Small Business Spotlight: Girls Auto Clinic

By Rebekah R. Tue, August 29, 2017

BRIC librarians went on the road to Upper Darby to find Patrice Banks, proprietor of Girls Auto Clinic and Clutch Beauty Bar, and soon-to-be published author of Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide. Patrice is combining a unique business model of serving women by "creating confident drivers and smart consumers" and giving women personal care services they want in pleasant surroundings while they wait for car service or repair. A big part of the Girls Auto Clinic business is the education of customers through workshops in car care and maintenance, and encouraging the technicians (mostly female) to take time to explain and demonstrate maintenance, repairs, and the economics of running a car.

While we waited for our talk with Patrice, BRIC librarians enjoyed a manicure by one of Patrice’s most recent hires, Sol. The salon side of the business offers manicures and pedicures, waxing, and some hair services. Patrice tells us she is always on the lookout for excellent talent on both sides of the business. One of her goals in starting the business was to create a workplace of empowerment and collaboration where women can hone skills and share knowledge with their fellow workers and the customers. She wanted to create a business she would want to patronize and a place where she would want to work.

Patrice was trained and practiced as an engineer with Dupont before deciding that she wanted to "change her vehicle relationship status" and go from being an "auto airhead" to a "SheCanic". She took auto mechanic courses at the Community College of Philadelphia, and then asked several places for an internship where she offered to work for free. It was then she learned how challenging it is for women to get started as an auto mechanic, because three auto shops turned her down or didn’t even respond to her offer in spite of her extensive training. She finally found a mentor at "Guy’s Auto Shop", located at 61st and Girard in Philadelphia, and got to see the everyday workings of an auto shop.

Her experiences have led Patrice to create a working environment committed to learning, collaboration, and transparency. She hires mechanics who are women. She is working to create the infrastructure for women to become mechanics. The business follows the industry standards for the cost of the job, but pays employees a consistent salary. Her compensation model is that employees receive salaries, rather than being paid by the job. Because of this practice, mechanics at Girls Auto Clinic are encouraged to take the time needed to do the job, talk with the customers, and collaborate with colleagues on problem solving and learning. Repeat customers drive from Harrisburg and Delaware for repairs, and from Virginia for the monthly SheCanic workshops. The business has a 5-star rating from Yelp, and became a "Best of Philly" award winner in 2017. The Girls Auto Clinic has had a very successful first year since opening in 2016.

We asked Patrice what she would recommend to entrepreneurs thinking about starting a business, and she had quite a few suggestions! 

  • Find mentors, people to call on, and an advisory board. Network and find people who want to help you and believe in your vision because YOU believe in your vision. Get free help wherever you can, including legal help, SCORE (her mentor is Larkin Connolly), and the BRIC!
     
  • Continue self-education and keep learning all the time. Read books, listen to podcasts, and go to workshops.
     
  • Make plans and stick to them, or make a decision to make a change. Believe in yourself, and be willing to fail and make mistakes.
     
  • Create an employee handbook. Take risks with people, but be willing to fire people, too. Learn to let people go when they are not the employee that you need. Train and develop your employees.
     
  • Learn about marketing and market research. Learn how to promote your business wherever you go. Have an elevator speech, a three minute pitch, a ten minute talk, and a thirty minute talk.
     
  • Know your cash flow. Where is the money coming from and where is it going? If you don’t know these things, you will not have a business.
     
  • Ask for help when you need it. Look for allies.
     
  • Go away, especially to the beach, to clear your mind once in a while!

We asked Patrice how she came to write the Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide. She explained that while working as an engineer at Dupont she was called upon to do many presentations, because she was good at it. She liked making learning fun and engaging. The Girls Auto Clinic offers a monthly SheCanic workshop. Patrice created a PowerPoint presentation to guide the workshop. She had the PowerPoint printed out with a spiral binder to provide to the workshop participants. Some told her, "You need to make this into a book!", so she self-published the workbook.   

After a TED Talk, and coverage by local newspapers and the Washington Post, TouchStone Books (an imprint of Simon and Schuster) reached out and Patrice got a literary agent to handle the project. Patrice realized that she was writing the book she wished she had when she was an "auto airhead". She is telling her audience, "I speak your language. I went from being an auto airhead to a SheCanic". She also assures readers that anyone can learn the core principals of what they need to know to be a confident driver and a smart consumer.

Patrice Banks has big plans, including expanding to another location in Philadelphia in the near future, being a leader in women’s empowerment, and a household name in five years time. Patrice was just chosen to be one of nine businesses participating in the EBW2020: Empowering a Billion Women incubator project.

Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide will be released on September 19 with much fanfare at the book release party in the Skyline Room of Parkway Central Library, sponsored by the Business Resource and Innovation Center. Get your tickets to attend and hear Patrice speak, network, and receive a copy of the book!  

Of course we asked this soon to be published author what she has currently been reading. She told us she always reads a fiction and a nonfiction book at any given time. Some favorite authors are Tim Ferriss, Tony Robbins, and Sam Harris. She recently read Before Night Falls by Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas before a trip to Cuba. Another favorite book is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and she reads The Prophet by Khalil Gibran every year. Patrice also recommends blogs and podcasts, such as Brain Pickings and Krista Tippett’s On Being.

Photo cred: Pete Bannan of Digital First Media
Photo cred: Pete Bannan of Digital First Media
Patrice and her team in action
Patrice and her team in action
Awesome design at Clutch Beauty Bar
Awesome design at Clutch Beauty Bar

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