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Chatting with the SheCANic, Patrice Banks

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NOLN recently sat down with Patrice Banks, author of “The Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide,” and founder of Girls Auto Clinic, an auto repair shop she owns outside Philadelphia, staffed by female mechanics, to talk about women, the industry and her book.

NOLN: You mention being an “auto airhead” in your book. Do you think it’s a learned cultural trait, where women generally don’t pay attention to their vehicles?

Banks: I do think it is a culturally learned trait. It seems much less common for young girls to be encouraged to pursue interests in these types of fields, and there is a lot of fear and mistrust surrounding the experiences of automotive repair. Cars are getting more and more complicated, so more people in general don't understand them, both men and women.

NOLN: What was your experience like going back to school to learn automotive technology? Were the men in your classes (and instructors) supportive or dismissive?

Banks: At first, I found myself holding back — not answering questions or stepping back and letting the guys be the ones to try things in front of the class, because I was scared. But when I realized I was doing that, I realized I was only holding myself back from learning and playing into their thoughts that girls don't really want to do this stuff. So I changed my approach, became bolder and took more control in getting myself educated.

NOLN: What do you bring to the industry as a woman that’s unique?

Banks: I bring the ability to think like the automotive industry's No. 1 customer, women. My goal is to empower and educate women, so they can feel good and comfortable about the decisions that they make for their car.

NOLN: Your experience of going back to school illustrates that many women can do this. Why aren’t more women going into automotive technology right out of high school?

Banks: Girls in general are not encouraged to pursue these roles. I think trades in general are suffering because so many people are being made to believe that a four-year college degree has value and trade paths aren't being presented to them as a viable option.

NOLN: You obviously understand empowerment. Why aren’t more women empowered enough to take caring for their vehicles seriously?

Banks: I think it starts off as just a lack of knowledge, and then that lack of knowledge turns into shame, which is very un-empowering. That shame can cause some women to have walls up and expect an unpleasant experience when going in for service, so it gets put off. Educating women about car care helps them, as well as the business. If they can feel more confident and knowledgeable about their vehicle, it decreases the tension that may occur when someone comes into the shop expecting to be taken advantage of. When people understand more about what maintenance tasks are, when to do them and why they are important, they are more likely to take care of that, which will help prevent extremely costly repairs that could lead to the feeling of being ripped off.

NOLN: Do auto shops have to have a nail shop next door to attract women?

Banks: No, I think the biggest draw here is that we let people know that they are going to be treated with respect and educated about their vehicle. The empowerment, respect and our message are what attract people to us. The salon is an added bonus!

NOLN: What are two or three immediate things a shop owner can do to put up a “welcome sign” for women, letting them know their shop is a “safe zone” for their vehicle?

Banks: I think the biggest thing a place can do is to hire women. Have someone in a position of making decisions that understands the experience of the customer you are trying to target. I think diversity benefits any workplace. It can provide opportunities to see problems differently. I think it can help shops relate to their customers and understand them and their needs differently. Another thing they can do is think about holding some car care workshops. If people feel like you are educating them and adding value to their life, they will be more likely to get behind your brand. Let the way you market your shop make it clear that someone coming into your shop won’t be judged or made to feel ashamed of any lack of knowledge. Girls Auto Clinic holds a free workshop every month, and we view it as our cost of getting customers.

An Essential Guide for Your Customer's Glove Box, Written by a SheCANic

Patrice Banks, author of “Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide,” someone who admits to being a “former auto airhead,” recognizes that while women represent an important demographic in terms of marketing and being potential customers to auto-related business owners. Banks’ own journey is one based on education, which led to empowerment. From there, Banks ended up founding Girls Auto Clinic, a woman-run auto business with female mechanics.

Like many entrepreneurs, Banks left a place of comfort to start down the road toward something very different. She left a job with a six-figure salary as an engineer at Dupont and enrolled at Delaware Technical Community College. During this time, she was also working at a couple of Philadelphia-area garages for free. After completing her training, she opened Girls Auto Clinic in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. She also opened a manicure-pedicure salon next door. All to communicate to her (mainly) female customers that they mattered.

Never one to lay low, she’s now written a how-to guide for women (and men) with the goal of helping vehicle-owners properly “maintain their ride,” “think like a mechanic” and “get down and dirty under the hood.”

Banks’ story personalizes the information in the book. From there, she segues into an easy-to-use “how to take care of your car” handbook.

Read the full review here.

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