On the Job: Female mechanic comes to customer to service vehicle

When Renee Floyd first started thinking about establishing a mobile oil changing business, the U.S. Army veteran was a bit worried her gender would be an issue.

The Phenix City woman knew there weren’t many women in the car maintenance business. But she had about 21 years of experience as a light-wheel vehicle mechanic in the military — and she definitely knew how to perform an oil change.

So last summer, Floyd started her own business, BRF Mobile Lube Services. Today, she travels to meet her customers and changes oil on site.

Floyd said she was inspired by one of her Army supervisors, who started his own mobile oil changing business in the Columbia, S.C., area.

Floyd, who retired as a sergeant first class, sat down with the Ledger-Enquirer to talk about her work in the military, challenges as a female mechanic and her favorite types of cars.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about what you did in the military. How did it relate to the business?

As a mechanic in the military... by the time I retired, I finally got a chance to pull and rebuild an engine. Up until my last year, I had never done that much to a vehicle. It was always diagnosing, replacing and repairing. A vehicle would come in with an issue... we’d go get the part, replace it and send the soldiers on their way. My last duty station was in Korea. I was in a forward support battalion. We were a new unit. We had everything we needed in that unit. In my maintenance section, in which I was the maintenance supervisor, we did everything we needed for the vehicles... we no longer allocated our work out. We did it in our own shop. I got a little more extensive training my last year in the service. Even though I was in a maintenance (supervisor) position, I still stayed on the floor with the troops and worked and learned. I couldn’t train them if I didn’t know what I was doing. So I learned a lot.

What’s it like being a female mechanic? Have people ever doubted your abilities?

I encountered some of that but it didn’t stop me. When I was in (Advanced Initial Training), one of my drill sergeants had told me that, as a female mechanic, they would try to keep me in the office. He said if I stayed in the office, I would never learn how to work on vehicle. So I made it a point to never, ever work in the office until I ran into some men who were great on the floor, but they couldn’t work in the office. At that point, I decided, you know what? I’m not just going to learn how to turn wrenches. I’m going to learn how the office works as well. As you move up in the ranks, in order to work the floor, you’ve got to know how the office works.

Have you come across people who perhaps give you a double take when they see you’re a female mechanic?

I encountered one gentleman who said, “You do the work yourself?” Yeah, it’s just me (laughs). Then he said, “OK, go ahead.”

When the gentlemen accept me to work on their vehicles, it makes me feel good. Before I got started with the business, I worried that would be an issue. That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t make my business “Renee’s Mobile Lube Services.” The men have been receptive. A lot better than I expected. (But) women are my largest clients right now. They feel comfortable, especially when (they see) it’s a female. They’re expecting truthful stuff about their vehicle. What I know, I tell them. If I don’t know, I’ll tell them I don’t know, and I’ll try to resource it out for them... I try to get them the right information and connect them to the right people who can help them.

Tell me about the services you offer.

We change the oil. It comes with five quarts of synthetic blend oil. We don’t use the standard oil... we do 12-point safety checks, which includes checking all the fluids, windshield wiper blades, headlights, tire pressure. If we get an older vehicle that requires grease fittings to be greased, we do that as well. If I’m changing someone’s oil and I notice other issues with the vehicle, I will simply write a note for them telling them what I found. I don’t try to go into bigger things. The women really like it because they need to know if there’s a sense of urgency. Do I need to take care of this? Is my car going to break down on the way to work or day care? I’ll let them know.

Do you have a favorite type of car?

My dream car is the Phantom Rolls Royce. My husband recently blessed me with a Cadillac CTS. That was something I had been wanting for about five years. Now, my next is the Phantom and I told him I wouldn’t hold him responsible for supplying me with that (laughs).

What’s next for the business?

Expansion, hopefully within the next eight to 10 months. I call my vehicle my No. 5 vehicle because I’m working on four, three, two and one. I want to get the second one within 10 months. Within 18 months, hopefully I get the five vehicles rolling in this particular area. Really, I’m waiting for... some of the female (mechanics) I’ve worked with in the military to retire, to be a part of the business. I would like to just have one (business) that’s all female.

When you’re not working, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I love to cook. My brother has a restaurant in Atlanta called The Pecan. He’s currently working on The Taste of Heavens Cafe. Once he gets The Taste of Heavens Cafe (established), prayerfully I can get a little hand in helping him prepare some of his items.... When I cook, it’s for my family. I’ve recently been blessed. My daughter moved back to this area. She was in Clarksville, Tenn., near the Fort Campbell area. She and her family had been away for 10 years... and my oldest son just came back in April. I finally have my whole family together. Family is very, very important to me.

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