On Bathurst Street just north of College, you’ll find Ms. Lube by Mechanchik, a rather unique auto shop that opened in March 2009. Owned by Jessica Gilbank, a licensed auto and motorcycle mechanic who specializes in vintage cars, this is the first and only all-female automotive service centre in North America.
Jessica hadn’t planned to become a mechanic or open an auto repair shop. Studying Business and Politics at Western University, Jessica began her career working in corporate communications on Bay Street. But it just wasn’t for her.
She had always been interested in cars, attending car shows with her father. She was driving an older car that often needed repairs, but she thought it cost way too much to fix it and the mechanics weren’t explaining what was wrong. She took a mechanics course at Durham College, got an apprenticeship and finished the program at Centennial College.
Jessica has worked at both Mercedes and Volvo, and was the first licensed female technician at Mercedes in Canada. Mercedes had implemented an equal employment policy and there were people who said she was hired only because she was a girl. In fact, Jessica was selected as one of fourteen out of 400 applications. These top candidates were given a test—a car was bugged and each had to locate the issues and fix them. Jessica achieved the highest score and was the only applicant to find all the problems.
“To be successful at this job, women have to do better because it takes more to prove yourself,” Jessica observes. If you’re in a class with a bunch of guys you always have to be in the top five percentile.”
Jessica has also taught in an all girls auto apprenticeship program, and knows how difficult it is for female mechanics to secure an apprenticeship. “Many shops won’t hire women,” she says. “Women usually have to accept whatever is offered, while the guys get to choose from several offers.”
At Ms. Lube by Mechanchik, Jessica gives female mechanics a chance. “It’s important to me that women have a place to learn, that there is an opportunity to teach them what they need to know,” she says.
Jessica’s number one goal for her shop is to deliver outstanding service. “Customer service is so important,” she says. “But especially in the auto industry which has a reputation for poor service.” She points out that some auto trade magazines now have articles about how to perform better at customer service including improving cleanliness, organization and communication.
Jessica tells the story of a female musician from Montreal who had an ongoing problem with her car. She had taken the vehicle to numerous shops who charged for various repairs, but it never solved the problem. She was playing a gig in Toronto and brought the car to Jessica.
After asking questions about the problem, Jessica checked out the car. She then went online and found a technical bulletin—it turned out it was a manufacturer’s problem and was on recall. Many people don’t know this fact, but unless there is a safety issue with the vehicle, car companies are not obligated to notify their customers of recalls. Jessica took the car to the manufacturer and it was fixed for free.
The musician was thrilled the problem was finally resolved. Jessica didn’t charge for the time. “It just took a couple of hours of research and the manufacturer did the repair. We just found the problem,” she shrugs.
Since then, this happy customer has recommended five of her friends who are now loyal customers. This happens often. “We haven’t done any advertising,” says Jessica. “The business is building through word of mouth and referrals.”
Judging by the satisfied repeat clients and referrals, Jessica has the right idea about customer service in the auto industry. “I saw a business opportunity to open a shop as a woman, to be able to talk to women—and to men—and give them the information they need,” she says. “That’s what women do best. We watch out for each other.”