Women’s dreaded trip to the mechanic is no longer a hassle thanks to the Girls Auto Clinic, a female-owned and -operated auto repair shop and beauty salon in Philadelphia, Pa.
With women being the No. 1 consumers in the automotive industry, spending $200 million each year on their cars, GAC owner Patrice Banks felt it was time to give the automotive industry a boost of female empowerment. So, she opened an auto repair shop for women, by women.
“The reason I decided to cater this space to women … is because I saw an incredible opportunity when I was researching for myself to find a female mechanic,” Banks said.
“I didn’t grow up in the automotive industry. I was an auto airhead. I didn’t know about my car and I was feeling very disempowered. And that’s what gave me the idea to be like … there needs to be some female empowerment in the automotive industry. There needs to be some changes.”
After four years in the making, Girls Auto Clinic opened its doors in January 2017 to provide women with the resources they need to be responsible car owners. The shop is replete with a repair service center operated by female mechanics and a hair and nail salon for customers while they wait for their vehicles to be serviced.
GAC also prides itself on providing resources like books, classes and online tips to make women more informed about their cars. For instance, the shop offers hands-on workshops where customers can work and learn on their own cars.
“What GAC does is it empowers you with the knowledge to understand your car, what it needs taken care of, how to talk to a mechanic, what to do in an emergency, etc.” Banks said. “Our mission is to educate and empower women through their cars by providing automotive buying and repair resources, products and services.”
Banks said the idea for her “female empowerment company” first came to her when she went back to school for automotive technology in 2012. Two years later, she quit her job as an engineer at DuPont, ditching her sxi-figure salary to work in a garage. From then on, she worked and trained in preparation to open a repair shop of her own one day.
For Banks, the most common concern women have before walking into the average, male-dominated repair shop is being mistreated or taken advantage of, which she linked to the lack of women working in the automotive industry. That’s why she stressed the importance of hiring female techs and having them teach other women about their vehicles.
“A man isn’t going to know what emotional needs drive a woman to buy a car or request a repair service,” Banks said. “You sell to us differently because we are different. … It was a big problem I thought I could solve by empowering women to work in this industry, to be owners and to be in positions of power and influence.”
The seasoned auto tech added that the biggest mistake women make in regard to their cars is making poor, uneducated decisions. She likened the way women treat their cars to the way one might’ve been treated by an ex-lover: they don’t know the real you, they don’t take care of you and they cheat on you.
In the case of our cars, we cheat on them by taking them to different mechanics. All bad news.
“We’re just not educated on how our cars work and how to take care of them,” Banks explained. “And so, because of that, we don’t take care of them well. And it leaves us open to be taken advantage of, but it also leaves us open to make really bad choices that are gonna cost us money later down the line.”
Que the birth of the Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide, a handy-dandy pamphlet-sized booklet that gives both male and female motorists the rundown on their cars — how to fix them, how to speak to a mechanic and what to do in case of an emergency. It’s essentially everything one would learn during a GAC workshop in book form.
Banks authored a self-published version of the guide while she was in the process of opening her shop.
“The workshops are long; they’re 2-and-half hours and they’re interactive,” she said. “But you’re only going to retain 20 percent of that information. So, I wanted to give women something they can take home and keep in their glove box.”
A updated version of the GAC Glove Box Guide is set to hit shelves Sept. 19 but is currently available for pre-order.
When asked what’s been the toughest part for her being an entrepreneur, Banks said it was getting to know herself. From being aware of what she was good at and what she wasn’t so good at and the challenge of figuring out how to get someone to help in the areas she struggled in. She said sometimes those challenges require you to up your own skills.
“And that’s really tough because a lot of people aren’t self-aware,” she said.
After just seven months in business, Girls Auto Clinic is off to a great start, snagging Philadelphia Magazine’s prestigious “Best of Philly” award. Though GAC’s repair services will remain in Philly for now, Banks has plans to expand her resources to other cities and states across the nation.
“The resources are likely the first place we’re gonna start expanding,” she said. “You’ll see us doing workshops in different states and a lot more video blogs and public speaking with the book.”
Banks is also looking forward to snagging some investors, as her business is entirely self-funded. She recently joined an accelerator program called Billion Dollar Funder Circle with entrepreneur Ingrid Vanderbilt, founder of Empowering a Billion Women by 2020, that’s aimed at advising business owners how to scale their companies and win investments.
“My whole brand is sort of like a movement of women that are becoming empowered with their cars, and that are learning,” Banks said. “So, we’re providing them with this valuable information that’s just gonna make them smart consumers and confident drivers.”