What woman hasn’t had a car mechanic nightmare story?
Often you hear tales of women being taken advantage of by mechanics, and a 2013 study by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management found the the complaints are just talk; mechanics actually charge women more for repairs. “Shops believe, rightly or wrongly, that women know less about cars and car repair. In the absence of information to the contrary, they will be offered a higher quote,” reported the Atlantic.
Patrice Banks got tired of hearing stories like this and decided to do something about it. So she came up with a business idea: Girls Auto Clinic (GAC), a company that caters to women and aims to educate and empower women through their cars.
Women spend an estimated $200 billion a year on buying and repairing their cars, Banks notes, so why shouldn’t they be empowered with knowledge about automobiles so they can negotiate better deals and make sure their mechanic is actually dong the work they’re hired to do? Great question. Thankfully, Banks has answered her own charge and now the woman who also authored “The Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide,” is set to open a full-service mechanics shop, Girls Auto Clinic Repair Center, with a feminine twist in Philadelphia in October. In a recent interview she told us her plans for the auto garage and more.
MadameNoire (MN): How did you get interested in Auto repair?
Patrice Banks (PB): Prior to this I was really an “auto airhead.” I didn’t know much about automobiles. But one day I was talking to a cousin of mine whose car was always breaking down and she was talking about how much auto repairs were and how women are treated and it just hit me. Why not start something were we could educate women about auto repair so they couldn’t get ripped off?
MN: So how did you learn enough about autos to go into such a business?
PB: I was an engineer with DuPont, but I knew DuPont wasn’t my legacy. I got paid well but it was just coming to work looking forward to Friday and my vacation and I knew I didn’t want to live like that. But when I started taking auto repair classes at night, I couldn’t get enough. I was so into it — more into it than I ever was in engineering. I couldn’t wait to learn more.
MN: Was it scary leaving your full-time job?
PB: I was lucky I had a savings. If I didn’t have a savings I would be more scared. But when I decided to do this I knew I had to get hands-on experience, so I went around and volunteered my services as an auto mechanic. I got turned down by three men, but then the fourth one hired me. And I still partner with him today on different projects. And then they offered me a full-time job. I won’t lie it was a big pay cut, but I was happy, really happy in what I was doing. I left DuPont in 2014 and went for it.
MN: Now you are opening your own repair shop. Is that a big leap?
PB: I am so excited and anxious and scared at the same time. I just closed on the shop. This is like five years in the making. I was saying this back in 2011–that wouldn’t it be great to have a full-service auto repair that caters to women. You know I believe that when you put something positive out in the universe it will come back to you, and you have to be ready for it. But it’s still scary when you are an entrepreneur. I have been talking a lot of sh-t and saying a lot of stuff– I am a female mechanic and I am going to save the day. I didn’t know this — the shop — would happen. I didn’t know I would get a quarter of a million dollar loan from the bank. I was talking a lot of sh-t and didn’t know it would really happen but you must have faith that what you put out there will come to you. But I am the type of person to plan, plan, and plan. I think about all the things that could go wrong so I try to be prepared. I did a lot of research before I moved ahead.
The shop will be for women, though all are welcome of course. But we will be hiring female mechanics, all female car repair technicians. There will be something really different.
MN: What is the special touch?
PB: While women are waiting for their cars to be fixed or washed, we will have a full-service nail salon and a blowout bar–so you can have a mani-pedi and get your hair done while you wait. It will be called So Clutch Beauty Bar.
MN: You always hear of bad mechanics stories when it comes to women
PB: I have been told so many stores, and it happens to women across the board. One of my students, a female with a successful business who drives a Mercedes, took her car in for repair and the mechanic told her $2,000. A few days later her ex-husband took the car in and the mechanic told him $300. That’s a big difference.
MN: Did you get any push back to your idea?
PB: Not too much in the beginning. I did get some naysayers but I am pretty much the type of person when I have my mind made up it will be hard to convince me not to move forward because I usually think things out. I can think of only three people who said this doesn’t make sense –and they were all men.
MN: You make being a mechanic sexy–wearing red heels while fixing a car.
PB: You know, that just happened. I wasn’t even thinking of an image. It’s just me, who I am. But you know some women got offended and said I was furthering a stereotype by wearing tight pants and heels. But hey, that’s me. And I won’t apologize for being me.
MN: What are your future plans?
PB: I want to, of course, expand the shop into other cities, but I am also encouraging the STEM sector to include a push in machine technology for women. I attended the State of Women conference at the White House with Michelle Obama and it was amazing and I made a connection with the Department of Education and I talked to them about encouraging more women into machine technology. There has been a push to get women into STEM, but it has mostly been in coding. But we need more female mechanics, plumbers, engineers and I want to start this movement, this discussion.
MN: Advice to other entrepreneurs?
PB: Plan. Make sure you are prepared. Take a risk. And remember some of the most successful ideas come from ideas that were common sense. The ideas that make you think, why didn’t I think of that? Mechanics think women don’t know about cars, and they take advantage of it and it’s an accepted fault. But I was like this is a problem and I am going to put it out in their face and solve it and I knew it had the potential to be big.
The first thing I would say is save up your money. If I didn’t have money saved I wouldn’t have had the freedom to do this, and you might have to change your lifestyle. I gave up vacation and buying clothes but I am so busy I don’t miss any of that.
And I know this may be difficult to do for single parents, but try and surround yourself with a support system, with people who believe in you. Don’t get afraid to put yourself out, it may take three or four times to find something you are good at, but keep trying.