Women face foreign language at repair shops

Tara DeBruin, co-owner of Ladies Choice AutoCare in Hamilton, estimates that close to 65 to 80 per cent of all car maintenance errands — oil changes, detailing and even major repairs — are either dropped off or picked up by women.

At the same time, she acknowledges that many women customers feel uncomfortable, some even feel intimidated, in an auto shop. Her research also shows that less than one per cent of all automotive technicians (formerly called mechanics) are women. And very few automotive garages are owned by women. De Bruin knows that, for many women, automotive repair and maintenance language can sound much like a foreign language.

This past March, sensing a void in the automotive repair market, DeBruin and her husband Mike, a 25-year veteran of the automotive repair sector, opened the aptly-named Ladies Choice AutoCare, “Home of the Driving Divas.”

The “women-friendly” repair facility — 40 per cent of their staff are women, including the shop area — offers up comfy designer chairs, gourmet coffees and teas and shopping from auto accessories to jewelry. There are spa services, too. Women can have a manicure or pedicure, for example, while their car is being serviced.

While the decor and services are female-friendly, DeBruin emphasizes that, to her way of thinking, “safety is number one,” which is the rationale behind her decision to offer car clinics aimed at women. “In many households, women are the primary drivers, taking children to activities, doing grocery shopping and other errands,” she said.

The initial clinic attracted more than 25 women eager to understand more about the workings of their car — details from maintenance issues to what should be contained in an emergency roadside kit. DeBruin is also looking to educate young women drivers. She has plans for a mother/daughter car care clinic, a combination of car repair and maintenance and spa services.

Driving Divas also offers free Child Car Safety Seat Clinics every Sunday by appointment. Staff members of Ladies Choice AutoCare are trained and certified by St. John Ambulance to inspect and install child car safety seats.

DeBruin may well have tapped into an emerging sector: she has received e-mails from across the country from women interested in knowing if she wants to franchise her concept.

LaurieAnn Campbell also believes there’s opportunity for women in the automotive repair sector.

Last year, Campbell — who has a background in the automotive sector both in sales and as a service provider for a top automotive repair company — purchased the well-established Molloy’s Auto Service in Stirling, Ont. She is currently studying to become an automotive technician.

Educating women so that they feel more empowered, comfortable and confident about discussing their cars is one of the key strategies at Molloy’s, she says.

The shop has scheduled its first ever Women’s Car Clinic — 30 minutes of networking with refreshments, 30 minutes of theory, followed up by 30 minutes of practical information.

The information includes basic maintenance — such as how to check oil or coolants; roadside safety; and an overview of what to look out for in regard to basic repairs such as noises; and maintenance schedules.

DeBruin feels a mission to change the face of the automotive repair industry and attract new, youthful, skilled women workers. “There’s a shortage of skilled trades in Canada. We want to attract and encourage women to consider this trade, to think of becoming an automobile technician as a good career choice,” she says. “It’s a myth that this industry has to be greasy, dirty and a ‘man’s job’. Automotive is getting more and more high tech.”

Campbell agrees that the perception of the sector needs to be updated. She feels that forging a “community” among Canada’s female garage owners, automotive technicians and parts counter staff, is important in attracting — and retaining — women in what is “clearly a male-dominated industry.”

Photograph by: Hugh Wesley, Canwest News Service, Canwest News Service