Saffron Allan is a Female Business Ambassador for Arundel Road Garage, a female friendly garage in Angmering on the outskirts of Worthing in West Sussex. The business carries out a wide range of mechanical car repairs, MOTs and car servicing.
Please tell us about you – your background and experience
I would describe myself as an all rounder. I started at AmEx in customer services, have been a BUPA nurse, have run two businesses (including a rest home) and sold advertising.
What is your job and what does this entail?
I am the Office Manager for Arundel Road Garage which means, in brief, that I look after the customer, the staff and the business suppliers. The only bit I don’t do is repair the cars. In terms of what I do, this involves database work, accounts, administration, marketing, payroll and ordering parts. It’s an extremely varied role which is what I like about it.
What brought you into the motor industry?
The garage is run by my partner. When he needed help it was to provide the customer service side of the business which was what tempted me most. I then saw other areas I could help him with and so my role developed.
What makes this a good job for you?
I love dealing with people first and foremost and it’s a busy work environment where I use all my communication skills. I am the voice (and face) of the business and I work hard to be a friendly contact at all times knowing that the garage industry has a poor reputation, especially with many women. Times are changing fast in the motor industry and it’s a competitive world where women are getting more aware of their choices.
What services does Arundel Road Garage offer that seem to appeal to busy women in particular?
I am a working Mum so I understand the pressures of juggling home responsibilities alongside part time work and being at the school gate on time. It can be seriously stressful when your car lets you down. We offer a local car collection and delivery service, by appointment, and when it makes more sense for women to wait we have a warm and comfortable seating area with magazines for them. We’re children, prams and dog friendly too! Women are more aware and yet wary of garages and they have to be cost conscious in today’s environment which is where a good independent garage scores well.
What advice would you give to young women looking to work in the motor industry?
I’d start by explaining that the industry is crying out for more women so it can become the unisex business environment it needs to be in today’s society. We are seeing more female customers than ever and they expect to be treated as women not men. If they’re like me, female staff are natural communicators I’d say and they’re the perfect link between the customer (men and women both) and the workshop. You don’t have to be mechanically minded or use jargon in a customer facing role although there are specialist apprenticeships for women nowadays if they want to be an automotive technician – this job has changed massively in the last few years. I’d also add ‘be brave and be prepared to close your ears on occasion’ this is still a very male industry in many ways!
What advice would you give employers looking to recruit women for the first time?
I’d say think carefully about where you advertise for staff to be sure you reach women and employ them for their skills, experience and personality not for their looks! Your life will be easier with a woman involved because she’ll tidy up areas you haven’t noticed need tidying… Your customers will love it, hopefully your staff will too and most importantly the right women will attract new business because you’ll be seen as a female friendly business alongside many others that aren’t.
And on a final note…
I think the business rules for garages have changed massively recently and for the better. They need to change the way they do business for females in future because women have different needs from men and they can’t afford to lose their business and their referrals if they aren’t happy. Women customers have to change their habits too – they need to be better informed, more aware of their choices and more confident so they aren’t overcharged or patronised in future. There is a serious need for more of the right females to join the industry and make it more female friendly for staff and customers in future. And there’s more business to be won for the garages that get it right ahead of the rest.
A FOXY footnote…
Thank you Saffron. The female customers you describe sound like members of FOXY Lady Drivers Club to us. Thankfully any garage we work with (like Arundel Road) signs the female friendly FOXY Promise to ‘never overcharge, patronise or sell women services they don’t need.’ That goes a long way towards reassuring them that they will be treated as women and given the respect they deserve.