The world of auto repair is a man’s province? Hardly.
Meet Bekki Dennis, the Valley woman who founded her own auto repair business, North Bend Automotive, 12 years, and has run it herself to this day.
When her first husband, Denny, worked a tool sales route, Bekki did a lot of traveling with him. She learned a lot about the business, good and bad.
“You see how women and older people get taken advantage of in businesses like this,” she said.
Then, when her brother-in-law got his own auto repair franchise, Bekki worked with him as a service writer, talking to customers and making estimates.
“He taught me a lot about cars,” she said.
When she and Denny pondered their next big move, Bekki decided to go into business for herself: “I’m just going to open my own shop.”
Born and raised in Carnation, she knew many people in the Valley. She and Denny found a garage building in east North Bend. Surrounded by trees, barely visible from the road, it was big enough for their needs.
Bekki started there, with an office in the front, accessible under a small gable.
When the feed store next door closed, she took that over as an office for customers, and had room to grow.
There are more women in the auto business than you would expect, Bekki said.
Running the shop has its ups and downs. Some men are a little put off, dealing with a woman. But the flip side is also true—women can be more comfortable working with Bekki.
Her approach, she says, is all about the customer and trust.
“I’m not pushing a whole bunch of service work on you. I like preventative maintenance,” but she doesn’t count on big-ticket jobs.
“I’m not going to force someone. I’m going to tell you what you need to keep running…. I’m not just here to make money. If it’s not in your budget, it’s not in your budget.
“You get a lot of respect from people” for that, she added.
Bekki has never thought about doing something else. In the last year, she moved to Moses Lake, so she’s scaled back how much she’s in the office.
“I have a lot of customers who’ve been her since the day I opened—including the one who’s in the office.”
Moments before, Bekki had been engaged in a spirited chat with her customer, Eleanor, catching up on old times.
“That’s the problem with me,” she said, laughing. “When somebody comes in, I want to know exactly what’s happening. I want to know about your wife, your kids, you. That gets me in trouble!”
She’s watched a lot of customers’ children grow up.
“You can see what my long-term goal is now,” she says. “My oldest son is working the office, and my daughter will come in and help.” Bekki would like to keep this business in her own family.
The auto industry is always in transition.
With the change in the economy, she saw a big difference in how people take care of their cars. Back when the money flowed more, people didn’t put in as much work on their cars. They could afford car payments, and so they turned them around instead of investing in them.
Today, “you see a lot of older cars that people are trying to keep around.
“As long as you’re honest and have good relationships with customers, you’re OK,” she said. “But it’s a hard business. It takes one shot to do something screwy, and all of a sudden people think, ‘I can’t go there, I’ve got to go to a dealership.’”
It comes down to good employees, and Bekki is picky about her staff. Besides herself, son Denny and daughter Hailee, she has two mechanics on staff.
Bekki has a lot of love for North Bend, and says she appreciates the mix of people here, from young people to retirees—“you get a lot of parent participation.”
She’s learned a lot of lessons from her work life.
Before the tools, she was in the parking lot striping business. That was hard, she recalled; the job involved running a mechanical lot striper in the middle of the night with a baby strapped to her front and a toddler in her backpack.
When she started this business, some people questioned her— ‘You’re a woman, what do you know about cars?’
“Luckily, I had a wonderful brother in law.”
It took Bekki about four years to hit her stride. Now, it feels natural, and, sometimes, easy.
She has a lot of repeat locals, and her status as a AAA shop brings in lots of breakdowns off the Pass.
“I ran into somebody on the dunes at Moses Lake who broke down on I-90,” Bekki recalled. “He knew who I was!”