I am the Industry

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Three industry professionals tackle the idea of diversity and how the auto care industry benefits most with a more inclusive workforce.

Within the pages of the 2022 Ratchet+Wrench Industry Survey is an answer to the question of gender. If you’ve taken the time to read the 2022 survey or surveys past, you’ve likely noticed that 90% of all shops are male-owned and middle-aged men are making the decisions. While the survey doesn’t ask the question of race, nor does it provide space for self-identification, data collected by career data research firm Zippia reported that more than 65% of auto technicians were white, followed by Latinos at 17%.

But that doesn’t represent everyone working to build excellent repair shops. A recent column in The Seattle Times was headlined, “Some auto repair shops aren’t what they used to be. And that’s a good thing.” Indeed, the industry thrives when more people get interested in automotive repair and diversify the field of industry leaders.

This month, get to know a few of those leaders who have tons of experience in the field and spoke to Ratchet+Wrench about what it means to be part of an under-represented group in a dynamic business.

Within these vignettes, you’ll meet the following people:

Fernando Miranda, vice president of Transformers Institute. Throughout his career, he’s managed the parts counter and owned the shop. Today, he leads enterprising shop owners to successful outcomes through Transformers Institute.

Melanie Schambach, sales trainer at Sales Fix Academy. She helps service advisors improve interpersonal and sales skills to grow their shops. She went from a green front counter assistant at Euro Fix to its top-selling service advisor.

Eli Allison, founder of Repair Revolution. His passion grew from solving social problems in casework to creating opportunities in car repair. Despite discrimination from financial institutions, he successfully got funding for his shop, Repair Revolution, which has become a home for marginalized people on both sides of the counter.

Here, they share their journeys and insights on the auto care industry as it relates to diversity and inclusion from their demographic perspectives. They also offer advice for shop owners on how to be open-minded toward people of differing backgrounds and offer encouragement for making the industry a more inclusive place for all to prosper.

Fernando Miranda

Occupation: Vice president, Transformers Institute

As told to Ratchet+Wrench  

I started in the automotive industry when I was 21. I needed a job, and I went into the local AutoZone and got hired as a part-time sales associate. I became a store manager, and I was the only person there who spoke Spanish; I was the only bilingual associate. I didn’t realize it at the time, but soon I had a following. Every time I worked, I would have a lot of [Hispanic] people waiting for me, and then when I became a store manager, I realized, “OK, I can’t be the only one on the counter that’s able to help all these customers.” I started looking at hiring other employees that were bilingual as well, and we realized that we started really getting busier and busier—the more bilingual salespeople I hired, the busier we got. Prior to that point, no one thought that the store where I was would be considered a Hispanic market per se. It was not predominantly Hispanic, but the fact that I was bilingual, and I took care of the customers the right way—I treated them with respect and gave them the time of day—they started being very loyal. They started telling their friends about the place as well. It happened very organically and that’s when I realized, how does it go, “If you build it, they will come?” or I guess you can say, “If they build it, they will come and bring their friends with them.”

How the auto care industry can be more inclusive to its Hispanic customers 

I think a lot of times that’ll happen organically. When that team started representing more of our community, we saw tremendous growth. Most customers that are doing business with you are going to be from the community where your shop is, and if you resemble that community, you’re going to attract more and more of that client and also create retention, which is ultimately what I consider true success.

[Hispanic people] are very loyal. They will drive past other auto parts stores—and I guess the same can be said for the auto repair side of the industry—if you treat them, right … if they feel appreciated, respected, and they feel valued.

How the auto care industry can be more inclusive to its Hispanic workforce 

Every good company I have ever worked for, the ones that I consider a great experience, had a great culture; a culture that was inclusive. I think that’s the biggest piece is creating that inclusive feeling … Hispanics are real big on culture. We find it appealing to be part of an almost family-like culture—that speaks to us.

When you think about the Hispanic community, myself included, it’s about the American dream, and it’s about being able to succeed and be successful. I think as an industry, we need to do a better job improving the image of the industry and communicating to not only Hispanics—but also to the younger generation—that it can be very rewarding, very fulfilling, and very lucrative. We also need to do a better job to become more appealing to the Hispanic culture to show them that you can be a successful business owner if you enter this industry, whether you come in as a tech or whether you come in as an advisor, there’s an opportunity for you to realize the American dream. I know a lot of very talented Hispanic technicians that have gone on to become successful shop owners—we work with some of them here at Transformers Institute—and now they have multiple shops that they operate.

How the auto care industry can be more inclusive in its hiring practices 

Don’t try to hire everyone that looks and thinks like you. I think a lot of shop owners do that. They look for a person that they’re going to relate with, and they need to look at attracting and bringing in the people that are going to relate to their customers and to the rest of the staff.

I think it all comes back to understanding which customer you’re trying to attract and who is going to do a better job engaging with that customer and building that relationship. You got to think beyond transactional. No amount of marketing you do is going to make up for that one-on-one interaction with your team that truly connects that customer to your business.

Look to really create an inclusive culture … If you’re a shop owner that wants to truly be involved in the community, understand your community, what they look like, what they think, what they’re about, and try to mirror that community within your business. I think if you do that, you’re going to find success.

Melanie Schambach

Occupation: Sales Trainer, Sales Fix Academy

As told to Ratchet+Wrench 

I had no automotive experience when I joined the automotive industry. I have a degree in hotel and restaurant management and hospitality. I was searching for a new job and saw an ad on Craigslist for a front counter assistant at a shop called Euro Fix. When I applied and interviewed for this role, I was sold the vision—the vision of the shop, the culture of the shop, and where my career path could lead. You could grow and move up to a service advisor, assistant manager, manager, district manager. I became one of his top service advisors at his three locations—normally No. 1 in sales—and that’s coming with a background of no car knowledge. Now I’m a sales trainer, helping other people to grow their industry and in this career.

Why is female representation important for the auto care industry?   

Representation is huge. As a sales trainer for Sales Fix, I personally get to help grow so many women in their careers, and I get to help mentor them as well. We just had our Shop Hackers Conference, the largest conference we’ve ever had. I think we had 1,200 people at that conference, and we had several [women speaking]. We also had two breakout sessions and they were just for women in the industry. We had a panel discussion on women. It’s so great just to see representation in this industry, seeing all these amazing women in the room and getting to hear their stories, their struggles, how they’ve overcome them, and how they’ve succeeded. Seeing women being mentors, speaking at industry events, coaching, training, networking, using social media to network, being featured in automotive magazines like Ratchet+Wrench and being on the cover. Women see those things and it’s inspirational for us.

Where can the industry improve in providing opportunities for women?   

I’ve been super lucky enough to start my career in the automotive industry at such great shops—Aaron Stokes’ shops and a shop that I worked with at BMW. They had a wonderful culture, they had great benefits. And I’ve seen for myself some of the shortcomings in the industry when it comes to women. For example, not providing a clear vision, not having the best culture within the shop or the team, not having the most welcoming environment.

What value do women bring to the shop environment?    

Women have great communication skills, which is what’s needed as an advisor. Women have great levels of being able to show empathy and service advisors need to be able to have empathy for customers that are coming in. It’s not a fun process to have your car break down or be left stranded. So having that advisor that can really empathize and show support, and then help guide the customer into a decision that’s going to fix their car and keep it safe.

[Shop owners need to] really sell that vision. Women can think they have to know about cars to work in the industry. When I first got in, I was a little nervous, I had no automotive knowledge, but that knowledge comes over time.

How has the industry embraced you as a woman?   

I’ve been super lucky enough to start my career in the automotive industry with Aaron Stokes’ shops, and with a shop that I worked with at BMW—they had a wonderful team, a wonderful culture, great benefits, and not just your normal benefits, but ongoing training, career development, and team building events. Throughout my time in the industry, many leaders have built me up, empowered me, listened to my feedback, and created a very welcoming environment for not only me to succeed, but for women to succeed in general.

What does the industry stand to gain by embracing women and what does it lose when it does not? 

There’s so much to gain. [During a Shop Hackers] breakout session, “Women in the Industry,” we had a woman technician in the class. She was young, she was confident, and she’s a technician. And we’re seeing more of that, too. I have heard of women technicians in several shops, and I think just embracing that. If the environment is correct, if there’s a welcoming environment, it’s really going to help grow the team, the shop, the culture. It’s not always men dropping their vehicles off. It’s a lot of women; working mothers dropping the cars off. When they’re seeing women in the shop, that’s also creating a warm and welcoming environment for them too because car repair can be scary. When they see that representation, it helps build that trust, build that rapport, build those relationships.

If you have that mindset of not letting women into the industry, then you’re losing out on some really great talent, losing out on having a team that is diverse.

Eli Allison

Occupation: Shop owner, Repair Revolution

As told to Ratchet+Wrench 

Cars have always been a passion. I entered this industry about 15 years ago as a queer person, female-identified (or at least people identified me as female). I have a background in the social justice/social work space and worked for nonprofits for a number of years. One of the things that I saw in that work was how critical transportation was and how much transportation was left out of the conversation when we talk about economic equality. I would see women clients come in whose cars would break down, and … I would go over and try to help them get their car started and often was successful. It was rewarding, but it was also just this eye-opening experience of how critical transportation is. I decided to change careers.

What has the industry been like for you as a member of the LGBT community?   

When I left the nonprofit world, I decided to go to school and get certified as an automotive technician and do this thing that I love, and maybe it would be a little less stressful to follow this passion. I realized very quickly, it’s a rude awakening to go to trade school as a queer person. I had to work twice as hard to prove myself. I had to put my head down and deal with some pretty intense sexism, homophobia, and sexual harassment. It’s so hard for any women, queer folks, people of color, or any marginalized folks to be in this industry as an employee, much less as a customer. So, at this crossroads, I was like, I can either leave the industry altogether, or I can open my own shop and do this differently. And so, Repair Revolution was born.

Do you see yourself as providing a welcoming opportunity to marginalized communities that all people should be given?   

Absolutely, I’m providing an opportunity. The whole reason we exist is to be a safe space for marginalized customers and technicians to thrive that wouldn’t thrive otherwise in the industry. So, by law of attraction technicians having the same experience I had are attracted to our shop and apply to work here. We are very intentional in our hiring practices. We make sure to put that we are a welcoming space for women, LGBTQ, and the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) community at the front of our job announcements. It is something that is very important to us to make sure that we are welcoming folks from those communities. We’re intentional about where we post. A lot of folks find out about us through word of mouth. Everyone that works here has a story to tell about their experience in the industry as a marginalized person. And most of them were in the same position that I was in, at a crossroads, like, “Do I leave this industry?”

We’re very vocal about who we are, and that feels important. It felt really scary at times. It definitely can be a vulnerability, but for the most part, it’s been our superpower. We have amazing community support for our business, so I think that we naturally sort of attract folks that are like, “Oh, this feels like a safe space, or this feels like a business that I want to support because it’s in alignment with my values.”

How is the industry a good one for those in marginalized communities and where does it fall short of the mark?   

I think where the industry falls short is it’s an extraordinarily hostile work environment for anyone that’s not a white cis man (a person who identifies with their birth gender). This means that we’re leaving out a huge portion of the workforce and we’re operating from this deficit where we don’t have enough technicians and yet, the industry has not created a welcoming environment for women and queer folks and the BIPOC community.

But I don’t think the problem is as much around diverse folks entering the industry, it’s around retaining diverse workers in the industry. I mean welcoming folks in having representation at a leadership level, creating policies, holding the good old boys accountable. All of that stuff’s really important. But it’s not just about attracting a diverse workforce. It’s about retaining a diverse workforce. And that is a daily task.

What I see the industry doing now is tokenizing women. I can’t even tell you how many classes I’ve seen at conferences for technicians that are, “How to attract women customers”: keep the bathroom clean, have a woman at your front counter. That’s not how change actually happens. That’s not how you create welcoming work environments. That’s not how you truly create an inclusive work environment at all. That’s just tokenization. I think shop owners need to understand and be employee-centered in order to keep employees from marginalized communities and really have policies and practices that aren’t discriminatory. People need to take a look at their environments, take a look at their benefits, take a look at leadership in our industry. As long as cis white dudes hold 95% of the CEO positions for major manufacturers and parts companies and are the major players in our industry, then marginalized folks aren’t centered in leadership because when marginalized folks are centered in leadership, they take into account change that needs to happen in order to welcome folks from that community.

What makes the industry great for all?   

I think that it’s a great alternative to a four-year traditional academic path. It’s a challenging career in a fun way; technology is constantly changing. You can learn something new every single day. I’ve been in this industry for a long time, and I cannot think of a day when I haven’t learned something. It’s also very rewarding to be able to fix something that’s broken—to push something in your bay and drive it out. That, for me, is super rewarding.