Automotive repair can be scary for any customer — whether male and female. That’s because not knowing how a vehicle works can instill trepidation among customers and lead many of them to worry about being taken advantage of by a repair shop. The best way shops can combat this fear is through customer education.
With more and more women making primary automotive-related purchasing decisions, including service and repair decisions, forward-thinking shops are trying to better educate this important clientele base. So, in recent years, many shops have decided to host women’s car care clinics as a means to educate customers.
Signal Garage Auto Care, with two locations in St. Paul, MN, started hosting clinics in the mid-2000s when it noticed an influx of female customers wanting to learn more.
“We came to realize that we actually have more women dropping off and picking up cars and making decisions on cars at our shop than men…You could tell they felt a bit sheepish asking questions. You could tell they wanted to get the answer, but didn’t know what to ask,” shares Rami Derhy, president and co-owner of Signal Garage. “Then we started hearing comments over and over: ‘You guys are so friendly to women.’ ‘This is the first place someone offered information that was simple and easy to understand.’ ‘You don’t talk down to women.’ Pretty soon we came to realize we should put on some kind of basic information seminar.”
Houska Automotive, located in Fort Collins, CO, started hosting women’s car care clinics more than 10 years ago after being asked to present a class.
“We feel that part of our job is education. Whether you’re a man or woman, almost daily we have a customer coming into the back of the shop with the technician to show them what’s going on with the car,” shares Jon Monks, repair operations manager at Houska. “We think by educating them they feel more at ease and they can see what we’re talking about.”
Hosting a Successful Clinic
There is no single formula for hosting a successful women’s car care clinic, but there are several keys to success.
The first step is to select the right material to cover in the clinic.
Suzzette Phillips, part owner of Bovan’s Auto Service in Cliffside Park, NJ, recommends keeping the information included in the clinic simple and easy to understand.
“One of the things that we were realized when we started teaching clinics was, a lot of women were walking into shops and felt like they were being ripped off. No one really knew much about cars and they weren’t sure what the mechanic was saying,” she says.
Bovan’s discusses repairs and maintenance, pointing out what could happen if a car isn’t properly maintained. Phillips also relies heavily on showing rather than telling.
“If the women are able to relate, I find that a lot more successful…I make it simple. It can’t be over complicated,” she says.
Signal’s Derhy agrees that keeping it concise and easy to understand is best.
“People aren’t interested in cars as much as we are. I used to host a three-hour class where I was doing most of the talking. A post-event survey found I don’t need to talk that much,” he says. “We now have a 45 minute to a hour presentation that includes questions throughout.”
Derhy shares that the shop’s clinics now focus on how proper maintenance can lead to less expensive repairs, how to identify the best shops, and the difference between good and bad parts.
Other information that could be covered in a women’s car care clinic include: how to check fluids; how to jump-start a car; what it means when brakes are grinding metal to metal; tires impact on fuel economy; and more.
“We’ve always told people we’re not going to pretend you’ll be master technicians. We’re going to give you the information that you need to know. So if you do take your car into a repair shop, this is what the techs are talking about,” Monks says.
It’s a good idea to develop an outline of what you want to cover and leave time for questions. At Houska, Monks attends classes to sometimes help direct questions to the most useful information.
“I kind of direct some of the conversation, ask the question that the women might not know to ask…. Sometimes we’ll be talking about tires and how to choose a tire. Everyone automatically goes to price, which is not the best way to choose anything,” he says. “So, when we get to that conversation if somebody doesn’t ask that question, I’ll be in the back of the room and ask ‘What do I look for in a good tire?’”
All three shops advise having both good and bad parts on hand to do show and tell with attendees.
Another key to success is choosing the right location for the clinic.
Signal and Houska have found success hosting clinics twice a year at their locations. Hosting a clinic at a shop requires extra effort by the shop to make sure the facility is clean and presentable. It may also require the shop to close for a day, or have employees help with a clinic on a day the shop doesn’t normally operate.
Meanwhile, Bovan’s hosts its clinics off-site at churches, libraries, and women’s centers. The shop’s clinics are hosted based on request and Bovan’s has added a feature to its website to help with inquiries.
Phillips notes that it’s important to remember to bring everything along when hosting a clinic off site.
The last key to hosting a successful women’s clinic is to make it both educational and fun.
To help make classes more enjoyable for participants shops include food, games and gift bags for everyone in attendance. One shop has even recruited a fellow small business to conduct chair massages to help the women relax.
The options for how to tailor a car care clinic are endless and shops have unlimited potential to make it their own. Creativity is the key element in making clinics not only valuable, but memorable, too.
More Than ROI
While none of the shops host the clinics to increase their revenue, they all believe there is value and benefit to hosting the women’s car clinics. In fact, several are considering expanding the clinics to include first-time drivers.
“Most of the people who are attending your clinic are either already your customer or they already have a place to go. The purpose of the clinic is not to build my clientele. The purpose of the clinic is to provide information to the public to make the entire industry’s job easier,” shares Houska’s Monks. “We feel it’s our duty to give back to our community. Part of the way that we give back is through education.”
“We pride ourselves on doing amazing service. Anyone can fix a car, but we are known in the area as an honest shop and that’s what keeps us going,” says Signal’s Derhy. “I truly believe that if you do something for the community, they may remember you and support you back.”
“I believe if I can help one woman to know more about her vehicle to prevent being scared or ripped off, then I’ve done my job,” Bovan’s Phillips shares.
Keys To Car Care Clinic Success
• Make it fun. Food, games and giveaways are always appreciated.
• Prepare an outline and leave time for questions.
• Provide take-home educational materials. The Be Car Care Aware program (carcare.org) offers plenty of free materials that can be shared with attendees.
• Weekend classes have a higher attendance when they are hosted in the morning. Weekday classes are more successful in the evening.