Women facing adversity in the workplace is nothing new, especially when cars are involved. So when those same women take positive action to overcome the attitudes of ill-informed or ignorant individuals, it’s something to be celebrated. In the case of Zoe Cog, founder of Autocog in Ashton-under-Lyne, the negativity she faced in her ability to fix cars provided the drive she needed to branch out on her own.

Autocog has only been going for a year, but it has already built a loyal following, with expansion and brand-building on the horizon. But with Zoe’s passion for travel, things could have been very different

You started in the tourism industry. How did the switch to technician come about?

I was always interested in tourism and was working at Haven Holidays when I was quite young. It was petrifying but I absolutely loved it. I wanted to travel the world, but my mum got quite ill and I had to move closer to home to look after her.

The plan was always to go off again when she got better, but I started working in a garage and, after about a year, I was told I knew nothing and was given two options: either I leave or go on a course. So I took the course to get my Level 1 qualification and, before I knew it, I’d completed Levels 2 and 3, and found myself where I am today.

Where did you work before you had your own business?

I worked my way up to Head Technician at a Lamborghini and Ferrari specialist after working on BMWs and Range Rovers, turning down a job at Tesla along the way. My dad had his own garage and I ended up running that business at the same time as working on the supercars. I handed in my notice at the supercar specialist then re-branded my dad’s business and started afresh.

Was it always your intention to focus on women and non-binary drivers?

Not really – it was other people who encouraged me to put females first, saying it would be a good way for me to go. What helped make up my mind was remembering how I’d been treated as a girl when going into a garage. I was also sick of hearing from other girls about their awful experiences and being spoken to in ways they shouldn’t be. I didn’t think it would be possible to run a female-only garage, but it seems to be going well!

How has the treatment of females in garages changed in the past few years?

It’s still bad in my experience – worse than ever, in fact. People know that changes are coming and that more and more women are getting into the industry. Some men – or their pride – can’t handle that. Instead of accepting or even embracing it, a lot of men are reacting the opposite way and being nasty and horrible about it. When I was at Lamborghini, I had customers telling me that I didn’t know what I was doing and they didn’t want me to touch their cars. To be fair, the lads I worked with would tell them that I was the best technician in the garage, which helped.

How can you change attitudes towards women in garages?

A lot of our customers really appreciate what we are doing and say they find it much easier dealing with a woman instead of a man. But there are others who have hit out at what we’re doing and the idea of females working on cars, especially online. People have got to realise that changes are coming and see for themselves that girls can do the job – and do it well. It’s just a case of getting around the barriers that have been put up.

It’s not just men either. Recently, a woman came in and asked me to send a man out to look at her car. When I told her that I was the technician and that we were an all-girl garage, she completely ignored me and asked again for a man to come and look at her car. When I told her she was quite rude and I was offended, she changed her tune, apologised and said it was nice to see a strong woman. In the end we fixed her car for her and she went away happy. I don’t think women are better than men or vice versa, I just think there is a place for both because they bring different skills and approaches to the problems we face.

What plans do you have to expand the business?

I’ve recently taken on the unit next door and I’m in the process of setting that up for tuning and dyno work. In the main building there are two ramps, but we can get up to 10 cars in there. The plan is to add another ramp, then that will be enough for now. I’ve got three people working for me, but may need more soon.

One day, I’d like to grow the brand beyond the two units and inspire more women. I’ve had comments from girls who said they have set up their own businesses because of me, which is always nice to hear.

Franchising is an option for the future. It would be great to see another Autocog centre that’s pushing other people to open up female garages. That would be a goal and could lead me into other areas of the industry, such as being a consultant.

What advice would you give to someone in the same position that you were?

Don’t worry about what other people are thinking and go ahead and do what you want to do. If you take the risk and believe in what you are doing then you can succeed. I wasn’t ready to be a business owner, with everything that came with it, but I took the risk and it’s gone well so far. You’ve got to take risks and see what happens. I know girls who are hairdressers who want to be mechanics, but they don’t think it’s OK. So they need a push in the right direction to do what they want to do.

This is an edited extract from IMI’s new MotorPro magazine, received free as part of IMI membership.

Leave a Comment

Start typing and press Enter to search