The Erlank family story
Vlam Panel Beaters is not just a well-known and trusted name in Newcastle, but throughout Northern KZN. Francois Erlank is the sole owner at Vlam Panel Beaters. He talks fondly of his grandfather, Frans and his father Hennie who started the business back in 1971.
“My grandfather, who was a qualified panel beater, decided that he was going to take a leap of faith and start up his own business in Ladysmith. At the time my father was doing his basic training at the South African Police Services. My father, of course, grew up watching and helping his father in the garage. He quickly left the SAP and joined my grandfather in business.
He ran the Ladysmith branch while my grandfather ran the Newcastle branch.”
The Erlank family lived on a farm just before Majuba Pass, so the commute to Ladysmith and back each day became a little overwhelming. Hennie decided to move back to Newcastle and join his father at their branch there. “
They worked hard, long hours and made many sacrifices, but that is what the panel beating business asks from you.
My granddad had a total of eight children and my dad had four. I’m the only one who joined the family business.”
Just because Francois’ father owned the business doesn’t mean that he started in a managerial position. “My father believed in working your way up in a business, and by doing so learning all the aspects of the business.
I started off as an apprentice in 1994 and four years later I was qualified. My dad made me work for everything I wanted. In hind sight, it was the kindest thing he could have done for me.”
After he qualified everything suddenly changed for Francois. “Dad was diagnosed with cancer and he couldn’t spend as much time at the workshop as he used to.
I had some big, experienced shoes to fill. I had to learn fast.”
Francois’s Dad Hennie Erlank lost his battle to cancer in 2005.
“My father will always be a great inspiration to me. He was thorough and took great pride in his work. Every job he did he did to perfection,He loved cars and he considered every car a personal matter to him.”
Francois stuck to his father’s business ethic of thorough work.
Keeping the customer and their needs first and delivering on their promises.
“My grandfather and father had their own way of doing things, I have taken Vlam into the 21st century. We are now accredited by nearly all insurance companies. We have so much technological advancements making our lives easier and helping us work more effectively. Embracing change is what keeps us current and at the cutting edge of what we do.”
Through his journey at Vlam, he has had the pleasure of working with some inspiring people. “Our workshop manager, Gert van der Merwe started here around the same time as I did, we have walked a long road together through some challenging times, but our dedication and hard work over the years has certainly paid off.”
To start off with, Vlam was positioned only on one site.
Francois and Hennie together obtained a second business site. Over the years the company has grown so much that Francois had to develop even further. “As we stand at the moment we cover four premises.
I’m extremely proud to have the honour of taking what my father and grandfather built-up and worked for into the future, and to watch it grow and expand. I know that this is what they would have wanted.”
Francois is thankful to the community of Newcastle and the surrounding area for their loyal support over the years. “If it wasn’t for the amazing support that we get from our community we would certainly not be where we are today.
Nobody likes to have to go to a panel beater, it is usually a stressful experience.
We want people to have complete peace of mind when they bring their vehicles to us knowing that at least they don’t have to worry about their vehicle as it is in good hands.”
He is passionate about sport and the development of sport. “We are the proud sponsors of the Vlam BP FC soccer team which is part of the SAB provincial league and Amajuba district. Giving back to the community is our honour. In collaboration with Champ Marketing we also contribute sponsorship to one of Newcastle main calendar events Blood buddy Memel to Newcastle.”
Heritage Day will be a special day for the Erlank family. “Family is important to us, not just those people we care about at home, but also every one of our staff members. We usually close for the day.
At home we braai, sometimes extended family will come to visit and sometimes just a few friends will drop by. Either way, enjoying Heritage Day is about being proudly South African and being thankful for everything that we work so hard to achieve.”
Get It Northern KZN & Midlands October 2018