When a recession hit in the late 2000s, tire dealer Audra Fordin, owner of Great Bear Auto Repair and Body Shop in Queens, N.Y., was at risk of losing her business as fewer and fewer cars came to the shop. But through this struggle, Fordin found her business’ (and her own) salvation in an unlikely place: community service.
“It saved my business and my spirit,” Fordin says. “I could see scared people and it changed my life. It made me really, really customer-centric.”
“The spirit I was talking about before is because it feels so good to give…. It’s like when you’re fishing and you teach someone to fish or you give them fish – completely different, but both feed them. When you are educating (customers), they’re empowered to buy. They don’t feel like they are being sold. They know what they need, and they want it, and they’ll come asking for it.”
Serving her community with the education and empowerment it needed during difficult times, Fordin hosted her first Women Auto Know workshop. During the workshop, Fordin provided single mothers with auto awareness tutorials and gave free repairs and maintenance. The Women Auto Know workshop was a hit, with local and national news stations picking up the story.
The program has since grown into its own company that helps empower female drivers about auto care through workshops and connecting them to other independent tire dealers and repair facilities across the U.S. To date, Women Auto Know has hosted 3,000 workshops. Fordin has also grown Women Auto Know to provide the Person-to-Person Advisor (PPA) Training Program, which focuses on training both technicians and technician students on how to interact with customers for better customer service.
Through every Women Auto Know workshop – and every car that comes into a Great Bear Auto service bay – Fordin makes a positive impact on the tire industry, one that helps build up women and encourages all customers to leave behind any negative tire dealer connotations, helping people take pride in understanding their own vehicles.
Though Fordin may operate a one-stop shop that generates impressive sales, you won’t find her telling you she’s in sales. Like a doctor doesn’t try to sell you medication for an ailment but instead recommends what you need, Fordin’s Great Bear Auto Repair aims to only prescribe customers the services they need, educating them along the way.
“We’re not in the sales business – we’re really not,” Fordin explains. “We are in service, period.”
The Fordin family has been working on cars since 1933 – and has seen everything from Ford’s Model-Ts to today’s electric vehicles. As an ASE-certified and a NY state licensed auto technician herself, Fordin officially took over the business in 1998 following her father’s retirement.
Fordin’s business philosophy thrives on the idea of “educating, not intimidating” it’s customers. New customers are shown the basics of car maintenance and thoroughly explained what the shop is fixing or maintaining on their vehicles.
“It starts with ‘educate don’t intimidate’ and that’s because people don’t want to be intimidated,” Fordin says. “They feel intimidation, they have a stereotype and an image of what a shop experience is supposed to be like; and it’s bad, and it’s wrong and it makes people scared and it gives them anxiety. So I don’t want to be associated with that. As an independent, I can govern that piece.”
“I’m very proud of my business and what we’ve built and the relationships with the customers and the community,” Fordin adds. “I’m proud of the work that I’ve been able to do to help with the next generation and our incoming workforce. I’m proud to be a woman in the automotive industry. A lot of what keeps me standing, keeps me driving forward and able to push is because I know that there are others out there. So whatever groundwork I’m able to do, I can create a floor for them and they can smash through other ceilings.”