Repair Revolution: Disrupting the Auto Repair Industry with Radical Transparency
It’s been just under 10 years since Eli Allison opened Repair Revolution in the SoDo neighborhood. The place is easy to spot – decorated with a Pride flag, Black Lives Matter banner, and a host of stickers included. You know at the entrance that no matter who you are, you will be welcome here.
Allison has always been a cog. Socialized as women, they loved cars and could do their own basic maintenance most of the time. Sometimes things were beyond their capabilities and walking into a typical repair shop left them feeling like they had profited and, in one case, was losing $ 3,000 for a badly repaired head gasket. It was this event of 15 years ago that led Allison to change her career from working for a nonprofit to her early days in school and apprenticeship in auto mechanics.
Still featuring a woman at the time, Allison was one of two women on the show. Most of the rest were 18-year-olds, some interested in auto mechanics, others less. Most were mildly misogynistic, they remember, but not dangerous. Learning, however, was another story. Allison left school at 2 p.m., five days a week, and apprenticed until 10 p.m. or 10:30 p.m. every night.
“It was much more overtly harassing and sometimes frightening. It was difficult to cope with all the questions of ignorance and impertinence, ”they say. “It wasn’t pleasant, so I just kept my head down and worked twice as hard.”
After graduating from school, Allison thought about quitting the industry, but the idea of creating a store where people like them would feel comfortable – as employees or customers – won out. It took several years that Allison worked as a mobile mechanic and made side efforts as a professional organizer to find a location and funding. It all came to fruition in 2011 when Allison found an ally at Seattle’s Department of Economic Development who led them to a lender. The funding was about a third of what Allison wanted, but they did it and spent months working under less than optimal conditions in terms of tool inventory and no other staff – parts being worked on. ‘execution, service advisor, mechanic and all administration. that went with opening a business.
“It was extremely hard work, but so much better than working in a toxic environment.”
People Allison knew from the queer community came to Repair Revolution to get their cars fixed, and through that network Allison found Repair Revolution’s first apprentice. Other staff members have traveled from across the country to hear about the store and its welcoming atmosphere to all.
“This model does not exist elsewhere. We don’t have to advertise. Word of mouth does it all.
Allison, like other companies, lost staff during the pandemic and there was already a shortage of qualified people to work across the auto mechanic industry. Costs have increased over the past 18 months, they say – a box of gloves that cost $ 7 in 2019 now costs $ 30, and they’re using many pairs to avoid cross-contamination. They spent money on PPE and had to spend valuable overworked staff time disinfecting cars before and after maintenance. They stayed open as a core business, but used the slower months to double up on training and equipment maintenance. P3 loans and some rent discounts were important in keeping the store viable, but the real savior was this loyal customer base.
“The community is there for me,” Allison said.
In a way, Repair Revolution is a victim of its own success. A loyal customer base and a shortage of staff and apprentices mean that customers can wait awhile for regular service appointments. Allison would like to see more emphasis on non-university training opportunities for young people. Being a mechanic is rewarding, they say, and uses more than motor skills (pun intended). Computer programming and networking, electrical knowledge and finding out what’s wrong with new vehicles when manufacturers refuse to share information and diagrams are all demands of the job. It’s a job that changes as cars change.
Allison preaches the gospel of looking beyond a four-year college for a rewarding job that somewhat resists the vagaries of the economy.
“It’s a great career path. You only have two years of school, and while there is a big investment in your own tools – I spent $ 100,000 on basic tools when I started – you can use student loans for that, and there are student discounts, ”they said. “It’s not just about fixing things with your hands. It’s as complex as being a doctor. It is very enriching. “
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