, I have always loved challenges. I don’t run away from challenges except its giving me mental stress but as long as it’s something I can weave my way around, I do it. Moreover, what was giving me joy was that before I left my boss’s place, I already had my own customers. I was already servicing my own personal clients’ cars. That gave me a little edge and I was able to tell my clients that I had relocated. Also, I found out that people are just so curious to find out what a woman could do with their cars and they’ve never been disappointed.

How she feels being a mechanic

That is the testimony. I have never regretted opting out of a 9 to 5 job. It has been so fulfilling because in a couple of years, what I could not achieve with my certificate for 7 years, I was able to do it as a mechanic within two years. I’ve been privileged to sit with the vice-president, with the first ladies of this nation simply because I’m a mechanic; I’ve been opportune to talk at women conferences where powerful women are simply because I’m a mechanic.

Reactions from first time customers

There was a time a guy brought his car to my garage and said, “please where is the mechanic?” and I said, “I am” and he still asked me again, and I said “I am” and then he said, “please, we need to see the mechanic,” until I said “this is me.” There’s this stereotype when it comes to this type of work that is male- dominated job. They always wonder if it’s true. Initially they give me a look of “are you sure you can do it?” after I have finished their work, they are surprised. It is funny because we have many female mechanics around. There are thousands of female mechanics that Lady Mechanic Initiative has produced. And we have them doing well in companies or on their own.

Her husband’s reaction

When I first started, he was like, “don’t tell anybody yet that you are training as a mechanic.” After a couple of years, I found out that he was my number one marketer. He would call his friends and tell them that “my wife is a mechanic, if you need to service your car.” He’s so happy with the path I chose because he has seen how rewarding it is for me and the home. I repair his and my car too.

Guess work vs Fact

The latest models of cars now are not what it used to be. The reason people think we don’t have great mechanics in Nigeria is because there are a lot of guess work with the local mechanics. But in our own case, we see cars as humans. We have machines that have been manufactured strictly for car diagnosis. So, when you bring your car, we pass your car through the diagnosis machine, then, you give us your trouble code. From there, we interpret what is wrong with your car and we are able to fix it without any guess work. Local mechanics have the experience and are also good but when you are educated, you have an edge especially with the diagnosis machine.

Dealing with the perception that mechanics are dubious

What I am enjoying in this work is integrity. Integrity is lacking when it comes to vocational skills but when you know what you are doing and you align it with integrity and honesty, you will go places because the best thing you can do for yourself and brand is for people to be able to trust you with their money. Over the years, I’ve been able to earn my client’s trust. If I tell you the cost of an automobile part, if you go anywhere, as long as it is an original part you are getting, you won’t get it cheaper. I will tell you the exact amount of the parts and my service fee. In fact, you can get the parts and bring it. But I tell my clients that if they get a fake one and I fix it for them, it will not be my fault.

Lessons her job has taught her

As a woman, this job has taught me to “find yourself”. Don’t confine yourself to society rules. If you really want to make an impact, you have to be different. By being different, you have to find who you are and what you can do and go for it, irrespective of the challenges and hearsays. I remember when I started training, some of my friends said, “it is finished for Bunmi. She is now a mechanic.” To tell you the truth, one of them is in training right now as a mechanic when she saw what I have achieved being a mechanic.

Also, comfort makes you complacent. I’ve found out that most of the white collar jobs make you so comfortable. It makes you so routinal and you are so complacent about your life that you don’t think that you need to add value and make impact. So, you need to get out of your comfort zone to achieve your goals.

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