"I couldn't find a female mechanic," Patrice Banks, the founder of Girls Auto Clinic, explained, "so I had to learn it [myself]."
There was a time when Patrice Banks avoided taking her car in for routine maintenance. "I was afraid I was going to be taken advantage of," she told NPR. "I was tired of feeling helpless and having to go talk to a guy." Like many women, Banks — who was a materials engineer at DuPont at the time — felt she'd feel more at ease with a female technician. However, this was easier said than done. "I couldn't find a female mechanic," she explained, "so I had to learn it [myself]." Determined to take matters into her own hands (quite literally), Banks enrolled in night classes at a technical school.
"I was the only girl with a bunch of boys, 19-year-old boys," she said. "That was interesting. I was 31." Banks eventually left her six-figure salary as an engineer and worked in a couple of Philadelphia garages for free to get some hands-on training. In 2016, she founded the Girls Auto Clinic repair center just off West Chester Pike in the Philadelphia suburb of Upper Darby. With a virtually all-female staff, Banks' auto clinic tailors everything it does around the needs of women. It even has an adjoining manicure-pedicure and blowout salon to make the shop more appealing and convenient for its clients, 75% of which are women.
Banks explained that clients prefer her auto shop because they need a place to bring their cars without having to deal with creeping concerns about getting ripped off or condescended. A place where those who want or need to have nicely manicured nails can check it off their list while getting their car looked at, and where kids are welcome to hang around and play, she added. Explained her decision to pair the auto shop with a nail salon, Banks said: "Me and my girlfriend that I worked with at DuPont would go to this specific Jiffy Lube on our lunch break because there was a nail salon next to it. We'd drop our cars off and we'd walk next door and get our nails done while we waited."
"We just thought we were the smartest people because it's lunch [and] we're killing three birds: We're out to lunch, we're getting our oil changed and we're getting our nails done and we're back at work all in about 45 minutes to an hour," she added. "It was fabulous and we would do that every couple of months when we needed our oils changed. I started thinking about opening this shop... Women, it's like a chore, we hate going in to get our oil changed — it's always a chore, it's always a burden. But we look forward to doing things like getting our nails done. And so I thought it would just be cute and just [be] the cherry on the top when I tell people, 'I have a shop that caters to women. Full-service auto repair, all-female mechanics!' They're like, 'Woah!' I'm like, 'And there's a nail salon there.'"
According to TIME, Banks and her staff also offer free monthly workshops, where anyone can come park their cars in the garage and learn how to check and maintain everything from oil to brakes to tires by themselves. Rich Carney, the only male mechanic on staff, revealed that the Girls Auto Clinic has a very collaborative environment. "We're not butting heads all the time," he said. "It's like everybody's working together to get that common goal."
Banks explained that it is extremely important to make customers feel comfortable at the shop. "People are coming in, especially women, with that guard up. In order to get them to trust you, you have to let that guard down. So No. 1 is just listening to them and respecting their opinion. Looking at them when they're talking to you... Stand in front of them and talk to them, and I make sure they don't leave without feeling comfortable about spending their money," she said. "I want them to say, 'Yes, my car needs this. I believe my car needs this and this is how much it's going to cost.' So we take them out to the shop and we show them."
"Mechanics do a lot of diagnosing from hearing, seeing, feeling, and smelling," Banks added. "So if we can hear, see, feel and smell it, so can you. So I'm going to show you what I'm looking for, what I'm feeling for, so you can feel comfortable and you know this is what's going on with [your] car... It's just about transparency and communication."