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Beauty and the Grease: Girls-only garage

2014-06-10 08:26

BEAUTY AND THE GREASE: Aurore Dabireau, one of the very feminine mechaniques at the Girls Only garage in Paris, gets to work under a lady client's car. Image: AFP / Fred Dufour

CLEMENT GASSY

SAINT-OUEN-L'AUMONE, France - A manicure, a massage and a lesson in mechanics. It's not what most expect when they bring their car in for servicing but one brand-new garage near Paris is revamping the masculine aura of auto repair to suit a female clientele.

Only Girls, which opened in May 2014 in the suburb of Saint-Ouen-l'Aumone, caters for women who feel they've been sold short and charged long by mechanics in traditional auto shops. Sandrine Hautenne, one happy 42-year-old customer, said: "When you're a woman, it's like you've got 'sucker' tattooed on your forehead.

"One time I went round to three different garages and got three different estimates. Since then, I've sent my uncle to get estimates and guess what?... the prices dropped!"

CHILDREN'S PLAYROOM

From cambelt to brake pads, customer, she got a 15-minute rundown on her car from a female mechanic. "If it had been a man, he wouldn't have explained any of this to me."

With only a month to its name, Only Girls has seen 40 customers, two-thirds of them women. "They're so welcoming here!" gushed Jennifer Collon, a 25-year-old who was drying her ruby-red nails after a manicure there.

In addition to the "beauty corner", the garage has a children's playroom. Its waiting room is more akin to beauty spa than traditional garage, with mauve wallpaper, hardwood floor, flickering candles and velvet sofas.

Spokesperson Rodolphe Bonnasse averred that with more and more women living alone or taking control of domestic affairs it was simply good business to cater for them. "The range of goods and services on offer has adapted to societal changes over the past decade," he added, adding that for companies it was ultimately about "opening up new growth channels".

'PRETTY OLD-FASHIONED'

France, Bonnasse noted, was a straggler in this so-called "gender marketing" trend - behind, say, England and Japan - but now has an array of sports clubs, insurance companies and even credit cards catering specifically for women.

For some feminist critics, such as blogger Sophie Gourian, the trend is more a shallow marketing ploy than a reflection of women's lib. "The whole discourse behind this is really pretty old-fashioned, based on stereotypes. It suggests women are a bit daft."

But for Only Girls' two female auto mechanics, it's been a professional windfall. Aurore Dabireau spent three years struggling to find a job after earning a degree in auto mechanics. She said: "Garage owners were sceptical (about hiring me) and I've often been told, 'You've got no place here'."

THERE'S ONE BLOKE

Only Girls is France's second made-for-women auto shop; the first is in the southern French city of Montpellier.

Hautenne says customers like her were seeking "more transparency" about their repairs, a "less macho" style. Manager Laid Hdachi added: "We only change what is strictly necessary and we show our customers the parts and explain what we're doing."

Only Women sets its gender aims high, for customers and staff - but in at least one respect it is still traditional: Hdachi, is a bloke.
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