Meet Award Winning Garage Owner - Jane Russell

Meet Award Winning Garage Owner - Jane Russell

Jane Russell’s bio is most impressive. She started her garage business in 2007 during a recession and two years later moved to bigger premises, opening a second garage.

Russell Automotive Centre is an Audi, VW, Seat, Skoda and Bentley specialist and has won 18 business awards to add to Jane’s personal awards including the Top 50 Power Part Time Leaders and for her contribution to the work of the IMI.

She is a Fellow of the IMI and a member of the Executive Committee of the Independent Garage Association.

Jane and her husband Steve run an 8 ramp workshop in NW London servicing both retail customers and fleet companies. Russell Automotive Centre offers a range of services for the VAG range of vehicles and her second garage, Garage Express, caters for all makes and models. As you might expect, these are female friendly places including a large, open and welcoming service reception with play area for children, coffee machine and free wi-fi.

When Steph met Jane at Automechanika in Birmingham recently she wanted to know more about Jane and her business. Here is what Jane told her.

Please tell us about you and your early years.

I was always quite entrepreneurial as a child. From a young age I offered car washing and a garden weeding services to my neighbours. I also kept ‘the books’ of my piggy bank!

From the age of 14 I worked in a Saturday market selling pet supplies. I loved working there and can still remember the cost of a pig’s ear!

With the benefit of hindsight all this experience was going to come in handy in later life.

What did you do before you entered the motor industry?

Following my BA degree in Media & Communications I entered the world of film and TV. Seven years later and having returned to work after maternity leave, I was offered the chance to be made redundant which I accepted with delight. I used this money to fund my own property finding business based from home, which saved me a 3 hour round trip commute into London every day.

What brought you into the motor industry?

My husband is a Master Technician for VW and Audi – in fact that is how we met. I worked in a temporary position at an Audi main dealer during my university holidays. When he was made redundant due to his dealership closing we decided that his skills and knowledge should be utilised for our benefit rather than any employer!

Having been running my own business for a few years our combined skills meant we were well matched to start our own garage. All I asked for was my maternity leave with our second child to end before I threw myself headfirst into the business.

At the time I had a six month old, a toddler, my own business and was setting up the garage. I can’t remember having much time for sleep! About a year later I was in the position to work on our business full time.

Please describe your job and the challenges you face.

My job is to look after everything in the business other than the process of fixing the cars. So that includes business development, marketing, liaising with our accounts team and any legalities of running a Limited company.

My current challenge is to predict what to invest in to cater for the new technologies that are on the horizon. We need to stay ahead, as ever, but when it comes to the much publicised electric vehicles and connected cars, technological change is happening rapidly but few independent garages are seeing these cars as yet.

Another challenge is recruitment. With Brexit happening we are seeing fewer skilled European workers migrating to the UK. With a lack of skilled technicians in our industry, attracting and retaining the best ones is clearly one of my priorities and this can take a lot of my time.

What is it about your garage role that gives you so much job satisfaction?

I love it when I hear good customer feedback. It’s really rewarding to know that we are obviously doing the right thing, especially when you know that busy customers have taken time out to praise us. Getting awards is another amazing feeling because this usually means we are being recognised by the industry and our peers for our hard work and professionalism.

I really enjoy the opportunities I have to talk in public about the industry and raise awareness of trade issues either with the trade itself or to a wider audience. Speaking at the House of Commons has been a particular highlight of my career to date!

What advice would you give other women who are interested in a garage career but mightn’t be mechanically inclined?

There is so much more to working in the motor industry than actually fixing cars. An automotive career could be as rewarding for those with management, marketing, administration, finance or sales experience learned in other industries. For example, I feel my own skillset could have worked if we’d decided to open a plumbers merchant or an estate agency. The product/service I am supplying is the only variable. I have of course learned enormously whilst doing the job so I am now very well versed in all aspects of the garage business – called the automotive aftermarket at large, within the industry!

I’ve also found it a real benefit to be a woman because there are so many opportunities to shine in this industry. We are sufficiently under-represented in most UK garages that a woman can really stand out. As long as she is good enough and can prove her worth – she will go far!

Thank you Jane for this inspiring interview which we hope will encourage more women to follow your footsteps in future.

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