Driving school owner discusses the risks of running a driving school during blocked roads – The New Indian Express


Express news service

CHENNAI: A blue colored Hyundai Eon with a bright red L-shaped sticker enters the parking lot of the Vijaya Driving School in Nungambakkam. Against the setting sun, wiping the pearls from his eyebrows, A Radhakrishnan, owner of the driving school and driving school instructor, gets out of the car, after finishing evening classes. “Don’t keep your hands stiff when latching onto the steering. Also, you have to apply the brakes so that the person sitting behind does not feel the shock, ”he advises.

It has been more than three decades since Radhakrishnan took the reins of the company started by his father R Anandan in 1959. Sixty years since its inception with a fluctuating economy, changing customer expectations, advances in the automotive industry, a fierce competition and a global pandemic, the driving school saw many rough roads, but the wheels kept turning.

“After quitting his job as a driver, my father started this school for better prospects in Nungambakkam. It is named after my mother Vijaya because my father started driving after marrying her. He used to park his Morris Minor with an L-shaped sticker on the main road in Nungambakkam. Passers-by stopped to inquire and then joined the classes. The fees were Rs 150 at the time. Soon he rented a shed in the same neighborhood, bought two more cars and moved there. “

“In 1977, government approval was required to run a driving school, and at the time we were the second licensed driving school in the city. Of the 20-25 driving schools that started with us, barely one or two have survived, along with 100 other players today, ”says Radhakrishnan.

Tracing the right path
In addition to the road traffic recognition maps and signs explaining the hydraulic braking systems, starting and charging systems and car engine spare parts hanging on the wall, the office has two mannequins equipped with an accelerator, a brake and a clutch. “My father was ahead of his time. He designed the dummy cars to provide an experience similar to what a simulator does today. This is where newbies learn to drive a car on day one and so do I. As a child, I cleaned the cars in our shed and accompanied my father in the backseat during his driving lessons.

I learned the skills by watching him and listening to his instructions. Shortly after I turned 18, I got my license and joined it, ”recalls Radhakrishnan. It has been a gradual growth through word of mouth, he says. Until 1976, the driving school had Morris Minors, Fiat models and Ambassadors. In 1989 they bought a few Maruti 800 models. Within a few years Santro, Eon and other sedans joined the list. Currently, they have four cars to teach their students. “Fuel prices have increased dramatically. However, we continue to offer 5 km per day for 22 lessons.

There is also no compromise on theoretical courses. Since March, we charge Rs 6,500 for driving instruction. After paying the instructors and RTO fees, there is virtually no profit. But that’s the nature of the business. Even in my father’s time, he earned enough to feed and educate us, but there were no savings, ”he shares. While Radhakrishnan focuses on front-end operations, his brother A Murali is in charge of RTO and licensing related work for their students. Two other monitors provide driving lessons for different groups of students from morning to noon.

“To this day, I come to the office at 5:45 am because most students prefer early morning sessions. From the age of 18, anyone in good physical condition is allowed to learn. At that time, there were only a few students and most of them came from well-off backgrounds. My dad had to go to their house, pick them up and teach them how to drive. But soon after I took over the business, I made sure everyone was learning in school. Now there are more students, ”says Radhakrishnan.

A bumpy road
While there has been a surge in the number of students with increasing purchasing power, it is the dedication that has diminished, says Radhakrishnan. “The students were on time and used to wait until they got there early for lessons. They would interact with other teammates. Even the parents encouraged us to be strict with them until they mastered the art. But now we have to be careful and patient. Students don’t like to be scolded. The point of taking other students in the same batch is to make sure that they observe and learn from the mistakes of others.

But everyone is glued to their smartphone. Some instructors drop out halfway and in this case I have to take charge of that specific student and teach. I cannot risk the business because everyone is a priority, ”he laments. Radhakrishnan agrees that not everyone who is a good conductor needs to be a good teacher. “Even when I select instructors, I observe them more closely and take them with me for driving lessons so they can see and learn.

There is a gift for teaching driving and that is what has taken me so far in my career. I have multigenerational clients. I always say: “you learn in our car and practice in yours”. A solid foundation is mandatory to drive and that is why you cannot learn on your own. If my students are driving well now, it is because of their efforts, so the credit should not go entirely to me, ”says Radhakrishnan, whose long list of clients includes comedian Vivek, actor Livingston, son of actor Janakaraj and other celebrities.

Travel matters
It is the loyalty of the customers, the tireless dedication on his part with his team and his hard-earned reputation that allows the driving school to operate even without advertising or promotion on social networks. “Nothing compares to recommending someone to opt for our school based on your personal learning experience there. It adds more credibility. It wasn’t until recently that my students told me that we had a good Google rating. Now I am focusing on improving this aspect as digitization is inevitable and you have to adapt. Apart from that, the RTO procedure for requesting a license has also been moved online.

We do not cover license work and driving lessons for heavy vehicles. It’s a different segment, ”he says. Radhakrishnan is not the type to get caught up in the mad rush. Customer satisfaction and personal satisfaction, he says, are important factors in measuring growth. “I have many clients who drop out of other driving schools halfway to join here. While the more sophisticated and expensive ones may look appealing, not all of them keep their promises. There are no shortcuts to learning and that doesn’t change over time, ”he says. They say when the going gets tough, the tough guys go.

Faithful to this principle, after having remained closed for four months since mid-March 2020, the driving school reopened after the relaxation of confinement on August 6, 2020. It has since been operating with the hygiene protocols in place. “In the beginning, when we were closed, I would take care of the licensing process for two and four wheels and I made a small amount of money from it. We were successful with the savings. Our high seasons are holidays. Fortunately, after opening we have the same number of 40-50 students per month. As colleges remain closed and most offices operate with the work-from-home policy, people choose to use this convenience.

I only take two people per trip to teach, one in front and one in the back. Vehicles are disinfected and masks are compulsory, ”explains Radhakrishnan, who is uncertain about the future of the driving school after him. “I will teach as long as I can. I’m not sure what the legacy of this long-standing driving school is after that, ”he adds. Only time will tell how long the Vijaya Driving School will manage to cover the long road ahead.

Address: 140, New no 203, Subbarayan Street, Valluvar Kottam High Road, Nungambakkam, Chennai: 600034 For details call: 28273614

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