Inge’s passion for cars transcends any question of her place in this industry and proves that women have an important perspective to bring and role to play as we move into the future; it’s not just a man’s world anymore!
Inge grew up in her father’s Maaco Collision and Repair Center, spending weekends in the shop where she learned about the entire process, from painting to sanding to finishing the vehicle. “My dad, A.J. Inge, owned the shop for over 30 years, and I was always very interested in how the vehicles changed from entry to completion," Inge recalled. "I felt amazed by the process and couldn’t help but appreciate how much work goes into repairing the vehicles.”
In high school, Inge participated in a work-study program which allowed her to spend her afternoons working in the shop, and following a brief stint in community college, she returned to her father’s shop full-time as a result of her love for the business and her desire to follow in her father’s footsteps to become a Maaco shop owner.
In 2015, Inge bought a portion of her father’s business, realizing her dream of becoming a shop owner at only 22 years old. “Since then, my dad has stepped back and given me more responsibilities as a co-owner," Inge said. "He deserves a break after working so hard for such a long time, but he’s always there to guide me when I need him.”
The multi-generational ownership provides additional benefits as well, with Katie adding a millennial focus on social media and customer service which helps the shop appeal to a wider customer base. “My focus is more on new technology while Dad’s focus is more old-school repair,” Inge explained, “but we still want the same results. It’s a win-win situation that allows us to combine his decades of knowledge with my comprehension of new technology.”
Inge’s service experience has been very helpful in furthering her success as well. “It helps to know what you’re talking about so I can explain it to the customers and walk them through the shop. They really like feeling certain that they’re talking to someone who understands the process fully, and a lot of our female customers really like dealing with me because it makes them more comfortable.”
Of course, being a young female shop owner does not come without its challenges, and although Inge admits that she encountered some difficulties with her employees at first, she said, “It got a lot better after they saw me dive in and get dirty. My strength is that I started in the back and can do anything the group can do and show them how to do it, too. I’m very strong-minded, so my age and gender just aren’t a big deal.”
One valuable lesson that Katie learned from her father is to do what you promise when dealing with customers. “You have to do what you say and follow through with your promises to build rapport,” Inge emphasized. “We like to sell low and deliver high; the finished product should exceed the client’s expectations.”
When asked why she decided to pursue a career in the collision repair industry, Inge explained, “It’s a passion – I love what I do, and enjoying your work makes it easy because it doesn’t feel like work. I’ve always been around cars, and I love the body shop industry.”
To other young ladies interested in pursuing a career in the automotive industry, Inge offered this advice: “Definitely learn as much as you can. You don’t want to learn just the front or back end – you want to know all sides of the business so people can’t take advantage of you. At the end of the day, you really have to love what you do, and I definitely do!”