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Philly-area salon-and-auto repair shop goes after female customers

Patrice Banks is the owner of The Girls Auto Clinic Repair Center, a business with the goal of demystifying auto repair to women. Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

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Wearing a backwards red ball cap, skinny jeans and high-heel boots, Patrice Banks is doing her thing at the Girls Auto Clinic in the Philadelphia area. “That vroom, vroom noise you hear at a shop is called an impact gun,” Banks said.

Women have immense purchasing power in the auto repair industry. But car repair shops aren’t known for catering to them. Banks is trying to change that. Her business model targets female customers.

Banks quit her engineering job at DuPont and enrolled in automotive school, in part because she was uncomfortable going to auto repair shops.

“I felt like an auto-airhead. I hated all of my experiences going in for an oil change, being upsold all the time for an air filter. Any time a dashboard light came on, I’d panic. You know, you hear a noise on your car, you’re like, ‘Ahhh, no.’”

That experience inspired Girls Auto Clinic: an auto repair shop and salon. While customers get their car fixed, they can also get a mani, pedi or hair styling.

“That’s what I want it to be like: a clubhouse for women,” Banks said.

Banks runs a monthly car clinic for women. And she has a local TED Talk called “How I Plan on Disrupting the Auto Industry in Red Heels.”

“I’m a mechanic, I cater to women,” she said, taking a big gasp to demonstrate the surprised response she sometimes receives. “I get this gasp. Because it’s so unique. And it’s so needed, and most of the time, it’s like, ‘Why hasn’t this been done before?’”

The sign for Girls Auto Clinic features a red pump with a wrench for a heel, and points out it also offers manis, pedis and blowouts — along with auto repair.

Philadelphian Susan Sweeney first found Banks through the auto repair workshops.

“I did not know that girls could go in automotive field,” said Sweeney.

Now she’s one of the mechanics at the shop.

Patrice Banks and Devon Supper work on a car at the Girls Auto Clinic. Banks’ shop employs all women mechanics.

Denny Bowen, president of the national Automotive Maintenance & Repair Association,  said women represent about 65 percent of auto repair customers. He knows of other female-owned shops, but hasn’t heard of any that focus on one demographic.

“I can see why there might be some reason to do that, and maybe there is a target market there,” Bowen said.

One of Banks’ customers, Brandi Lewis-Anderson, said her loyalty stems from “angst about going to the mechanic that I was going to. And that’s the worst thing, is when you trust your mechanic and they play you.”

Now, she said she feels more relaxed about getting her hatchback fixed. And the manicure while she waits doesn’t hurt.

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