Women of CARSTAR Lead by Example, Live on the Frontlines and Blaze Trails for Future Generations
As International Women’s Day approaches on March 8, CARSTAR, North America’s premier network of independently owned collision repair facilities, salutes the women who work on the front lines in its more than 700 locations. These women work as estimators, managers, technicians and operations counselors, all focused on getting customers back on the road in an expertly repaired vehicle.
For Katherine Hahn and Lisa Ray, both customer service representatives at CARSTAR Metcalf in Stilwell, KS, working in a family business is an environment that offers growth for women.
“The industry has definitely changed. It’s not like it was several years ago. There are plenty of successful women in the industry now,” said Hahn. “For women who want to get in the collision repair industry, I recommend that you try and learn as much as possible. There are a ton of roles you can play on a daily basis. There are women in this industry who are managers and owners. You have to keep an open mind about the opportunities.”
“CARSTAR really is a family that fosters growth,” said Ray. “It’s great being part of a close-knit team with everyone working toward a common goal. They support me by giving me the tools I need to succeed. And, they lend a helping hand when needed and put procedures in place to make sure things go smoothly.”
Katelynn Woychyshyn, assistant manager at CARSTAR Oakville East, never predicted her future in the trades.
“I just assumed I would go to University and get a job after that,” said Woychyshyn. “I spent some time there but was unsure what I wanted to do, so I returned home. To make some money in the interim, I applied for a posting as a customer service administrator at a collision repair facility and gained some decent experience.
“Eventually, I decided to transfer to a different University in Ontario and took political science. I applied for a part-time job in a collision repair facility in the Halton region, because there were lots of opportunities and I already had experience. This facility actually elevated my role even more, teaching me estimating and things I had not yet learned. At this point, I could not justify spending money to continue University when I already found a job that paid well and that I liked.”
A colleague of hers moved to CARSTAR Oakville East and shortly thereafter, she went along as well.
“I honestly just love it. I was doing administrative work half the time and estimating as well for a while and then full-time estimating and then managing production. Every day is a little different, it is fast-paced and there is always something new to learn. I feel like people still have an image of a dirty body shop when they think of my work, but in reality, there is so much technology involved, high safety standards and mandates for clean facilities. Even my parents sometimes can’t believe what I’m doing. I am sure they are glad they do not have to pay tuition, but I know they are surprised because I grew up cheerleading and figure skating – not even interested in cars.”
Even now, Woychyshyn still catches herself thinking if she needs to go back to school but said she feels like this is what she is supposed to do. Her advice to parents? Make sure to let your kids know all of the opportunities out there. And her advice for current high school students? Explore every option out there!
Sandra Szymoniak, parts manager for CARSTAR Impact of Cascade in Grand Rapids, MI, has found new levels of respect and fulfillment in her job at CARSTAR.
“I just recently came to work at CARSTAR as the parts manager and feel very comfortable here,” she said. “I had previously been a parts delivery driver and the environment is great here, unlike being just a driver. I enjoy the increased responsibility and being expected to be capable, and it is a great feeling to be able to do my job without any bias.”
For Katie Harig, head detailer at CARSTAR Impact of Cascade, being “one of the guys” contributes to her success.
“I enjoy working in a male-dominated industry,” she said. “It is a great feeling coming into work every day knowing I can do the same things a typical male could do. Personally, I consider myself one of the guys. I have three brothers, so I am certainly used to being around guys and how they work. We are all the same at the core I believe, we all want to make a living and go on with our lives. Granted, you don’t need to get along with everyone, however, it certainly does help to get along with all your co-workers regardless of gender. As a body shop, we are kind of like a train, everyone does their part, and that’s how we keep chugging along. Sometimes things go wrong, but that is a part of life, and we just have to work through it.
“Most of the male workers I have been around in my two-and-half years as a detailer in this industry have been great to work with. We are all a team, regardless of being a female or male,” Harig noted. “With working at this shop, the team always works for quality, getting cars out in a timely manner and leaving the customers happy. They always say to tackle the day. Everyday, come in, put in the work, do things right and know your potential.
Harig encouraged women trying to start or succeed in this industry to always put their game face on and focus on the good things that happen rather than the negatives.
“The only person who will hold yourself back is you,” she said. “The good thing about this industry is everything, in the end, comes down to you. If you find yourself wanting to move, there will always be a job somewhere. The grass isn’t always greener, but it isn’t always just as grey.”
Sarah Hamilton is the office manager for CARSTAR Troy in Troy, OH, and bookkeeper for two other locations, CARSTAR Sidney Body in Sidney, OH, and CARSTAR Piqua in Piqua, OH.
“Most days are quite normal, but there are definitely some interesting days that most women don’t get to experience,” Hamilton said. “We have gotten some misogynistic comments and attitudes, but you have to learn not to take it personally. It is more common to be disrespected and untrusted from men in this role, although it is becoming more of a rare occurrence. Our male co-workers respect us and treat us as equals and the comradery is the best part of the job.”
Hamilton recommended that women trying to succeed in the collision repair industry not be easily offended and keep their focus on continuous learning.
“You will get things said to you that you won’t like, but it’s easier to show them your capabilities and knowledge of the auto industry,” she noted. “With that being said, learn as much as you can about every aspect, as things are constantly changing and evolving.”
LeeAnn Foster, an estimator at CARSTAR Sidney Body in Sidney, OH, learned the ropes from other women already working there.
“When I started working for Tom Martin’s collision repair facility (CARSTAR Sidney Body), there were already two hard-working, knowledgeable females who were writing estimates, handling insurance claims, taking care of all the office duties and doing quality inspections,” she noted. “I came into this business, knowing absolutely nothing about auto body repair! Tom Martin and my co-workers taught me about the business of repairing cars, working with insurance companies and maintaining good customer service, but a lot of my knowledge has come through experience and learning from my mistakes.
“Working in a male-dominated industry does require thick skin, a good sense of humor, the ability to not take everything personally, and most importantly, respect,” Foster noted. “I need to respect my (male) co-workers just as they should respect me. As a woman, sometimes we may need to prove we are capable, willing to learn, able to admit mistakes, and that we can develop a good relationship with our (male) co-workers. Some men may immediately disregard your ability, but anymore that is a rare thing. I’ve learned that being straight forward and honest, continuing to learn and ask questions, knowing I will never please everyone and sometimes a decision just needs to be made, and being able to joke and laugh with all of my co-workers, makes for a peaceful environment to work in.”
Foster said her good relationships with her co-workers are a key factor in her growth and success.
“I am supported in my role here at CARSTAR Sidney Body because I am given the opportunity to grow and succeed, and most importantly, because they listen when I speak,” she said. “By that, I mean I am always given the chance to express my opinion, concern, knowledge and suggestion. I am valued whether I am right, wrong, having a bad day, or make mistakes. Why? I have worked at building relationships with my co-workers, putting forth the effort, being real and honest, and always willing to do what may need to be done. Now, I am not perfect, and all of my co-workers know this. They know I am still learning, forget things, snap sometimes, and may disagree with them but because I was given a chance to prove I am loyal, a good worker, and able to continue to learn, in return, I am given respect and support.”
CARSTAR’s family atmosphere and community involvement contribute to Hamilton’s job satisfaction.
“My favorite part of being part of the CARSTAR family is our community involvement,” she said. “CARSTAR likes to give back and our owner, Tom Martin, is especially motivated to provide his employees many opportunities to be contributing and involved members in our community. A lot of times we do these things as a big CARSTAR family with our co-workers and our own families as well. By doing these things, we meet new people and get our name out there. As far as being apart of Tom Martin’s CARSTAR family, it has been a blessing. I have met and become very good friends with a lot of people (male and female). I have built relationships for life.”
Foster offered the following advice to women looking to join the collision repair industry.
“Look at the job as if you were walking into any other job, male- or female-dominated, and be confident, honest, real, willing to learn, a hard worker, show up, admit mistakes and learn from them, be approachable, build a rapport with your co-workers, talk to your boss/manager when you are bothered or have a problem and try to get it solved before it escalates, be flexible, and respectful,” she noted. “Put into the job what you expect to get out of it. Times are always changing, so be open to change. In return, your employer and co-workers will be flexible and open with you. We are all human and we all deserve a chance and to be respected, whether we are male, female, a working parent, a rookie, a veteran, or anything else.”
Sandy Ziegler-Webb, manager for CARSTAR Troy in Troy, OH, loves succeeding in a male-dominated industry.
“I love working in this industry! It’s very rewarding knowing that I can succeed at the same things that any male in this industry can,” she said. “When a customer comes in and asks ‘Oh you’re going to do the estimate? or you’re the manager?’, I see that as an opportunity to educate the customer that women can do just as good of a job on writing estimates as men. I knew nothing about cars when I first started in this industry. All the training that I received was ‘on the job’ which allowed me to learn from real scenarios. I have been in the industry for ten years now and am still learning new things every day. I was very fortunate to be trained by body techs that have been in the industry for a long time and didn’t treat me any differently as they would a male estimator.
“My favorite part about being in the CARSTAR family is that it truly is a family,” she noted. “We spend a lot of time together and have great camaraderie and teamwork. We all want to succeed and take great care of any customer that walks in the door. It’s sometimes tough to change the stigma that this is a ‘mans world,’ but with proper training and the desire to succeed, the sky is the limit.”
Carly Haneke, estimator for CARSTAR Troy, credited the supporting family atmosphere for her success.
“It is tough sometimes when you get doubted and questioned about your knowledge,” she said. “Sometimes you get the ‘oh, you are going to do the estimate?’ Other times it is really nice when other women give you a pat on the back for your ability. Our owner and staff are all very supportive of us and do not look at us any differently. If there is something we do not understand on the body or mechanical side of the things, they explain it so we will know for next time. I do not think that has anything to do with gender roles though. It is handled the same way with the men who work in the office as opposed to out in the shop. Plus, there is access for all of us to so many resources to further our education in the field and tools to help in everyday situations such as I-CAR and All Data.”
Haneke said even though she came in as a waitress/bartender without any knowledge about cars other than how to put gas in it, check the oil and air in the tires, the supportive learning environment helped her quickly become an accomplished member of the team.
“From my experience in the three CARSTAR locations in our network that are owned by Tom Martin, that is exactly what we are, an extended family that is there for each other in time of need on and off the clock. We occasionally do group activities outside of work that helps us grow as a team and our blood family is welcomed with open arms as well. I’ve been here for going on six years and gained so many people from it.
“I tell other women who want to get into this industry ‘You got this!’. If you want to understand it, you totally can,” she noted. “I have learned a lot and can do so much now. I still have questions and learn new things almost every day but have come so far. Now when my husband tries to talk cars with me, I can keep up for the most part. I did not really know what to expect when I got into this and I would say it is much different than what I originally thought and what most people may think. We don’t just sit at a desk all day and stare at a computer. We deal with customers, techs, part issues and more. Multitasking is a major part of this position.”
Kelly Beemer, customer service representative at CARSTAR Troy, keeps her positive focus by proving her skills and abilities.
“Sometimes it gets frustrating in this industry when you are talking to a male customer and they won’t even look at you when they are speaking, they focus on the male in the office,” she said. “My approach is to not get frustrated, just keep proving that I’m worthy of being here. The team here really encourages and teaches the female team members just as they would another male. My favorite part is how everyone works together to achieve the same goal.”
Lisa Collins, office manager and customer service representative for CARSTAR Sidney Body in Sidney, OH, said the family culture creates a great workplace for women.
“Since I have worked in a male-dominated industry most of my life, one of the initial challenges I faced were the men doubting my knowledge of vehicles,” Collins said. “Over time, almost all the employees have come to respect my work and my knowledge from my years of experience in the automotive repair industry, parts distribution and now the collision repair industry. More often, it is the male customer who initially has doubts related to my knowledge of a particular repair situation.
Collins credits CARSTAR training and support and the family atmosphere with helping her succeed.
“CARSTAR provides training and support to ensure I have the knowledge needed to complete my job,” she said. “In addition, we have daily meetings to ensure everyone is on task and on the same page, so we all work together to achieve the goals necessary to make the facility successful. The keyword here is ‘family’! CARSTAR works hard to promote the team concept, both inside the office as well as sponsoring outside functions that help us all grow together. Also, many things are done by the management to show how much they appreciate you as an employee. Tom and Angie make us homemade meals for all the major holidays, which is very delicious and appreciated.”
For women looking to join the collision repair industry, Collins said, “Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Learn to participate in the team. Be a listener, but also don’t be afraid to speak up and share your knowledge or expertise.”
Katie Hoaglund, a body/paint prepper technician at CARSTAR Lancaster A-1 AB in Lancaster, MA, said the collision repair industry is great for any women who want to work hard and be proud of what they do.
“Being a female in the industry is great,” she said. “I like working in the field. And yes, it would be nice to see more females in shops. It’s hard labor, but it’s all worth it if you love what you do. The team at CARSTAR supports me by treating me the same as the guys. Also, it’s great that they have the confidence in me knowing that I can do the job right. They also give me the tools and the technical information that I need to get the job done. It’s great they have all of the latest equipment to get the job done right…not like other places I have been. It’s a friendly environment to be in and a great place to work.”
Hoaglund said a job like hers is for any female who wants to work in this industry, make an honest living, and be proud of what they do.
“It’s a fun and rewarding industry to be in,” she added.