No Longer 'a man's world' at JAX Tyres
When the late great James Brown sang that 'this is a man's world', he could have been talking about the tyre industry - but he didn't know Ainslie Weekes.
Ainslie, the owner of JAX Tyres in the Wollongong suburb of Fairy Meadow, is a rare being - a woman in what has traditionally been very much a man's world.
Ainslie is one of a growing number of females in a 70 store chain that stretches from Cairns to Tasmania and for Ainslie the tyre industry, and particularly the JAX Tyres connection, is a second home
Born in Sydney, but growing up in Wollongong from the age of three, Ainslie did a secretarial course when she finished school. Then came the decision that would shape her entire life.
"Two jobs came up. One was at (former retailer) Nock and Kirby and the other was at Firestone Tyres. I took that one, and that was my introduction to the tyre industry."
Ainslie started as a clerk and worked her way up to the assistant manager's role. She was only 21 at the time, and very young for the position, but she was extremely successful in it. Then Firestone went home to America.
"JAX bought the premises and I stayed on for another 12 months before I had my son. Twelve months later, JAX opened another store at Warilla, which was close to home, and they asked if I would come back and do some casual work."
Ainslie agreed. That casual work soon became part-time, then full-time. Then she became the assistant manager and stayed for 15 years.
"Then I was offered the manager's job here at Fairy Meadow, which I took. It was a big thing because at that point JAX had no women in senior positions. That was September 1996 and in September 1999 I bought the franchise."
Ainslie believes being a woman is an asset in the tyre business.
"For starters, I think we attract a different type of clientele. We have a lot of female customers because I think they feel comfortable here. They don't get the experience they get in many other places when they go in as 'female customers'. There's a lot more equality here.
"And we find we deal with a lot of young kids, too. Mums and dads bring their children in to buy tyres for their first car. I think they feel they can trust me and they know the kids will be looked after."
Regardless of who is running the business, Ainslie says there is no real secret to making it work - as long as you remember that taking care of customers is taking care of business.
"Service is the big difference when it comes to a successful business. Good prices are important, especially in the current climate, but it's not everything.
"You also have to have good people on your staff and you have to have the right atmosphere - and that includes being clean and tidy and organised - because you want people to come back and you want them to feel happy when they leave.
"People will pay a little more for good service, for good advice, for feeling comfortable and feeling that they are dealing with people they can trust."
Ainslie admits she loves the industry, mostly because of the people. She loves working with customers and helping to solve their problems, she's made good friends from long-standing customers, and more good friends within the business itself. She says there is something special about many of the people who work in the industry.
"It's also a business that is challenging, and I really enjoy that. A lot of people would see tyres as just round, black things, but they're not. The industry is constantly changing, the technology is constantly changing and it's a challenge to keep up with it, and that also makes it exciting."
Ainslie works six days a week, as does her husband - in another business just around the corner - so spare time is precious and spent with her family (her two children are now 23 and 27) and friends, mostly enjoying all that the Wollongong area has to offer.
JAX Tyres Fairy Meadow offers a variety of mechanical services such as brakes and suspension as well as supplying and fitting the world's leading tyre brands including BFGoodrich, Bridgestone, Dunlop, Falken, Goodyear, Michelin, and Pirelli, and a wide range of top-line alloy and steel wheels.
Customers who buy two tyres and a wheel alignment from Ainslie's store are eligible for membership of the JAX Tyres Gold Club Tyre Maintenance Plan, which offers huge savings on new tyres, tyre maintenance and servicing as well as a range of special offers.