Waiting for her Nissan Murano to get new tires, Sabine Hayes sat at the counter at Clutch Beauty Bar at 7425 West Chester Pike as a yellow “Mellow” was painted onto her nails.
“It’s not intimidating,” Hayes said. “I feel very comfortable leaving my car here and what I like that they do is … they actually take you to the garage to show you what is wrong with the car.”
The beauty bar is in fact one part of the Girls Auto Clinic, a woman-owned garage employing a team of female mechanics for car repairs – although more are needed – and cosmetologists and stylists for the lounge/self-care area. Owned by Patrice Banks, Girls Auto Clinic opened in January and the emphasis is as much on education as empowerment and transforming the industry.
The clinic was a gradual process that started in 2009 when Banks posted a Facebook status reading, “My car needs an oil change but I’m going to get a mani/pedi instead.”
And she did.
“When I wrote that, the guys were commenting, ‘This is why women shouldn’t drive,’ ‘You’re going to be stuck on the side of the road with a blown engine,’” Banks said. “The girls were like, ‘At least she’ll look cute when she’s thumbing for a ride.’”
At the time, she described herself as an “auto airhead” with almost no knowledge of cars, even as she worked at DuPont as an engineer.
Then, she remembered who she was within.
“I’ve always been someone who had an idea in my mind and I went after it,” she said. “I was never afraid to go after my dreams or any ideas that I had that I thought were cool or different that excited me.”
She tried soccer, which she wasn’t phenomenal, basketball was OK – but it was crew that she tried for the first time when she went to Lehigh University where she found her athletic talent as part of a gold medal-winning team.
“That’s what made me think, ‘What’s wrong here, Patrice? You’re an educated, empowered woman and you still don’t know anything about your car and you feel very powerless,’” she said.
She thought of the previous mindsets.
“It was something we just had to accept – that’s just the way it is, I can’t do anything about it, I have to still go ask a man,” Banks said. “That’s what so many smart women subscribe to and not just that stereotype but a lot of stereotypes women subscribe to that tell us we can’t do it. We just need to change the way we think about this stuff to understand that it’s for us, we can get it, we are capable, we belong here, we deserve to be here and we need to be here.”
So she wanted to find a female mechanic to start educating herself but Internet searches only found five women-owned shops throughout the country.
Then, one day, she was talking to her cousin, who was dissuaded from being a mechanic when she was younger, and Banks conceived of the idea to have a garage with female mechanics with an accompanying nail salon.
“I told her I’m going to go back to school to do this and I did,” she said.
Banks made the decision to tap into a largely reached resource in the automotive industry: Women.
“Women are the Number One customer in this industry,” she said. “There’s women influencing up to 95 percent of the car buying decisions. We’re the Number One buyer of brand new cars. We’re the Number One customer for repair and there are more women drivers than men across all age groups.”
She said she is determined to make the industry more accessible to this customer.
“We need to have a space for us in this industry,” Banks said. “Less than 2 percent of mechanics are women, less than 7 percent sell cars.”
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