Mom of two boys // Owner of AutoNiche
Written by Jessica Gedge // Photographed by Joelle Segal
When your interviewee has a tool that’s a hammer named “Thor”, you know it’s going to be a good time. Emily Chung not only owns an auto repair shop, AutoNiche, and works as a licensed auto technician, she also writes for Canadian Reviewer and Autosphere and teaches in the Automotive Business School at Georgian College. Emily is also a media veteran so you’ve likely seen her on Breakfast Television, Cityline, or the Marilyn Denis Show. Meeting Emily, it’s clear from the start that she’s passionate about her work and her mission to bring better communication and client service to the auto tech industry. We sat down with this #boss at her shop to learn more about what drove her (pun intended;) to start this business.
What did you do before you had your business and how did you decide to start this venture?
I was in corporate before. I was a Psychometrist, Human Resources Associate, then Project Manager. Right before I launched my business, I was working for my father’s business which sells auto parts wholesale. I now buy from those who buy from him, as part of the supply chain. At the time, I knew the manufacturing process for the product, how long it took to ship over, how much to price it at, how to market it, etc. though I didn’t know the technical aspect. While I was on maternity leave with my second son, I enrolled in a pre-apprenticeship program at Centennial College. I figured I was off work and I could learn more about my car since I didn’t enjoy the auto repair experience. I also thought it would help me in my father’s company. I didn’t think I’d have my own business.
It was a hectic time. I had my son and was still nursing him while I was in school, so I remember waking up at 5am to nurse him, go to trade school, and in between shop class I’d run to the other side of Centennial to pump milk. I’d store the milk and head back to class, back and forth, head home, nurse, study, etc. My eldest son was about 2.5 years old at the time so things were busy.
It sounds really rewarding get a deep understanding of something you didn’t have a background in previously. How did you make the jump from learning the trade to launching AutoNiche?
Around that time, I became a Christian and I really felt like God was calling me to open up an auto repair shop. I decided to step in faith, and started AutoNiche while going to trade school. I eventually got my license as an automotive service technician and built the business to what it is today.
Can you share some advice that you really value?
Last year, I completed a leadership training program and out of that, I learned “choose and move”. Sometimes what I’m doing isn’t working or I’m spending too much time and effort on something that isn’t worth it. Choose and move is a reminder for me to choose something else, anything, and quickly before I have too much time to overthink or doubt myself, and move on that new path. If that doesn’t work, I get to choose and move again. Sometimes I get hung up on the past, why things didn’t work out, or my own perceived shortcomings in the situation. That rarely helps me move forward and keep going. Choose and move – keep pressing on.
Do you have a mentor? And do you mentor any startup founders?
I’m part of a Mastermind group with 8 other auto repair shops. We meet once per month and discuss important issues in our business and industry. It’s something I really value. I’ve always had business coaches. Having a coach also holds me accountable and helps me move forward. I’ve had many coaches over the course of my business and the most important thing is finding one who will encourage me to the next level. I do a few informal mentoring/coaching to startups, females entering the skilled trades, etc.
How do you carve out time for yourself?
I don’t have much time for myself though I will do a quarterly prayer retreat. I usually go away, at least 2 hours from the GTA, on my own for at least one or two nights. I’m naturally introverted so this time really helps me recharge. I pray and plan for the next quarter. Before I leave, I’ll book the next retreat so that way it’s in my calendar. I do a lot of driving so I think of time in my car as my alone time too. Being an introvert, this time is nice to just be left to my thoughts, music, sermon, etc. It’s literally like I’m in my own bubble.
Something that’s really important to entrepreneurs is accountability. How do you stay motivated and accountable?
The business coaches play a big part in this, and I’m a big list person; it’s a part of how I stay motivated. I’m extremely goal-oriented and structured. From the leadership program I mentioned earlier, I learned a way to track goals. I have 4 goals every 2 months tracked using a spreadsheet. They’re professional, personal and overarching goals. I then have 3 action items to support each goal. It all rolls up into a Goal Summary. Every 2 months, I reset. This method keeps me accountable AND motivated.
This sounds awesome and we want to incorporate some of those tips into our own lives. But do the lists ever seem never-ending?
The lists ARE never-ending. It took me a while to actually understand and be okay with the fact that the lists would never end.
We notice you sometimes offer keynote/speaking engagements. What is your favourite topic to speak on?
One of my favourite topics to speak on is working in a non-traditional career and my main point has always been that gender isn’t an issue until we make it an issue. My gender has nothing to do with how successful I am, and if I believe that I’m receiving a bias due to my gender there is not much I can do to move forward.
Do you think that some of the times you get approached to speak is because you are a female in a male-dominated industry?
Yes and I always use this as an opportunity to speak about my experience focusing on the skills that I have and the work that I put into building up this business. Raising two boys has made me more conscious of not emphasizing gender and this goes back to my point that it shouldn’t be an issue, and usually only is if we make it an issue. I treat everyone in my shop the same regardless of their gender, age or circumstance – it’s based on skill and willingness to work together as a team. This is something I really strive to teach my sons.
What’s your management style?
Even though we are often each working on separate things, we have team meetings each week which is an opportunity to update one another. We also communicate a lot with each other constantly as we work. In the beginning when I first started, managing people was a struggle, though with the help of some of my mentors and through experience and practice it has become easier.
Do you have any favourite tools of the trade that help make your life easier?
My newly discovered favourite is the Turban Hair Towel! It’s a small thing, I know. It works great and I always bring it with me when I travel. I know I can use a regular towel, this isn’t the same. I can put my hair up while it dries and get everything else ready. Saves me time!
My favourite tool in the shop is my beloved hammer named “Thor”. Every now and again we need to hit parts to separate and replace them (e.g. brake rotors, etc). There’s nothing like hitting something hard with Thor, it’s just really satisfying hearing the pitch change when you know the part you’re hitting is released. And I mean…it’s Thor!
What really resonated with us after speaking with Emily was that she seems to have struck a great balance between being structured and methodical AND being adaptable and quick to pivot. Her faith led her down the path of entrepreneurship, and it’s been her tenacity and determination that have helped her persevere and run a successful business. If you want to learn more about AutoNiche, check here, follow on Twitter here and Facebook here.