How One Woman Is Changing the Auto Repair Industry

Maxville Services, which offers “auto repair with flair,” demonstrates how auto shops can boost business by appealing to women.
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Susan Moynihan is the owner of Maxville Services, a female-friendly auto repair shop. (Photo: Courtesy of Susan Moynihan)

More than half of all drivers in the United States are women, and more than half of auto repair shop customers are women. Yet the typical auto repair shop does little to cater to them. Many women would rather go to the dentist, according to one survey.

Susan Moynihan, now the owner of Maxville Services in Woodbury, Minnesota, saw an opportunity.

Once upon a time, she new next to nothing about car repair and worried a mechanic would take advantage of her ignorance. “I didn’t know enough about my car to understand what actually needed to be done,” said Moynihan. “It felt overwhelming to me, so I would have my dad take the car in or come with me.”

The birth of Maxville Services

The idea to open a female-friendly auto shop came to Moynihan years later, when she was senior director of sales at Factory Motor Parts, a role she came to from a career in merchandising. (Perhaps not coincidentally, her grandfather and her husband’s grandfather spent much of their careers in the auto industry.) As part of her job she visited more than 200 independent auto repair shops. She said she was struck by the minimal effort most garages put into making their shops appeal to women.

One day, in Scottsdale, Arizona, she came upon an unusual one. Owned by a woman, it was one of the cleanest Moynihan had ever seen. Its inviting atmosphere and educational clinics also stood out.

“I realized you can find places that are nice and welcoming. For me, that was really eye opening. I realized there is a huge opportunity to change the experience and make it more customer friendly.”

Moynihan envisioned opening her own garage, one that offered top-notch customer services, clinics that welcomed women and a comfortable waiting area. She kept her job at Factory Motor Parts but spent her evenings attending business classes and developing her business plan.

“I did a lot of research and one thing I wanted to make sure I was delivering was customer service to the max. That’s how I came up with ‘Max.’ I also wanted a family-friendly feel, so I added ‘ville.’ The name means maxed out customer service in family-friendly environment.”

She credits a couple of experienced backseat drivers for moving her business plan forward. A mentor she found through the local branch of the Small Business Administration, as well as industry veterans who serve on committees at automotive schools, gave Moynihan a helping hand.

Providing service ‘to the max’

Catering to busy women among others, Maxville Services aims to transform waiting time from wasted to productive. The shop offers “high value wait time options” including salon services for women, men and children.

“We wanted to create an environment where women can sit and relax and get stuff done,” she said. “We have a nail room with manicures and pedicures and we have a room where we do haircuts, facial waxing and beard trims in our lobby.”

For the design of the waiting area, which features plush and leather chairs and artistic décor, Moynihan took inspiration from Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn. Customers seem to like it.

“About 80 percent of our customers sit and wait for their vehicle. It’s higher than average,” she said.

A mother of two children, Moynihan knows first-hand how much parents appreciate family-friendly amenities. “I have a changing table in bathroom, so if they do come in with babies, they don’t have to think about where they’re going to change them. We also provide diapers and wipes. They’re not getting used a ton, but they let customers know we’re thinking of them and we care.”

What’s really driven business, however, are Maxville’s regular educational opportunities. The shop hosts a range of events to help customers learn basic repairs. In one, called Slick Chicks, customers learn, with the guidance of technicians, how to change their oil.

Building rapport and trust is a priority. “When there’s something that’s recommended for vehicle, we walk customers back to the shop and show them. In a lot of cases, it’s the first time they’ve ever been under a vehicle before.”

Moynihan hopes to eventually expand her business — and inspire others to offer customers a better repair experience.

“It’s an industry-changing experience for customers, and that’s the goal. In today’s age, with technology and with people being super busy, we want you to have a great experience in the auto industry.”

A superior customer experience, of course, is good for business. “When customers are having great experience, they go nuts talking about it and get more people in the door.”

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