Demeny Pollitt – Girlington Garage

Demeny Pollitt is an automotive technician and the founder of Girlington Garage, a newly opened garage in South Burlington, Vermont. Pollitt grew up in Boston and Deerfield Massachusetts, and attended high school at the Putney School in southern Vermont. She is a graduate of the automotive technology program at the Vermont Technical College - one of only seven female graduates since the program was created in 1992.
Pollitt's dream of starting a female staffed garage with an emphasis on top notch customer service was finally realized when Girlington Garage launched for business earlier this year. For the moment, Girlington Garage is focused on keeping things organized, but business has been great and Pollitt is already looking to the future.
NextUp spoke with Demeny Pollitt after another busy day at the garage.
What's the genesis of Girlington Garage? How did you first get the idea?
I don't know. At some point when I was in school I decided that it would be a great idea to have an all-female garage and I've sort of been working towards it since then. I haven't quite yet achieved it, but most of it I've got!
Did you always want to be a mechanic?
Oh no, not at all. No, when I was a kid I wanted to be an actress or a director. I was in search of work and I really needed a job that could I support myself doing and that I felt would keep me interested. And it was either psychology or auto-repair. Auto-repair was only two years at school, so I chose that!
What was your training like at Vermont Tech?
It was a two-year program, although I sort of started in the middle in of the year so it took me two and a half years. It was a really good experience. We did everything from really in-depth electrical systems training to everything else. We did everything on the car.
What kinds of steps did you have to take to start your business from the ground up?
Well, after school I worked as technician at a couple of different places – during and after school. And then after being a technician I became a service writer to get the customer service aspect experience and that was probably the best thing I could have done in terms of owning a business. Learning how to deal with customers, and how to fix problems, and how to talk to technicians, and how to talk to parts people, and how to deal with very upset people all the time. So, I did that for two years and then I opened this.
I also went to the women's small business start-up program and I wrote a business plan that took about two years to get ready. It was through Mercy Connections, the Sisters of Mercy. It was an evening course, two times a week, 15 weeks, which was pretty fantastic. I have an excellent business plan that banks and the people who review are always very impressed by. The program really walks you through step by step. The research that you need to do, the components of the business plan, all the numbers, how to figure out all of the graphs, and all the bells and whistles and everything like that.
And I also worked with SCORE. SCORE is a group of retired people who volunteer their time to help people who want start businesses or grow their business or learn about business. So I was partnered with a SCORE representative and he was fantastic, very, very helpful... It's a national organization and I hooked up with the Burlington chapter.
Eventually I went to Jeannie Lynch at KeyBank. We met at a women business owner network meeting and she sort of pulled me aside and she said, “You have to come and talk to me.” So I went and talked with her and she sort of gave me homework to do.
I had just been a technician at that point and I said, “I'm ready! I've got $12 in my bank account and I want to start my business in two months!” and she said, “Hmm. That's great, but...” So she sort of sent me in the direction of being a service writer. She's been a great help along the way, being a mental back-up for me.
What would you say is the mission of Girlington Garage?
I want to provide a place where people can walk in and feel comfortable and feel like they belong and feel like they can ask any question, as many questions as they want, until they understand what's going on with their car, what repairs are needed, why they're needed, how much they cost, and why they cost as much as they do. I want my customers to walk out understanding as much about their experience as they want to understand. I try really hard to be as see-through as possible. I want to be clear, and open, and honest in every interaction that I have. I don't want people to be intimidated. I don't want anyone to go away feeling they got taken advantage of or they were talked down to or feeling confused. That's really important.
What state is the garage at right now?
Right now, we've been open for about two and a half months. We have five bays and five lifts and two technicians and then myself. We're crazy busy all the time trying to keep up with all the work. That's wonderful. It's a really cool place to be at. People are really happy.
What do you see happening next for the garage?
We're planning on a grand opening in the winter. So we're really still working on finishing the touch-up painting and finishing decorating and making the waiting room a nice place, finishing setting up the garage, putting everything in its place. Every thing's going, and it's working, but we don't have a system for anything so we're trying to set up that system now so quickly and smoothly. Really that's all I'm thinking about right now! Just keeping up with everything and trying to make everything run straight and quickly.
Eventually I want to start an apprenticeship program to train women in automotive technology and offer workshops, but for now that's sort of second fiddle to actually getting everything running smoothly.
Would an apprenticeship program work in conjunction with some of the technical schools in Vermont?
Yeah, it might. I've spoken with Essex High School and I've spoken with Vermont Works for Women and it might work in conjunction with them or it might just be independent. A lot of women come in and say, “I really want to learn. Can I do oil changes for you? How can I work for you?” And right now, we can't afford to take on someone with little to no experience. It would mean really big mistakes all the time and we can't afford to take care of those mistakes yet.
So, I'm not sure exactly. I don't have a solid idea yet. I am doing a workshop for the Air Force wives, wives of men in the Air Force, and that is going to be in September. So that's something I'm starting to get ready for right now.
Otherwise, I haven't had time to figure it all out yet.
You guys have some amazing t-shirts! Who did the design on that?
Graham Keegan, he owns Tic Tic. He lives in Burlington and he runs a t-shirt stand on Church Street. He's pretty fantastic. Really talented. We had sort of a bad experience with another graphic designer and we were really unhappy. Graham has been a friend for a while... What he had been doing was independent band promotion and he did lots of posters and stuff and they were really amazing posters, but they weren't...logos or branding. So I was worried about hiring him to do that, which is why I choose someone else at first. And in a panic I called him and I said, “We just had a really bad experience, can you just draw a couple sketches so I can prove to my partners you're worth taking a chance on?” Ten minutes later he sent me over almost exactly the logo that we ended up with.
Do you have any advice for people who want to start their own business?
I would say that, coming up with a business plan, really doing the work to write a good business plan and doing all the research involved in that is absolutely, incredibly important. It's really a difficult thing to do. I feel like I made up numbers to put in my business plan. Even after all the research I did, I felt like I was making things up. But my numbers have been almost exactly right on, so far, for the first few months. And that is really good because I can have an idea of how I'm going to do throughout the year. I would say if [people] are going to go into starting their own business, take the time to write a business plan. And there are so many resources out there to help you do that. It's not as daunting a task as it could be if you were trying to do it on their own.
Make sure it's something you really want to do. Because it's hard and exhausting and I don't have any kind of life at all, and I won't for many more months! So if you're going to make that kind of commitment, you really want to make sure it's something you don't mind giving your life up for... Something that you're happy putting your time into.
If you love doing it, it's awesome. It's been such a good experience and it's absolutely worth it for me.
So what are you listening to right now on your iPod?
I like to listen to podcasts. I download VPR...Morning Edition; Wait, Wait, Don't Tell me!...things like that.