Technician / Owner
Clark Automotive Service
Allen Park, MI
How did you get your start working in the Automotive Industry
Connie Clark aka ‘Lady Mechanic’ got her start in the Automotive Industry because of her father Charlie Clark. He was a pilot in the Army Air Corps in World War II and was fascinated with all the new technology. Instead of following the family tradition of pursuing a career as a lawyer when he got out of the service, he opened his own Auto Repair Business, and over the years ended up with several locations. Connie had the good fortune to be mentored by her father in the fundamentals of working on cars and this prepared her to pass the Michigan state licensing to maintain and repair automobiles. “Every summer during my high school years I worked with Dad, and I even received my first ASE Certification in Brakes as a teenager.” Connie feels that Charlie Clark was successful because, "Dad's enthusiasm was contagious - he loved explaining why, not just what repairs entailed, to our customers, and loved the competition and collaboration of the other shops in the area as well."
Since you got an early start in the industry did you go to trade school after high school?
“No, my parents, especially my mother, wanted me to be an attorney. I earned a BA in Environmental Studies at the University of Michigan, moved to Washington DC to work and then planned to go to Law School.” But Connie’s plan took a sharp turn when customers heard her father was going to sell the family business. "Our customers (especially the women) started calling me and told me ‘You can't go to Law School (because) who's going to fix our cars?' It may sound funny now, but they trusted us, and you can't buy Trust." Connie went home to Michigan and took over the business in 1992
Would you recommend trade school for future auto technicians?
Although Connie never attended Trade School, she feels that aspiring students should seek formal education. “Given the rapid emergence of software encoded autos, schooling gives students a leg up on relevant skills. Trade Schools will also open doors to employment opportunities of all kinds besides just servicing vehicles.”
Some of the best advice a mentor gave you.
1. “Nothing beats curiosity. Ask questions. Even if it seems like a stupid question, ask. If it’s still unclear in your mind, ask again.”
2. “Practice. Even if you do the same thing over and over again. Do it until you are so comfortable that you could do it in your sleep.”
3. "Treat it as a Valued Profession and treat customers, employees and your tools with respect - clean clothes, no foul language and document everything in writing to avoid any misunderstandings."
What challenges did you face as a female technician working in an industry where 98% of the techs are male?
“The main reason my parents did not want me to continue in this field was because they thought as a female, I would be hitting roadblocks, and to some extent that was true.” Connie admits that overt sexism is sometimes difficult to notice. Regarding discrimination, Connie suggests that "If you want to be treated with respect, you really have to know exactly what you are doing. Your knowledge and skill will earn you your reputation.”
What are your words of wisdom for an auto technician who is having trouble at work?
“Go to your supervisor. Be very honest about everything. Tell your boss the truth. If something does not seem right, tell them. You want to be able to sleep at night. If you don't like the answers or treatment you are getting, there are other jobs out there. We all need to work together to elevate the Automotive Professions.”
How do you see your job or this industry changing in the next 10 years?
“The rate of change of the industry is so rapid. When I started out working on cars everything was mechanical, but now everything is electronic.” Connie feels that on-going education is a necessity in this industry as general mechanical maintenance work is rapidly being replaced by software-defined vehicles. These new technologies require shops to invest in specialized shop equipment and continuing education. “I love using new technology instead of only relying on my prior experience.” Connie appreciates the value and power of information because she finds herself in the driver’s seat when advising her clients on repairs, and loves speaking at Colleges and Universities, Women's EXPOs and on the Internet.
Do you still have any ASE Certifications?
Even though she regularly teaches Car Care Classes, Connie’s role in the business these days is owner / manager. She does have the Automobile Consultant ASE Certification and her shop, Clark Automotive Service is proud to be part of ASE's Blue Seal of Excellence Recognition Program.
Connie’s husband, David Adamczyk has his ASE Master Technician and Advanced Engine performance Certifications and works in the shop by day and has been a Part-Time Auto-Tech Instructor for five years at Henry Ford Community College in the evening. By design, Connie and David only work by referral and consider their business as in-demand, high-tech and very profitable.
Do you feel ASE Certifications are important for technicians to have and maintain?
Connie feels that having ASE Certifications is the ticket to rapid career advancement. “I think it is important for people to know—customers and employers— that the technician has achieved a certain level of proficiency, and that they recognize ASE as a national standard.”
Connie is an Advisory Board Member at the local high school Auto Tech Program that offers ASE courses, which this year has over 100 students. She and husband David love recruiting young people into the program and have even started a You Tube Channel for STEM Students that emphasizes why "it's cool to make things and fix stuff!". She feels that textbooks obviously make a wonderful primer for repair fundamentals but agrees with Henry Ford who advocated, “learning by doing.”
What do you enjoy most about being an auto repair shop owner?
“The loyal relationships and being trusted, valued and needed in the community. We run our shop like a medical clinic.” Long before the pandemic outbreak that forced businesses to shut down except for automotive servicers, Connie viewed her business as an essential component in the Suburban Detroit area. Clark Automotive believes that their purpose is to make sure their customers have a safe ride - which customers mention in overwhelmingly positive Online Reviews.
How did you learn to run a successful repair shop?
Connie mentions business consultant and bestselling author of ‘The E-Myth Revisited’ Michael Gerber who said, ‘Everyone who goes into business is three people in one: The Entrepreneur, the Manger and the Technician.’ The entrepreneur is the creative dreamer. The manager creates order and structure, and the technician is the doer. It takes all three to run a business. Connie adds, “The skills of a talented technician do not necessarily translate into ownership. You could be the smartest technician and know what path to follow to repair the vehicle, but it has nothing to do with running a business.”
Connie again gives her parents credit for her education and character. She also talked about the importance of building trust with customers that involves interpersonal and communications skills akin to a healthcare provider's bedside manner. It’s not all that uncommon for drivers to have as limited knowledge about their autos as they have about their bodies. “You do the triage, you hear the symptoms, give customers their options, and explain what and why it was performed.”
What are some of your top challenges running your business?
“Finding quality-made auto parts. Now with the unprecedented supply chain disruption of the century, acquiring premium products has become a challenge. Connie does not use discount parts because, "if something fails after installation the customer can lose confidence in you.”
Any advice for other shop owners regarding their female customers?
“Be mindful when addressing women. These ladies are so tired of the industry treating them as second-class citizens. Women will not tolerate being talked down to. I have been told by many customers that they trust me because I am a woman.”