Patrice Banks’ Auto Repair Shop Is More Than a Business — It’s Her Mission
When Patrice Banks was an engineer at DuPont, she occasionally spoke to groups of girls to encourage them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM fields.
She found the girls incredibly smart, talented, confident and unafraid to learn new things. Seeing them embrace new subjects inspired her. It made her ask herself what she wished she knew more about.
Banks considered starting a blog to teach women to do some of the jobs they’d typically pay a man to handle. She asked women in her community what they’d like to learn to do themselves. Repeatedly, she got the same type of response. Women wanted to learn how to work on their cars and not feel clueless or taken advantage of when they needed to visit an auto repair shop.
Banks set out to find a female mechanic who could tell her what women needed to know about their cars. The problem was, she couldn’t find one.
So Banks turned to Google, thinking maybe she could find some helpful resources online, but her search was unsuccessful. When she typed “female mechanic” into the search bar, the first thing that popped up were stock images of bikini-clad women posing next to fancy cars.
Determined to find the answers herself and fill a gap in the automotive market, Banks went back to school in 2012 to learn automotive technology. She was the only woman in her classes — and the oldest, a 32-year-old among recent high school graduates — but she didn’t let that stop her.
And now when she types “female mechanic” into the Google search bar, the first thing that pops up is her business: Girls Auto Clinic.
Changing the Face of the Automotive Industry
Girls Auto Clinic, Banks’ auto repair shop, caters to a predominantly female clientele. The business opened its doors in January 2017 in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia.
Banks says she prioritizes open communication and transparency, explaining to customers what work needs to be done in easy-to-understand terms. She describes the shop’s lounge as “a clubhouse for women,” with wine, coffee and refreshments available. There’s space to relax with a good book, an area to work on a laptop and a kids’ play section to keep the little ones entertained.
Banks also owns a nail and hair salon — Clutch Beauty Bar — adjacent to the repair shop so customers can be pampered while they wait for their cars to be serviced.
The shop isn’t just a haven for female customers. It’s also where female technicians can find their place in a male-dominated industry. Banks loved solving problems as an engineer and identified the lack of female representation as one of the biggest problems the automotive industry faced.
“If you really want to get this right, you gotta fix the root cause, and that is hiring more women,” she says.
Of the five auto techs at Girls Auto Clinic, four are women.
A New Beginning
Banks says she didn’t grow up around cars or with a dad who was a mechanic. In fact, she says she was pretty clueless about cars. For the most part, she’d just turn the ignition and go.
“I made really stupid automotive decisions that cost me money,” Banks says. “I always felt like I was being taken advantage of and I needed a guy to help me if I needed to go to a mechanic or buy a car.”
She didn’t want other women to feel that way.
“I tell people Girls Auto Clinic is not an automotive company, it’s a female empowerment company,” Banks says. “I’m here for women. I started this company to help women, not because I’m a car enthusiast, because I wanted to own a repair center [or] because I like to turn wrenches. That’s not why I’m here.”
Banks hosts free car care workshops at the shop once a month from April to November to pass along her automotive knowledge to other women in her community. She’s also inspiring the next generation. She says her customers bring their kids into the shop just to witness women working on cars.
Banks says there’s a big push to get girls into STEM, but the focus is typically on coding, computers and engineering — not automotive technology. But many car systems today are run by computers, and she says there is a lot of STEM application involved in working with cars.
“I didn’t see the female empowerment side happening in the automotive industry like it was happening in other industries, and I thought, why not be someone who starts that?” Banks says.
The Future is Female
The doors of Girls Auto Clinic have been open for less than two years, but the business has achieved success in that short time.
The shop was awarded “Best of Philly” in the multipurpose garage category in its first six months in business. It has a five-star rating on Yelp, a 4.9-star rating on Facebook and a 4.4-star rating on Google.
Banks says people drive from hours away to visit the shop.
“Someone came from Toronto just to meet us,” she says.
Banks said she often gets asked when she’s going to bring Girls Auto Clinic to other cities. She has received requests to open a shop in Los Angeles, Atlanta and just outside of Washington, D.C. Folks from Colorado and Ohio have also expressed interest.
Recently, Girls Auto Clinic launched a 30-day crowdfunding campaign to raise $100,000 to go toward expanding the business to new locations. Twelve days into the campaign supporters had helped raise more than 52% of the goal.
Banks’ dream is to franchise future locations, creating more female repair-shop owners.
“It’s incredible the impact that we’re having,” she says. “It just gets me really excited. It just motivates me to reach more women, to open more repair centers and start making this vision come true.”
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’d love to take her car to Girls Auto Clinic.