Audra Fordin is determined to defy stereotypes and she’s not afraid to get dirty along the way. This feisty mother of three rolls gamely under any broken car and fixes it better than many men.
As the fourth generation owner of Great Bear Auto Repair and Auto Body Shop, Fordin has taken the family business to new heights. Last year, her entrepreneurial spirit and hard work were recognized with New York’s Small Business of the Year Award, as well as the very first “Female Service Shop Owner of the Year” award. Most recently, Standard Motor Products (SMP) – a leading auto parts manufacturer and distributor – selected Fordin to represent their new TechSmart line of enhanced engine control products developed for the professional service technician.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t face any obstacles in this male dominated industry. But the fact is that, whatever my career, if I wasn’t good at it, I wouldn’t get the credit. Prove yourself, and you’ll be respected,” says Fordin.
Watch Fordin talk about the biggest lesson she’s learned after being in a male-dominated industry for a couple of decades.
But her mission spreads much further than fixing cars and providing excellent customer service.
“The auto repair industry as a whole is stuck in a time warp of the 1970′s. It is a stereotypical male dominated field that needs a transformation, big time,” Fordin shared in her Story Exchange submission.
And she has taken that transformation into her own hands. In 2009 she launched the nonprofit Women AUTO Know to educate and empower women of all ages “to be safe, confident and knowledgeable drivers, passengers, and consumers.”
Her free workshops teach women (and some men) everything from how to change a tire, to ensuring the right air pressure in it to save on gas, and much more. It’s easy to understand the mechanics if you look at vehicles through Fordin’s eyes. In her world (much like the Disney/Pixar movie Cars), automobiles have human qualities.
“We need to wear sunscreen on our skin to keep it from getting burnt and it’s the same with the car. If you wax it, wash it and you keep a protective finish on it, then it would be able to withstand the seasons,” teaches Fordin.
For those who can’t make it to her workshop location in Flushing, Queens, Fordin offers online webinars, DVDs, a glove-box guide, and — for Iphone users — an app that puts everything at their fingertips. Besides useful advice that can help in emergencies or protect them from mechanical scams, The What Women AUTO Know app also records the sounds that their car makes, so they can avoid the embarrassment of trying to recreate the noise for the mechanic.
Fordin has put her woman’s touch on used tires, as well. Instead of letting them pile up in landfills and contaminate the water, she gives the old tires to veterans to shred them into fancy belts and leashes.
With Women AUTO Know, Fordin says she’s discovered her true passion and she’s eager to pass it on to younger generations.
“I believe that when the auto-repair industry is referred to as being male-dominated it’s a problem with society. It’s not that women can’t do it, it’s that at a young age they’re told to do something else.”
So Fordin got involved with the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts to teach and show them that the auto industry is an equal opportunity for all, that spans beyond just fixing cars.
“I’ve seen so much opportunity for employment for women in every aspect of the automotive industry, and it doesn’t stop at sales or automotive insurance, or automotive painting, or automotive design… And I’m really proud to be at the forefront leading the change, opening the door for so many to really just walk in and do it. If they like it, then let’s rock!”
Last updated: October 1, 2012
If you're a woman business owner, share your startup story through our 1,000 Stories project and be featured on our site.