In the second of our ongoing series on women shop owners, we chat with Audrey Gottlieb, co-owner of Audrey’s Auto Repair Ltd. in Saskatoon, Sask. Audrey discovered that success in her business came down to a simple but effective idea: she sees customers as friends, and treats them that way.
By Martha Uniacke Breen
WHO: Audrey Gottlieb
WHAT: Audrey’s Auto Repair Ltd.
WHERE: North Industrial Area, Saskatoon, SK
SIZE: 5,000 square feet; 7 bays
STAFF: 7 employees
“When I was 20, I bought my very first car, an old Ford LTD clunker, for $300. When it started running rough, I figured I’d made a mistake, and put it up for sale. But a guy who came to buy it asked me if I had tried changing the spark plugs. So I tried it – changed the spark plugs myself – and it fixed the problem! So that’s what started a passion. I began fixing my friends’ cars and learning everything I could about repairing them.
“My first job was working as a sander at a paint shop. Over the years, I worked for several repair shops and gained experience, but after 25 years in the business, I’d had enough of shops that weren’t always honest with customers – and, as a woman, often making half what the men did for the same work.
“Eleven years ago, I met Tanya Lavertu – she was originally a customer, and we became friends. I told her how unhappy I was where I worked, and she said, you’ve got to get out of there! She was working with an architecture firm at the time, but had a vision of starting an independent business, especially one in a male-dominated field. She saw a great opportunity, and we became partners and started our own shop. We complement each other perfectly! She works as the service advisor, and I act as general manager, and we partner on the business side.
“What sets us apart? The term ‘preventative maintenance’ has been around for a while, but that’s what we want to instil in our customers. You might make more money just fixing breakdowns, but that’s not fair to customers. I’ve always treated my customers like friends and family, and treat my staff the same way. And in 11 years, our sales have doubled, and then tripled.
“Biggest challenge? Well, being a woman and opening my own shop was actually never the biggest challenge. There are actually more women in Saskatchewan than men, so many of them have sought us out, and said this is great! The biggest challenge, actually, was getting financial backing at the beginning. We had to prove to the banks that we could be a success in a man’s world.
“Am I happy we started the shop? Absolutely! Are women still treated badly in this business? Yes! To make it, I had to think better, work smarter, work physically harder – although, in this field, you don’t have to be physically stronger if you know what you are doing.
“Shop owners should never be fearful of having enough customers come to your door, as long as you are honest, and treat people with respect. Be kind to people. They’ll see that and want to help you back.”
This is the second in a series on Women Owners in Auto Service leading up to the 2018 Women’s Leadership Conference in Toronto, Ont., June 13, 14. presented jointly by the AIA of Canada and the Auto Care Association. For more information, visit the Women’s Leadership Conference Registration Page.