All-female front desk takes Northampton garage into First Stop network
The manager of one of the latest independent garages to join the First Stop retail network is committed to creating the most welcoming customer environment in the industry, supported by an all-female front desk. Kim Dorr decided to embark on a career in the industry to dispel common stereotypes associated with garage forecourts after feeling intimidated and undermined when taking her car to the garage. She aimed to create a warm, welcoming environment at Northampton-based In Town Automotive, featuring a children’s play area, a screen showing live video updates of technicians’ work, and bunches of fresh flowers from the local florist. Now Dorr is heralding a new chapter for the centre as it gains national sales, marketing and purchasing support from the First Stop network.
Kim Dorr works alongside Leah Munns, Alex Johnson and Karen Roe, who combine collective experience as a qualified technician, aftermarket apprentice and main dealer service manager. First Stop believes the branch to have one of the only all-female front desk in car retail. Their collective skills have already been recognised with awards, including Automechanika’s Garage of the Year. The quartet work with eight male technicians in the workshop. Dorr says that customers occasionally raise an eyebrow when handing over their keys, but quickly realise these women know their stuff.
“It is unique to have an all-female team in reception, but when recruiting Leah, Alex and Karen, it was because they were the best qualified for the job, irrespective of sex. It was as simple as that.
“We still get men who talk over us and insist on speaking to one of our male technicians, but they are usually pleasantly surprised when they engage with us, because we possess a great deal of knowledge. These old perceptions used to be seen most days, but they are changing now.”
Moving the tyre retail experience on
Dorr acknowledges that it would always be challenging to position tyre retail in line with a typical shopping experience, she said the tide was slowly turning.
“Tyre purchases will always be a distress purchase, but motorists are much more educated today than they were when I began here in 2010. The conversations don’t automatically revolve around price and customers are more informed. Tyre technology has advanced so much and it is up to us to keep communicating the different benefits from different products, such as wear life, tread patterns, seasonal tyres and the benefits of a premium brand over a budget alternative.”
Despite the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, Dorr adds that the business is growing. “The Government’s MOT extension changed the entire dynamic for us, while we have also found that more motorists are keeping their vehicles for longer and not buying new cars, which is where we come in as we help maintain them. We offer various flexible payment plans too, so any work we carry out doesn’t have to be paid in one lump sum. So while it is difficult to sit here and say everything has been a bed of roses, I do think we’re a business that is coming through the pandemic in a position of real strength.”
Dorr adds that women thinking of a career in the automotive industry shouldn’t think twice. “It’s fast paced, hard work but very rewarding and its always great to see such positive Google reviews from our customers. I love the fact that no two days are the same and you encounter different challenges you never would have dreamt of beforehand.
“It’s certainly a trade where we get to see some unique and surprising scenarios, we’ve seen everything from escaping pets, snakes, sleeping babies left in the backseats and customers travelling to us from France. The team mentality here is definitely what keeps us all going, most of us have all worked together here for over eight years now. I really can’t recommend working at In Town Automotive highly enough and we are looking forward to continuing to grow and to see where the future will take us!”
First Stop’s UK & Ireland Retail Network Manager Mark Widdows said: “Kim and her team continue to do great things and it goes without saying that they’re hugely talented professionals. It is a real coup to have them as part of our retail network, as they are setting a benchmark for customer care and service.”