Shop Profile: Great Bear Auto Repair

Great Bear Auto Repair and Body Shop is located on the north side of Queens, one of the five boroughs of New York City. Family owned and operated since 1933, the current proprietor is the founder’s great-granddaughter, Audra Fordin. “I grew up doing this. In our house if I wanted to be part of the conversation I had to ‘speak car.’ It was like living in a house that spoke a second language.”

A different approach

Audra has always enjoyed her work and her place in the industry, but she recently found a new passion and a new purpose for her business.

During the economic recession, she asked her customers why they chose her shop. “They said it was me, I was the draw. They had never met a woman auto mechanic, and my approach is different.”

This surprised her because “We’ve been the same for four generations; We take care of people.”

Taking that approach further, Audra launched a series of clinics and a website called “What Women Auto Know” to teach women (men are welcome too) some basic facts about automotive maintenance, repairs and safety. The goal is to arm customers with the knowledge they need to make their own decisions about their car. “We want to ‘tell not sell.’ “ These clinics are free “because I didn’t want anyone to feel like there’s a catch.”

Changing up the shop

The clinics, plus her increasing involvement in the greater automotive service community in New York City, have Audra thinking about some changes to the shop. There are 11 lifts for only six technicians, but half the lifts are outside. Audra says they use them year-round, especially the big lift out back (they work on trucks for the city).

Right now there’s a three-walled bay housing the old emissions dyno. The plan is to remove the dyno, enclose and expand that bay to include the truck lift and install battery charging/electrical diagnostic equipment. That’s where she’ll work on hybrid vehicles.

Audra has begun working with the City and the Farmingdale State College Department of Automotive Technology to become the first hybrid-certified repair shop in Queens.

Her experiences in the hybrid service business will help the college determine the hybrid training curriculum for their students. Through this connection, plus her contribution to the Auto Lab radio show (Visit www.theautochannel.com/cybercast/theautolab for more information), she’s learning about new tools and techniques from people all over the industry. “I love the new stuff, and the content just keeps coming every week.”

Audra Fordin recognizes that automotive technology is changing, and she’s ready to gear up to meet her customers’ needs. “If I see a need for it, I’ll get the equipment and training. I don’t want to have to send (customers) someplace else.”

Though no stranger to modern equipment (her two favorite tools are her Snap-on Verus and a video scope), it will be interesting to see how things change at Great Bear Auto Repair over the next year. We’ll keep in touch with Audra and report back later.

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