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Running an Essential Business with Patrice Banks

Running an essential business during COVID-19 presents its own challenges to business owners – especially for brick-and-mortar businesses. We spoke with Patrice Banks, the Chief #sheCANic and Founder of Girls Auto Clinic. Girls Auto Clinic is a full service auto repair shop which caters to women.

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How has COVID-19 affected your ability to find skilled mechanics?

  • In March, as COVID-19 lockdown orders were being rolled out, Patrice Banks shut her business (even though Girls Auto Clinic is an essential business) down for a month to give herself time to learn how to keep her staff and customers safe.
  • During lockdowns, some of Patrice’s staff, most of whom are women mechanics, could not come back to work because they had young children at home – and those women were primary care providers for their children.
  • There is a 78,000% shortage of skilled mechanics in Pennsylvania.
  • Patrice has since hired new mechanics, but they lack the experience of her previous staff.

How has having your finances up-to-date made a difference to Girls Auto Clinic?

  • When PPP loans were made available, Patrice was able to submit an application on the very first day because her business financials were very much in order.
  • Patrice secured a PPP loan in April.
  • Patrice was then able to get the Economic Disaster grant funding in May.
  • To get finances organized correctly, Patrice recommended consulting with an accountant to set bank accounts and finance software (like QuickBooks) up correctly.
  • Patrice then allocates up to 3 hours per week to keep an eye on her finances; it does not always take that long.
  • Regularly digging into the business finances will reduce the fear factor many business owners and leaders may experience.

How has your salon been affected by COVID-19?

  • The salon is not an essential business, and so was shut down during the lockdown orders.
  • Patrice had to lay off employees during those lockdowns.
  • Patrice had to figure out how to re-open safely and what new systems were needed to keep everyone safe: new appointment systems, cleaning procedures, and more.
  • Patrice is considering how best to use the salon space in a way that will generate the most money as the salon’s earnings are not what they were before COVID-19.
  • Patrice is trying to figure out what services she can provide to her auto clinic customers once they bring their cars into the repair shop.

What was preparing to re-open an essential business like?

  • It is hard being a small business owner; March was very busy for Patrice and her business before COVID-19 hit.
  • When lockdown orders hit, it gave Patrice a break from all the many tasks of growing her business, including finding investors in the shop.
  • Patrice pivoted to focus her energy and attention keeping her auto clinic in business.
  • There were struggles learning about best safety practices and securing sufficient PPE for her team.
  • After re-opening, coronavirus testing has forced Patrice to run the auto repair shop with lower staff levels.

How have you pivoted to online training and offerings?

  • Patrice was focused on saving her brick-and-mortar repair shop, so transitioning to online offering is proving a real struggle.
  • She now realizes that delivering online training and other services via the internet could be a reliable revenue stream in a COVID-19 economy. Patrice recently hired a digital marketing manager.
  • Patrice is now very excited about creating new revenue streams to keep her business afloat and successful.

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