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At Honest-1 Auto Care in Lewisville, co-owners Robin Mainer and Kimera Shepler created the oil changing experience they always wanted.
Changing the Oil Change
Getting your oil changed is a simple errand, but for many car owners, especially women, it’s a dreaded task. Sitting in a tiny waiting room on a chair with questionable stains, reading a magazine from 2013, you wonder: What will they find wrong with my car this time? Will it be an air filter—didn’t I get that done a few months ago? Will I get scammed this time?
Robin Mainer and Kimera Shepler know that experience first hand. After decades in the health insurance industry, the friends of 25 years were looking for new careers when a unique opportunity presented itself.
“After a couple of months unemployed, I prayed to God and was very direct,” Robin says. “I said, ‘I’ll follow your direction, but I need it to come in threes or a flaming arrow or something!’”
The next morning, Kimera called Robin. She had spoken to their financial adviser, and he suggested they open a female-friendly auto shop.
“It was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard,” she laughs. “It was so far out of our comfort zone. We didn’t know anything about cars!”
A Need for Female Friendly Auto Shops
As fate may have it, Robin was getting an oil change later that day. She walked into an oil and lube joint, the mechanic behind the desk had her sign some papers, and she took a seat next to two other women. Minutes later, a man came in. The mechanic asked him what kind of oil he wanted, if he needed his tires rotated and a list of other things.
“I turned to the two ladies and I asked, ‘Did that guy go through all of that with you?’” Robin says. “They said no and told me to go talk to him.”
Robin went up to him and said, “The ladies and I noticed you had us sign papers and sit down. When the gentleman walked in, you asked him what oil he wanted and about his tires.”
The man looked at her, “Really?”
Robin stood her ground, “Yes.”
He replied, “I really don’t want to have to explain this stuff to you.”
“In the background I heard this, ‘Oh no he didn’t!’” Robin laughs. “The two women got a hold of him, and we all left with free oil changes and tire rotations. In the man’s defense, which there really is none, if he could have sucked those words back in he would have. As I’m leaving, I’m laughing to myself. I couldn’t believe it.”
After hearing about this crazy idea, Robin’s brother, a car dealership owner, called her. He had found the perfect franchise she and Kimera could open, Honest-1 Auto Care, an auto shop geared towards women. Robin clearly had her flaming arrow.
Pretty Woman Moment
The pair were soon on their way to opening the first of three franchises, but they hit an unexpected road bump.
“Being women in a man’s industry—the reason Honest-1 sold us the franchise—was not what the banks wanted to see; they wanted 20 years in the automotive industry. One bank told us—to our faces—that they wouldn’t lend us money because we were women. He said, ‘Boys grow up working in the garage with their fathers. Girls don’t.’ I’m hard headed, so I said, ‘We’ve signed up to do three shops. You’re going to have to come in with a much better deal to even be considered next time.’ He laughed at me.”
Eventually, Honest-1’s corporate office helped them find a bank, and they opened their doors on the Plano and Lewisville border at the end of January 2017. During the first two weeks, Robin says she questioned God about his plan every day. But after receiving local news coverage, business boomed. Women loved the idea of an auto shop geared towards them.
“About our 13th week open, we were No. 1 in the nation among Honest-1 franchises,” she says. “We’ve mostly been in the top five.”
And that banker who laughed in their faces? He admitted he was wrong, and Robin had her Pretty Woman moment.
“All I needed was a dress to strut out in and some bags to throw around!” Her laugh has an air of justice.
Honest-1 Auto Care Success
Even though Honest-1 is geared towards women, Robin’s customer base is split evenly between the genders. She says the biggest compliment is when men say they feel comfortable sending their wife, girlfriend, sister or daughter to them.
Walking into their shop, I nearly mistake it for the lobby of a small hotel. Customers sit in comfy chairs surrounding a cozy fireplace with a large, flat screen television mounted above. Robin offers me coffee from a variety of flavors and points out the organic apple juice and snacks for kids.
There’s a table fitted with outlets for those who need to work and separate WiFi just for customers. Adjacent is a kids’ play area with toys and another TV playing cartoons. Apparently, the day before, a young boy threw a tantrum because he didn’t want to leave.
Aside from the spotless lobby, Robin and Kimera pride themselves on hiring top technicians including four master mechanics and four lube techs. One of their techs is Brandi Hoppling. She learned about cars at a young age from her mom, an electrician, and her grandfather. Together, they rebuilt a 1966 SS Camaro, and Brandi was hooked. She recently started working at Honest-1 because she knew it was a different kind of shop.
“Working with guys I’ve seen places that are disgusting. I wouldn’t even use the bathroom,” Brandi laughs. “And I have dealt with sexual harassment at other places. That led me to working here. Because it’s owned by women, I know they’re not going to stand for that. I also know they’re not going to stop me from doing something because I’m a woman. They support me.”
Robin and Kimera also set out to support customers with knowledge and transparency because they know many women feel taken advantage of at other shops.
“If something is wrong, we’re going to give you safety glasses and take you out [to the garage] to show you. If a customer wants to talk it over with her husband, we’ll take pictures, we’ll send him our virtual vehicle, which shows what needs to be fixed, and they can have a phone call in our office to talk about it. That’s how we like to do it. We’re not trying to hide or take advantage of anyone,” Robin says.
Now that they have a year under their belts, the pair are looking to open their next locations, but finding the right city and zoning is a hurdle.
“City councils have told us no because when we say auto repair they have this idea of cars and junk everywhere,” Robin explains. “After visiting us, some have said they might reconsider, so we’re hopeful. It’s funny to hear the men come in and say, ‘I would have never thought of opening this kind of business.’ Well, that’s because you’re a man.”
This article was first published in Plano Profile’s March 2018 Issue under the title, “In a Man’s World.”