Repair Shop Goes Female-Friendly, Green; Downtown Garage Gets Two Thumbs Up

By Darron Kloster, Times Colonist

February 12, 2011

With women playing an increasing role in household earnings and deciding how a family’s money is spent, a Victoria automotive company is changing its service model to reflect the trend. Victoria Transmission & Auto Care is the first vehicle repair facility on Vancouver Island to adopt the Female Friendly certification. Founded by influential blogger and Los Angeles-based consultant Jody DeVere, who has the ear of big automakers and suppliers around the globe with her advice-based website by women for women, the firm has certified more than 1,000 auto dealers, tire and collision centres and repair garages across the U.S. and about 200 in Canada.

To make the grade, Victoria Transmission and Auto Care’s 18 employees completed month-long training sessions on how to best serve female customers and communicate with them more effectively, offer regular information clinics to women on everything from changing tires to engine repair and have women working in the shop.

And there are finer details, such as comfortable waiting rooms with beverages and showroom-like restrooms. Indeed, owners Adam Sullivan and Peter Block hit that one out of the park with a bathroom just off one of the vehicle lifts of their downtown shop that is painted in designer colours, equipped with bright, modern lighting and has a decidedly sweet scent from a vase of fresh-cut lilies.

DeVere, who was in Victoria Friday to speak to marketers, cut a ribbon at the Government Street shop and liked what she saw. Women, she said, expect this kind of service -and respect -from auto centres today. “Women influence 85 per cent of the buying decisions in North American households, effectively becoming the family’s chief purchasing officer,” said DeVere, also a spokeswoman for major tire and oil companies.

Earlier this year during the National Auto Dealers Association keynote address, Toyota president and CEO Jim Lentz lauded DeVere for her efforts pushing car dealers to better serve female customers, who are buying as many cars as men.

DeVere said the AskPatty certification helps garages like Victoria Transmission & Auto Care ensure employees communicate more effectively with female customers, ensuring “they feel safe, respected and empowered, which creates tremendous customer loyalty. This commitment to women shows management is serious about earning their business.”

Victoria Transmission also got a rare endorsement yesterday from the Sierra Club of B.C. for commitment to a sustainable workplace. The company sends all of its oil, solvents and other chemicals for refinement at various facilities, including windshield washer fluids which are produced by an Island company that uses rainwater runoff to produce its product.

Sierra Club managing director Susan Howatt said it’s the first nod the environmental organization has given to an auto repair garage. She noted Victoria Transmission is a dry shop, meaning nothing is washed down drains. It offers environmentally friendly maintenance packages using recycled oil and synthetic products that last longer and plans are underway for a transition to more powerconscious lighting and other initiatives to go green. “There will be a day when it’s all going to be electric cars and I think this shop will adapt to that,” said Howatt.

Fran Jobin, a service writer at Victoria Transmission and the first person most customers see, said the focus on female customers is showing in the increasing numbers of women who bring their vehicles in for repairs or service. “We take them through step-by-step on their repairs and show them why things have to be done,” she said. “They really appreciate that.”

Sullivan, who bought the business from the Wille family last year with longtime manager Block, said trust is everything in the auto repair business. “Our philosophy with women is education and with all our customers it’s transparency,” he said. “If you give them that, you have a customer for life.”

Island Honda in Courtenay is the only other AskPatty-certified business on Vancouver Island.

Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist