An interview with Georgina Heritage MD of award winning Parkford Coachworks

An interview with Georgina Heritage MD of award winning Parkford Coachworks

According to the Institute of the Motor Industry, men have outnumbered women 80:20 in the car trade for over a century, and of that 20% more than 70% work in admin or sales roles.

However, we may start seeing more female faces when we go to the garage because more women are taking on senior executive roles and technical jobs in the industry than ever before.

One woman ploughing a refreshing furrow in the car repairs sector is the Managing Director of Parkford Coachworks, an award winning, FOXY Lady Approved car bodyshop and accident repair centre, based in Maidenhead.

Georgina Heritage became Parkford Coachworks’ Managing Director last year, after working in the family business for eight years and when her father suggested she took on this role.

“Having worked in other trades beforehand I had a lot of outside experience, knew these skills were transferable and as I’d grown up around the car repair business it was all very familiar territory,” says Georgina.

“Dad always employed as many women as possible, even 30 years ago. When he was running the business, the workshop manager was female, the parts manager was female, and perhaps more in line with convention, the reception manager was female.”

Always employ the best, regardless of gender

“I don’t agree with positive discrimination – I believe in equal opportunities,” says Georgina. “I just employ whoever’s best for the job. You need a balance of men and women. But what stands out about women in this business is their ability to empathise and offer great customer care; this is particularly important in a trade where you’re dealing with people who are stressed out after being involved in a car accident.”

Georgina recalls a typical example of a moment when a woman understands how to take care of a sensitive situation.

“A lady came into Parkford Coachworks wanting some advice about an accident she’d had – an everyday occurrence here of course. But this lady was hardly able to speak she was so distressed and even less able to listen to the advice our workshop technician was offering. Before the advice was complete, the lady headed back to her dented car, started it up, and promptly reversed into a gate on the forecourt. You can imagine by now she was even more distressed and seemed almost inconsolable! So I went over and just said, ‘You look like you’re having a bad day. Would you like a cuppa?’ at which point, the lady visibly relaxed, and began telling me that her husband had just left her! She just needed a shoulder to cry on. And that’s a typical scenario here at the garage. I think it’s important to make time for that kind of thing. Not just focus on the practicalities.”

British Bodyshop Awards winner

It’s not surprising to hear that Parkford Coachworks recently won the prestigious Ageas Award for “Best Solution to a Customer Predicament” at the British Bodyshop Awards. She’s pictured in the centre of the photo at the top, in between Awards presenter Clare Balding and Ageas’s Operations Director Rob Smale_.

“Some car repair companies forget that most of the people they meet have never had an accident before. So good customer care isn’t a given.” Georgina explains. “And it’s so important to build the right relationships to help the customer through the process. We have contracts with Thames Valley police, traders, fleet users and numerous insurance companies.”

We were particularly interested to hear how she is regarded by male customers and men in the industry. “Parkford is a business like any other so as long as it’s well run, it doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman at the helm. I’m not particularly tech-y and I don’t pretend to be. This business is about much more than repairing cars. Quality and safety at work are my priorities.”

Clearly Georgina knows her bodywork repair subject inside out yet some men still think they know more, even as the customer.

“A male customer came in who’d been in the trade for many years. He wanted to explain a particular detail about a method of repair he wanted to tell the bodyshop technician about. Our female reception manager said she’d relay the issue, but he refused to tell her what it was, clearly implying that because she was a woman she wouldn’t get it right, and so he demanded to talk to the boss. So out I came,” says Georgina with glee. “His eyes were on stalks.”

Fortunately most men in the trade treat her as an equal, with the exception of a few engineers ‘who can be a bit dismissive’. But Georgina’s focus is on ensuring the business is well run and she talks passionately about the Kitemark Parkford Coachworks has achieved for safety and the quality of their repair work as well as the number of excellent young apprentices they employ.

Bodyshop repair careers for women

We ask Georgina if she would encourage women to go into the bodyshop repairs business.

“It’s a great career for women,” she says without hesitation. “There are three parts to the repair process. Metal stripping/refitting and electrical work, panel beating and spray painting. None of these jobs require brute force, particularly now with all the technology we use. Women make very good technicians, particularly spray painters because their ability to see colour is often much better than a man’s. It’s also well paid. A qualified technician can earn £30k a year plus bonuses. And there’s great scope to move into other parts of the industry once you’re qualified. You could even go into the insurance side or become an assessor.”

We ask Georgina if she has a favourite car. “Maybe it’s because I’m in the motor trade, but for me, once you’ve seen one car, you’ve seen them all. They all crash the same way! I used to be a badge snob, but these days I just a want a car that comes with a warranty and feels nice to drive.” Georgina’s car of choice? A Kia. “It comes with a great warranty!”

Speaking about accidents, we ask Georgina if she could offer us her top tips about being in a car accident. And in Georgina’s typical warm, straight-talking style, she immediately offers five outstanding tips, and emphasises that if any FOXY Lady Driver ever needs to ask any questions about an accident, then they should give her a call for some free advice.

In return, Georgina has a personal request. “Once your vehicle is repaired and back on the road please give your repairer some feedback. You’ll probably be asked to score us out of 10 (or similar) but if you have other comments please ask for a manager’s email address. If we hear we’ve done well it makes our day more than you can imagine! If we’ve failed you we need to know so we can improve. We’re all human; we all make mistakes sometimes, and building a relationship with our customers genuinely helps us do better next time. Equally, hearing positive comments has an immeasurably positive impact on our team.”

Accident and repair tips

Finally here are Georgina’s accident and repair tips:

1. If the accident is not your fault and you have the details of the other party, don’t assume the right thing to do is to report it to your own insurance company. Going through your own insurer is likely to affect your premium the following year. If you know and trust a local (ideally FOXY Lady Approved) repairer, go to them for advice first. They can advise how to proceed using the other party’s insurance company rather than your own, so the accident won’t touch your claim record.

2. Look for the PAS 125 Kitemark standard in a bodyshop. It means the repair centre adheres to a training and accreditation programme for its technical staff, follows prescribed repair methods, uses traceable parts, and is audited randomly by BSI twice a year to ensure processes are being followed correctly. Another option is a manufacturer approved bodyshop which will also subscribe to recognised standards. Whoever your repairer of choice is, just be sure they subscribe to recognised standards and don’t feel embarrassed to ask for evidence of competence. For example, check they use repair methods supplied by the manufacturer or Thatcham, and ask them how recently their technicians underwent training accreditation.

3.    Here’s the small print to look for in your insurance policy:
i In theory you have the right, in the event of an accident, to nominate a repairer of your choice. Indeed, for an insurance company to ‘steer’ you is a controversial subject in my industry and in some circumstances could be considered not ‘treating the customer fairly’ in FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) terms. Even so, certain insurers include small print in their policy that means if you choose your own repairer they will add an extra £200 to your excess!
ii Most good repairers would always choose to use genuine manufacturer panels on your vehicle. But some insurance policies require repairers to use non-genuine parts. Look for wording such as “equivalent parts”. If in doubt, take it up with your insurance company. Again, you can use the FCA “treating customers fairly” argument.

4.    If your vehicle is deemed a total loss, some insurance companies will give you the opportunity to buy the vehicle back for a small percentage of the value, so you can have the repair work carried out privately. Please be careful if you are considering this option. Vehicles are written off for a reason so beware repairers who promise to put your vehicle back on the road at a vastly reduced cost. If the damage is cosmetic that’s probably fine but if your car has suffered structural damage it is vitally important that the safety features of the vehicle are not compromised by a poor repair. If you choose to go down this route ask for the prescribed repair methods the bodyshop will be using and, once again, use an accredited bodyshop. It really could be a matter of life and death.

5. Please don’t feel shy about asking your repairer questions. Being involved in an accident is extremely stressful but we deal with it every day. There’s no such thing as a stupid question and there probably isn’t a question you can think of that we haven’t been asked before, so don’t feel embarrassed or intimidated. It’s your car, your choice, your personal experience and it’s our job to make you feel as comfortable as possible with the whole process.

Parkford Coachworks in Maidenhead is a member of the FOXY Lady Approved network of ‘female friendly’ accident repairers. This sort of advice from Georgina is all part of the support services provided by sister business FOXY Lady Drivers Club, so women drivers know what to do, what to expect and who they can trust to take care of their best interests after the considerable stress of a vehicle accident.

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