Patrice Banks was a failure analyst with an engineering background making six figures when she tried and failed to find a female mechanic. A self-described "auto airhead," Banks was frustrated with her lack of car knowledge and decided to become a mechanic herself. Earlier this year, she opened her own mechanic shop in Philadelphia, The Girls Auto Clinic Repair Center. She hires other female mechanics and most of her customers are women.
In addition to the mechanic shop and a monthly workshop series she runs, Banks is also now the author of a new book, "Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide." She talked to host Kai Ryssdal about the business. What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: We should say at the start that you have not always had a great relationship with your automobiles, yeah?
Patrice Banks: No, I called myself an auto airhead. And I was! I feared the auto mechanic. I always felt taken advantage of. I waited to the last minute, you know, to do any maintenance or repairs. Any time a dashboard light would come on, I’d kind of wish it would go away. And I always felt like I needed to ask a guy for help when it came to my car.
Ryssdal: I should tell you that I do all of those things as well. You don't start making noise and you turn on the radio and everything's good. I want a backup for a second though. You were, in your prior professional life, you were an engineer at DuPont doing, like, technical stuff, right?
Banks: Yeah, yeah. It was a failure analyst. I tell people my job was kind of like CSI. So when you think about, like, when planes crash or bridges collapse or buildings fall, failure analysts are the first people on site, they're gathering evidence to say why did this happen and how do we prevent it from happening again? So it was a pretty — it sounds really cool. It was a lot of being in the lab and looking in microscopes. But I got to run my own lab. It was really cool.
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Ryssdal: So there you were, 30 whatever it was years old—
Ryssdal: — 31, and you wind up going to like, night auto mechanic school or something?
Banks: Yeah. So I actually never intended to go back to school to be a mechanic. I was looking for a female mechanic. You know, I had a great career at DuPont. I'm making six figures. I was writing a blog for women, teaching them things that typically men know how to do or we have to pay a man to do. And as I was asking women what they would love to know that we have to pay a man to do or ask for help, they said overwhelmingly cars, and I thought, “Me too. I have problems with my car. Let me find a female mechanic, and she'll help me write some blogs for women and help me learn.” I could not find female mechanics, so I thought, "I'm going to go back to school and learn how to work on cars," because I knew that there was an opportunity to help women, to provide them with information that they need and that that market was big.
Ryssdal: You have all female mechanics in your shop, right?
Banks: Yeah, yeah. We sometimes have a guy that comes in to help us out. You know, we don't just hire women, we do hire men as well. But, you know, women are the No. 1 customer in the automotive industry, I don’t know if you know that—
Ryssdal: Well, yeah, they make most of the buying decisions for cars and all that.
Banks: Yeah, and $200 billion a year we spend on buying and repairing our cars. And 77 percent believe that women are taken advantage of and mistreated. And it just allows women to kind of let their guard down. When they see another woman, they feel more trusting.
Ryssdal: How's business?
Banks: Aw man, you know, business is tremendous. So we've been open since Jan. 1, and we're already cash flow positive, which is great for a new business. We've been getting a lot of press. You know, the concept is so cool, because I'm not sure if you know, there's a nail salon there, so you can get your nails done while you’re waiting for your car.
Ryssdal: I had hear, I was going to get there, you beat me to it. That’s smart, right?
Banks: Yeah, everybody thinks it's so cool. And you know, I got that idea because when I was working for DuPont, me and my girlfriend, on our lunch break we would go to the specific Jiffy Lube because there was a nail salon next to it. And we would get our nails done and get our oil changed, right, so we loved it. And I thought this would be great. You know, we go out of our way to get our nails done. We will not go out of our way to get our oil changed. So I thought this is great. Killing two birds with one stone. Also being inspired, being empowered, seeing women. You know, women come and say, "I've never seen a woman working on a car," and they bring their kids. I'm getting a ton of, you know, requests to expand and start franchising.
Ryssdal: So are you gonna? You know you’re sitting on a good idea here, right?
Banks: I think so yeah. You know, I get requests all the time, "Come to LA. When are you coming to Chicago, Atlanta? And I'm really excited. It's just a matter of time. And you know, I'm telling people, "Hold on, I'm coming. I'd love to be out there." My goal is to reach every woman driver. So yeah, I'm excited to start expanding and growing, and starting with this book I think is going to help us get the word out there.
Ryssdal: Well, so, about this book, it's called “Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide.” It is literally the thing you put in the glove compartment, and there's honestly — and I've never said this before about a book I've done on Marketplace — there’s all kinds of handy dandy, usable information in here as opposed to big economic theory stuff. What’s the one thing that people get wrong about their cars that this book is going to answer?
Banks: Oh, one? You know, I’d say the biggest mistake that we make with our car is just not fully understanding how to take care of it. I tell women, "We often treat our cars like our exes treated us, right? What do you look for in a good relationship?" Commitment, loyalty, someone that knows you very well. And we don't approach our cars in that way. We're in them every day. We don't know how to take care of them. We take care of our handbags better than we take care of our cars that are $20,000. So all this stuff is really great. It's in the book. And it's very relatable. It’s fun, it’s funny, and girls, it's going to make you laugh, because you're going to be able to think about your everyday experiences. And I know every woman has had one.
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