Oil isn't the only thing Lori Schmitter is changing

August 16, 2004|JOHN T. DAVIS

Five years ago, when Lori Schmitter first considered going to work for Valvoline Instant Oil Change, she wasn't sure she'd be able to handle working on cars and trucks.

Growing up she watched her father, a diesel mechanic, work on engines.

"I had an interest," Schmitter said, "but Dad made me feel like, 'You're a girl. You can't do this.'"

Well, Dad, you were wrong: Today, Schmitter is the manager of Danville's Valvoline store where she oversees a staff of nine, does all of the scheduling and ordering and works on cars and trucks all day long.

A Somerset resident, Schmitter responded to an advertisement five years ago for a job as a customer sales representative at a Valvoline store there. As the owner of a tanning salon, she figured she was experienced in sales and management, but she was concerned about the mechanical aspects of the job.

"You think you can't do this. That's a man's job," she said. "But I've learned a lot and I'm still here."


After working as a customer sales rep and assistant manager in Somerset, Schmitter came to Danville a year and half ago as manager of the Valvoline here, and she enjoys her work in what traditionally has been considered a "man's job."

"After doing it for a while and learning, I really enjoy it a lot," she said. "I like dealing with customers, working outside, working with my hands ...

"People say, 'Don't you get dirty?' and I tell them it just washes right off."

Schmitter said she occasionally has a customer who's "kind of leery because I'm a female."

She recalls telling one male customer that the spark plugs were fouling out on his vehicle. Not quite believing her, he took the vehicle to his dealership where the service people told him the same thing.

"When he came back, he said, 'I take back what I said about woman mechanics,'" Schmitter said.

As for the men on her crew, they have accepted her even though they might have had doubts at first. "When I was new, they were kind of doubting me but now they say, 'She's just like one of the guys.'"

Her sons "think its cool" she works on cars

The mother of three boys, Schmitter said her sons "think it's cool" that their mother works on cars.

"They're all the time asking me things about cars: Does that car go faster than that car? How big's that motor?"

Schmitter, who has taught the basics of vehicle maintenance to women students at Centre College, said women are still rare in the automotive service business but they are more common in Lexington than in this area.

She is joined at Valvoline by another woman, Lisa Nickerson, a customer sales representative.

Nickerson, who has worked for Valvoline for about a year, said she has nine uncles and four brothers and her grandfather had a shop where he worked on cars.

"I worked under the hood of a car with him," she said. "He was the one who first taught me where the drain plug was ..."

Like Schmitter, Nickerson likes the auto service business.

"You have to want to get dirty, hang out with a bunch of guys and learn more about cars than you need to know," said Nickerson. "Lori gets right under there with them, changes the oil and oil filters ..."

Schmitter is convinced women can be successful in her line of work if that's what they want to do.

"We don't do anything here that any average female couldn't do," she said. "It just takes confidence. Some people limit themselves in their minds."

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