Kristi Hudson was interested in working on cars from an early age.
When she was 10 years old, her father took her to a parking lot and taught her how to change her first tire — in the rain.
“He said, ‘One day you’re going to need this,’ ” and a flat tire is likely to happen in bad weather.
It helped her feel independent being able to handle car repairs herself, including oil changes.
“It just always intrigued me,” she said.
She and her friend were the only females to take an auto shop class in high school, and she attended a half-day program offered by a local technical school her senior year.
“I graduated, and I thought I could do anything,” she said.
But initially, that was not the case. After graduating, she thought it would be easy to find a job as a lube technician.
“And nobody would hire me because I was a female,” Hudson said.
Through her cousin she ended up getting a job an hour’s drive away for the summer and then attended an automotive technician program at a local community college.
On the first day of class in 2000, she recalled the instructor saying, “Sweetie, I think you’re in the wrong room.”
When she complained to the dean, he suggested she become a nurse. When she raised the idea of becoming a firefighter, he dissuaded her and proposed being a paramedic.
She took his advice, working with an ambulance company as a tactical medic. She eventually became a firefighter as well in 2007.
“There’s one dream I accomplished. I did what everyone said I couldn’t do,” she said.
After marrying her husband, Donnie, she joined his auto repair business full time in 2011, realizing her early dream to become an auto service technician. But it is still often difficult to gain respect.
She recalls one incident where she was trying to tell a male customer what was wrong with his car.
“He said, ‘Sweetie, just go get the man.’ And my blood would boil,” Hudson said.
That scenario played out many times over the course of her career, she said. Her husband and brother-in-law, Frank Hudson, were quick to stand up for her to customers. And “that helped me to gain confidence,” she said.
Those situations aren’t as common now. Her title of Female Shop Owner of the Year awarded by Women in Auto Care last year also helps. But when those incidents occur, the two brothers will tell the customer, “We don’t accept this, and if you’re going to come in and treat our employees like this, then you’re not a customer for us,” Kristi Hudson said.
She said the situation is improving because women are the majority decision makers in most households. And more women are bringing their cars in themselves. She said men and women alike appreciate that she takes the time to explain what’s wrong with their car in a way they understand. She said females tend to be more empathetic; having more female employees interact with customers helps to cultivate a culture of caring.
As a female in an industry that’s still primarily male, Hudson is focused on advocating for women in the field. Out of 50 employees, eight are females working as service advisers or managers.
She launched a service apprentice program offered through NAPA in 2021 with the goal they continue to work in one of the locations after graduation. Seven apprentices are currently in the program, and three more will start in May. She’s excited that one will be her first female apprentice.
Another goal is to speak to junior high school students in the hopes of attracting more females to the field.
“I want to get in front of the kids and say, ‘These options are out here. You can do whatever you want to do,’ ” Hudson said.
She said when she was told by college faculty that she couldn’t pursue automotive repair, “They took my voice away. And I didn’t realize it then.”
Now as a successful woman in the service repair industry, she has found her voice.
“And now that I found it, I’m going to make sure that everybody hears it,” she said. She wants to let students now that “just because someone tells you’ no’ doesn’t mean give up. If you want it, you can do it.”