Julia Kitras’s working concept of a woman-owned garage took first place in last week’s Rhyze Awards, winning $10,000 toward her growing business which offers car repairs to other women and anyone who is, as she puts it, 'clueless about cars'.
Kitras formerly worked as an industrial designer in Toronto, but moved to Guelph a number of years ago to help with the family business.
“I never needed a car in Toronto, but I needed one here,” said Kitras. “Every time I bought a car, it was a lemon or needed unforeseen repairs,” she said. “When I went to the repair shops I felt I wasn’t getting the customer service that I wanted.”
Based on her negative experiences, Kitras did what many people in the same situation probably wouldn’t — she started working toward becoming a Class A mechanic and opening her own garage.
Kitras said the result of her efforts, No Guff Automotive, is a ‘night garage’ intended not only for women, but for anyone who is clueless about cars or wants a higher level of customer service.
“It’s a night garage because that's when I was available to do my own thing,” said Kitras. “Also, I felt there was a need for people who can’t make it during the day. I call it concierge service, where we’re open on extended hours for convenience.”
Kitras said she has always liked working with her hands.
“Any job I had where I had to be inside or sitting down, I just had a stir that I did not want to be doing that. In the end, it was a practical thing to become a mechanic,” she said.
Kitras said she was one of only a handful of women in her classes at trade school.
“For my Level 1, 2 and 3 there were two girls in each class, out of a class of about 28 to 30 students,” she said. “I am always asking around to see where the other women mechanics are in Guelph.
Kitras said she is an advocate for getting more women involved in trades to address the skills gap.
“I go sometimes to the high schools and do trades talks for women,” she said.
During the day, Kitras works as a mechanic at Vinnie’s Mr. Fixit, which she said has been very supportive in getting her apprenticeship hours and in preparing her with the skills to be able to open her own shop.
Currently, Kitras operates No Guff Automotive without advertising, relying on word of mouth from her customers to keep the bay she rents busy. The business does not currently have a web site or Facebook page, but Kitras said those are in the works as the business grows.
She notes that she isn’t planning on leaving Vinnie’s, instead she will continue to develop the No Guff Automotive during her off hours.
Kitras said the money from the Rhyze Awards will help her upgrade some tools and offers her a financial cushion as she continues to develop the concept.
“It really gives the business a green light to shatter the mold of automotive service offerings in Guelph. That’s what I am really looking forward to,” she said.
The Rhyze Awards are presented each year in partnership with Business Centre Guelph-Wellington and Innovation Guelph, awarding $22,000 this year to local women-owned businesses.
Kitras’s No Guff Automotive took home the first prize, while The Friendly Chef, operated by chef Pam Fanjoy finished second with $5,000. Caitlin Hall of Reroot Farm received a $4,000 prize the Green Bicycle Farm, owned by Annie Guimond, took home $3,000.
Kitras said the process of applying helped her pin down what she wants her business to stand for and she enjoyed learning about the other women-led businesses in Guelph.
“I think it was nice to see other women going for it and I think everybody had a similar experience, seeing other women being successful in business,” said Kitras of participating in the event.