Quickly making a name for herself
San Francisco—This year’s Industry Week in Las Vegas was a little extra special for Carolyn Coquillette.
For being an innovator and a leading shop operator nationwide, she was named the 2017 Female Shop Owner of the Year by Women in Auto Care, an organization that is dedicated to providing opportunities, education and career leadership to women in the auto care industry. She was presented the award in November at AAPEX.
“It’s an honor to be recognized by such an impressive organization. Women in Auto Care is the vanguard of this industry’s future, in terms of professionalism, mentorship, and diversity,” said Coquillette, who graduated from the University of Michigan with a dual degree in Physics and English. “Auto care is a great business to work in and the time for women to enter this industry is ideal. I’m delighted to be a part of it.”
Coquillette began working as a repair technician 17 years ago, shortly after graduating from college. As a female technician in an all-male world, her nickname at the repair shop she initially worked at was “Luscious.”
So, in 2007, when she opened her own shop with one employee in a 2,300-square-foot facility, she named her San Francisco business Luscious Garage.
As the first shop in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to hybrids, Luscious Garage was named Small Green Business of the Year in 2007 by the SF Bay Guardian. Coquillette’s story and philosophy of doing business have brought her and her shop substantial press exposure, including articles in major national publications and featured in TV news stories worldwide, she said.
Today, Coquillette employs eight people and does roughly 6,000 repair jobs annually out of a 7,500-square-foot shop. The shop was certified as a Benefit Corporation in 2012 and is a B-Corp entity with a “triple bottom line,” which means it serves environmental and social as well as financial goals. It operates via solar power, harvests rainwater and uses a paperless workflow, according to the shop’s rating on the B-Corp’s website.
When Coquillette opened her own shop, she said she promised herself that it would be three things above everything else — green, high-tech, and cutting edge. “Eighty percent of our ROs are Toyota Prius, which are very popular in San Francisco. Fifteen percent comes from other Toyota hybrids and hybrids made by Ford and Honda. We get a small number of non-hybrids from customers who we have relationships with, but really, we are all about the Prius and it’s a great niche we’ve developed over the years.”
When the economy imploded back in 2008, repair shops and car dealerships all over the Bay Area closed their doors and never re-opened when things got better several years later. While many businesses limped along for the next few years, Coquillette saw it as an opportunity and took a chance and moved to a bigger location.
“We have succeeded for several reasons, including good timing, but as everyone in this business knows, it’s ultimately about people: taking care of your customers and cultivating a strong team,” she said. “We have also been proactive in responding to changes in the hybrid market. First, it was plug-in conversions, then overnight taxi service. Now the focus is shop software. You have to adapt to stay competitive.”
Shop-Ware shop management system
In 2014, Coquillette founded Shop-Ware, a shop management system that enables mechanical repairers to go paperless while effectively handling employees, customers, parts, repair orders and estimates simultaneously. In collaboration with Chip Keen, a former shop owner, her company is growing quickly as more and more repairers subscribe to the system.
“I started working without paper many years ago, because it undermined our message as a tech savvy shop,” she said. “So Shop-Ware was an idea that’s been in development since when I opened Luscious Garage back in 2007. Today, we have an updated system that is totally cloud-based and with a contemporary, user-first design.”
With 80 shops currently using the software, Coquillette is excited about the future of Shop-Ware and her growing company, she said. “It’s been a big competitive advantage for my repair business to stay lean and impress customers. Now just need to get more forward-thinking shops onboard.”