As the owner of Cloverdale Auto Repair Centre Ltd., Susanne Figueira is somewhat of an anomaly. Even in 2019, it’s not often that you see a woman own a business in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
Figueira has been helping around the shop, which her father started in 1977, since she was in high school. She continued to lend a hand while she was earning a BA in History from Simon Fraser University.
After graduation, she continued her education, acquiring a diploma in library and information technology from the University of the Fraser Valley, and went on to work at Cloverdale Library.
But about six years ago, when her father retired, Figueira left her career in library science to take over the shop.
“I gave up all the other things I was doing,” she said. Library studies was “what I thought I wanted to do, but in reality [the shop] was home.”
These days, she steps in wherever needed at her shop, doing a bit of everything to keep it rolling smoothly.
Figueira said the industry has become more accommodating to women in recent years, but noted there are still people who prefer talking to men about automotive needs, especially those from the older generation.
One way she overcomes that is with the sheer knowledge she has amassed over the years. Although she said that people will try to get around talking to a female employee, once they do, “and they come to the conclusion that you do know what you’re talking about … they are usually pretty receptive.”
“In the last five years, there are definitely more women in the industry, working on the floor as technicians, as owners, or working in parts distribution as sales people,” Figueira said.
One of the biggest challenges of running an auto repair business, she said, is recruiting a new generation of workers as the older ones go into retirement and younger workers gravitate to different trades or professions.
Figueira said auto technicians are not “grease monkeys” anymore. There is a learning curve new entrants must master to handle the intricacies of the career.
“You actually have to have other computer skills and knowledge. You have to be able to problem solve. It is complex at times,” she said.
On top of that, there can also be financial challenges. “This is probably one of the most expensive trades to come into in terms of accumulation of tools that are required to do the job,” Figueira said.
Citing her father, she said the shop is a good way to raise and support a family since “you never have to worry about where your next paycheque was coming from.”
“Everyone drives, everyone needs a car,” Figueria quipped. “We got to keep things rolling on the road for them.”