Kris McCartney can often be seen washing her customers’ cars, wearing high heels and full make up. As the owner of a ‘female friendly’ automotive repair shop, she’s kicking stereotypes to the gutter without a conscious thought.
She switched on to listening to what customers wanted a few years back, and it has paid off. Her team grooms most cars that come in for a repair, and customers love that. So much so, that now they are requesting car grooming, without needing a repair.
Kris is not a mechanic, and has never worn overalls to work. She runs a smart operation, and her background as a legal executive has been a major contributor. “Legal work is about working through and solving problems for people, and I’ve never found the book work difficult. I’m always looking for ways to improve our service,” she says.
Fulton Automotive Solutions has been at the Mount since 1990. Kris and her son Ryan bought the business in 2012 from the previous owner, Jim Fulton, who stayed on for a couple of years to mentor Ryan and make sure the business handover was seamless and successful. Ryan had worked at the garage after school for a few years before doing his apprenticeship under Jim, and the pair shared a love of motor sports. It was a business the family knew well, and a trusted repair shop with a strong customer base.
When Ryan left to go travelling a few years back, Kris had to decide if she wanted to continue with the business. “It was one of those decisions that would keep you awake at night, but I decided that if I could find a mechanic who was happy to work with a woman boss, and who shared my philosophies on service and quality, then I could do it. Fortunately Shaun walked in off the street at the right time, and we work well together.”
The relationship is based on mutual respect and a clear understanding of roles. “Shaun runs the workshop, I run the business. Having a good team and being willing to work hard have been key success factors.”
Fulton Automotive has grown year on year, and Kris says she likes to do her best for her clients. They get a lot of repeat business, and she has created an environment that is ‘female friendly’. “We don’t just do the work and give you the price at the end. We’ll ring you, tell you what the problem is and the cost, and let you decide if we go ahead,” she says. “No nasty surprises.”
She is in and out of cars all day, picking up cars, dropping customers back at work, making life easy for others. Washing the cars is part of the service, and she pitches in with this when things are busy.
She’s also worked hard on keeping the company’s Facebook page up to date, and a quick Google search shows more than 40 positive reviews online – more than any other garage in the area. That ranking has paid off too, with lots of new customers who’ve found them online.
She’s a high achiever, but manages to maintain a reasonable work-life balance. At 5.30 each morning she walks up Mount Maunganui, something she’s been doing daily for the past 14 years. She’s at work by 7.30am, and tries to finish each day at 5. “Usually my husband calls about 5.45 asking ‘are you coming home?’” she laughs.
The service ethos extends to the opening hours. Fulton is one of the few automotive shops that opened through the Christmas-New Year period, after she picked up more than 90 calls on the answer phone the previous year.
As for being a woman in a male-dominated industry, Kris doesn’t give it a lot of thought.
“I’ve proven that you can succeed in an industry that’s not your area of expertise. As a woman I can bring different perspectives to the business, but it’s the team, the systems and listening to the customers that create success.”
Fulton Automotive Solutions entered the local MTA business awards in 2017 for the first time, and were a finalist in the best small business category. Independent judges reviewed the entry, interviewed Kris and visited the workshop. It proved once and for all that Kris could stand her ground among mainly male-owned businesses. She has since joined the local MTA executive committee.
Fulton Automotive Solutions offers all mechanical repairs and maintenance, Warrant of Fitness inspections, vehicle grooming and motorhome servicing and repairs. In addition, they provide a break-down service, pre-purchase inspections and a six-monthly safety inspection.