STOW — Kathy Spears wants women to take over the world.
She’s starting small: at the Take 5 Oil Change in Stow, where she's the store manager. She and two other women work alongside two men on the five-person staff, but she hopes the staff one day is made up of all women.
“These days … a lot of women out there, they're just, you know what, I don't want to depend on a man to do anything for me. I want to do it myself,” Spears said. “So they're starting to learn more and more and more about vehicles and doing stuff to them.”
According to a December report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.4 percent of automotive service technicians and mechanics in the U.S. in 2017 were women. Friday is International Women's Day.
Spears started learning about cars when she was young, while she was growing up in Rootstown. She said she loves working on cars and getting her hands dirty and the new challenges it presents.
"Ever since I was wee little, I was one of those ones that when Daddy was out doing something, I was out there with him,” she said in the office at Take 5 on Kent Road. “I'm like, you got to show me how to do this. And it's like I don't want to have to rely on somebody else doing it. I want to do it myself."
Spears, 47, started out working in factories when she was 18. She’s worked in garages around the area for about 14 years without any formal training. Take 5 was previously Lube Stop, and she worked there for about a year in 2008. She came back in March 2016 and was promoted to manager in October 2018, after Lube Stop became Take 5 in 2017. In between, she drove a bus for Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority from 2013 to 2016.
The shops she worked in previously were mostly made up of men. Lube Stop was the first garage where she saw other women working.
"I was even shocked that they even hired them at first,” she said.
Take 5 is focused on hiring more women, said Spears, one of several female managers in the company which has shops in 17 states. Locally, it has shops in Akron, Barberton, Cuyahoga Falls, Twinsburg and the Montrose area.
“We're better. We pay more attention to detail,” she said with a laugh before turning more serious. “I think [Take 5 is] like more of an equal-type place for men and women.”
The customers who visit Take 5, especially older men, are often surprised there are women working in the shop. Sometimes, Spears, with her short hair, gets mistaken for a man.
"I'm like don't let the hair fool you, honey,” said Spears, who said she loves entertaining customers and making friends with them. “They're just like wow, it's like how come the women are out-working the guys here?"
Spears, who now lives in Ravenna and drives a Subaru, didn’t graduate from high school, but she only needs to pass one more subject to get her GED. From there, she’s thought about attending trade school. One thing Spears knows she wants to do is move up within the company — to training manager, a position that trains new employees, and then to district manager and maybe regional manager.
Spears said she knows she’ll eventually leave the Stow shop, which can see up to 40 cars a day, as she moves up within the company, but she’ll be sad to leave her team, which she called “one big family."
Lead technician LaTisha Rutherford, 28, and certified technician Lauren Burger, 20, both have been working at the shop since December. A friend reached out to them about openings at the shop, and although neither had experience working on cars, they both applied.
Burger previously worked as a gas station clerk. Rutherford said she “didn’t even know how to change a tire” before she started working at Take 5.
“To be honest, this was completely way off of my base,” said Rutherford, who lives in Canton and was previously a licensed massage therapist. "This was a whole other thing that I never even thought I would be into.”
Rutherford and Burger were the only women in their training group.
“They were just like, wow, like you guys are actually pretty good, learning quick,” said Burger of the men in the group.
Rutherford said she plans to work her way up to assistant manager, and Burger, who lives in Ravenna, will take Rutherford's job as lead technician. Both said they plan to stay with Take 5 and make careers in the automotive field.
Rutherford encouraged other women to get into the automotive field, saying women "do just as good a job as [men] do — and sometimes better." Burger agreed, calling the experience a “10 out of 10.”
“My advice is to really just go for it, even if you don't think you could do it,“ Rutherford said. “They don't treat the females that work here any differently than the males. They don't baby us or anything like that. They expect us to do the exact same thing that the gentlemen do, so there's no bias or different standards. It's all the same.”
Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.