Professional Carwashing & Detailing

The Eves of car-care

October 11, 2010

The car-care industry has been progressing and developing into a more professional sector, and along with these changes, professional women have been coming to the forefront of this evolution.

What was once known as a male’s only club is now becoming increasingly integrated with successful, capable, driven females.

Professional Carwashing & Detailing spoke with some of the most successful women in the industry to find out why women are the new consumers to focus on, the employees to hire, and the future of the car-care industry.

Ladylike at the lube
Sue Ackley gave up manicures and facials for grease under her nails, four XPress Lube locations in St. Louis and the title of president of the Automotive Oil Change Association.

According to Ackely, she was suddenly thrown into the car-care industry, but quickly began to realize she enjoyed what she was doing, she was having fun, and she was good at it.

Ackley sings the tune familiar to many women in the car-care industry; they didn’t really consider the sector especially tailored to them, but once they had a foot in the water, they couldn’t help but dive in.

Ackley also represents the growing number of women owning and operating their own businesses, a trend that Jennifer Tio, president of The Car Care Council Women’s Board, said is on the rise.

“I think there’s been more and more women realizing that they can really succeed in this (car-care) industry,” Tio said.

According to Tio, more women are taking on the role of owner or manager, even if their technical aptitude is not above average.

“There’s so many opportunities open to women,” Tio said, “and I think they are finally starting to realize that.”

Not just sales ladies
As the industry begins to change, women are changing their locations at the wash or lube by stepping out from behind the sales counters and into the bays.

Ackley admits that her best salespeople tend to be her female employees, however, at her lube she has several women that can do everything, including work in upper and lower bays. She said that everyone she hires can perform all the roles.

“When it’s really a man’s business, you have to be a little bit better and know a little bit more,” Ackley said.

In her opinion, women can be a great asset to a car-care business because they can explain directly and simply to customers what service is needed and why.

Nicole Blanchard, the human resources director for Benny’s Car Wash in Louisiana, told PC&D that Benny’s is a testament to the changes taking place in the industry.

Approximately half of their staff is female and they’ve had various women move through the ranks of the company beginning as cashiers and eventually ending up as managers.

According to Blanchard, Benny’s recently had a young lady who worked in every position that the wash had outside. She graduated from college and Benny’s was eager to keep her on their team, but unfortunately she moved on to a different occupation.

Educating equally
The car-care industry is an industry to which women do not naturally gravitate. However, the Car Care Council Women’s Board has made it part of their mission to inform women of the employment opportunities available, and in some instances, supply them with the means to get there.

In 2004, the CCCWB gave away five scholarships to women who were planning to enter the automotive field. Three scholarships went to post-secondary students and two went to high school students.

According to Tio, the 2004 winner will become a master technician before she turns 21-years-old and has plans to become a master machinist.

Tio said that she has encountered more women working in the technical field, but also in research and development, and engineering, typically male dominated areas.

The rise in women taking on more technical jobs has increased the need for more equal educational options.

Employment in the car-care industry can be a fulfilling career for anyone, male or female. Northwood University in Michigan offers an automotive aftermarket program that certifies males and females in the aftermarket industry.

As the car-care industry becomes more professional and more universities begin to offer degrees such as Northwood’s, it’s fair to say that the number of women considering the industry as an employment route will rise as well.

It’s important that these women have the right educational tools available to them to reach their goals and excel.

Female friendly facilities
When Linda Feriod, executive director of the Carwash Operators of New Jersey, was younger she sometimes felt very uncomfortable at car-care facilities. The way she was spoken to and treated left her feeling uneasy.

Today she is proud that her father’s business, Magic Touch Car Wash of Levittown, PA, only hires employees, male and female, who talk to women with respect. She believes this is essential to attract and retain female customers to a facility.

Feriod said that she thinks that women are a carwash’s biggest customer base, especially in the tunnel sector.

According to Ackley, the car-care industry doesn’t focus enough on the women consumer segment, which she believes probably makes up about 60 percent of the entire customer base.

XPress Lube sites offer parents a play area for their children, because Ackley said she realizes that 15 minutes of waiting is a long time to a child, but if the child is crying, it’s even longer to the parent.

Ackley’s shops try to ease that burden by making the visit as pleasant as possible.

Ackley said that women employees communicate well, sometimes actually better with female customers than their male counterparts because they don’t take it for granted that women understand the technical jargon often used at a car-care facility.

Being able to explain things to female customers on a level that can be easily comprehended is important. Most female customers appreciate the education, according to Ackley.

Classy car-care

Car-care facilities are already beginning to realize how important the female consumer segment is, Tio explained. Now, the goal is to draw women from the community to female-friendly car-care facilities.

Blanchard said that Benny’s has had success with a Powder Puff Class that it offers and coordinates through local sororities. The carwash offers the class, which aims to educate females about their car maintenance needs, free of charge.

According to Blanchard, the class helps the females who attend it understand that Benny’s will take care of them and their car in a way that is comfortable and cooperative.

Car-care facilities can help bring in new women customers by:

  • Offering free car checks on designated days to women customers;
  • Setting up informational programs to assist female drivers on continual maintenance and general needs;
  • Offering a discounted day for women to come in and get their oil changed.

Showing local female residents that the wash is concerned about their needs and caters to them will make their introduction to the wash easier.

The Car Care Council Women’s Board provides educational materials to businesses that are interested in hosting events or seminars to better inform their female customers.

Tio recommends beginning an initiative program to bring women into car-care facilities in April because it is national car-care month. She suggests contacting the local media, working with a charity or a group, and making it a fun event.

Ladies in the limelight
The total number of women working in the car-care industry is nowhere near equal to the number of men. However, according to Feriod, the women that are involved need to earn the respect they deserve and step into the limelight.

Feriod said that unfortunately a lot of really talented women aren’t recognized for their efforts because they’re hidden behind the scenes, or behind their husbands or fathers.

In most cases, the wife or daughter may be actively involved, but it’s the husband or father that attends the conventions, Feriod said. She’d like to see that change and thinks that it will.

So, how can women in the industry earn the respect and recognition they deserve?

“They’ve got to do their homework, so when someone asks them a question, they know the answer. They shouldn’t need to turn to anyone else for help,” Feriod said.

“And if they run a successful carwash or car-care business they need to be really proud of what they’ve done, because it is a hard business to run.”