OUT AND ABOUT: Never tired of tires; Margaret Richer knows her auto repair
BEMIDJI -- Margaret Richer is approached just about everywhere she goes -- church, the grocery store, even phone calls at home -- but people aren't asking about her new grandson or her golf game.
It's most likely about their cars.
For many women, they'll never field calls about car problems. But then most women haven't worked in the auto maintenance business for 29 years.
Today, Richer is the assistant manager at Northwest Tire. She's been around cars as long as she can remember, growing up questioning her father as he worked on cars in the family garage.
"I'd always thought I'd like to be a nurse," said Richer, 56, whose current profession fixes other types of bodies.
She has worked at three different auto shops in the Bemidji area and has gained the ability to diagnose cars with a 75 percent accuracy.
"I can diagnose it, I can't fix it," Richer said. In most cases, Richer is able to diagnose a problem with just a phone call.
Her job includes anything and everything from cleaning up around the shop, sales, estimates, and more. "I write up the service report, so I have to ask a lot of questions regarding what it's doing, what kind of noise it's making and put that all on the work order so the techs have a starting point," she said. "Most of the time I write down what I think might be wrong."
And she's usually right.
In the past, people would call and they would often try to bypass Richer to ask for a mechanic, but today she basically is seen as a celebrity within the garage.
"I've been doing this since 1976, so I've been trying to prove myself since then," Richer said.
To illustrate the point, Richer told a story of a customer just a few years back. The man had come into the shop and started chatting with her and soon asked to talk to a man about buying tires. Richer said she replied to the man: "This isn't just a pretty face, there's a brain in here and I can sell you tires."
Customers, both male and female, will come in a daily basis and look for Richer to discuss a car problem and often ask "where's she hiding?" said Cody Stieg, Northwest Tire store manager.
Even Richer's children take advantage of her talents. "When they were having car problems, they would call me instead of dad," she said.
Richer has seen plenty of changes in the auto field through the years, partly with more people accepting her in the field, but also the fact that more women are customers, as well.
Richer's favorite part of her job is the customers, including some who are second- and third-generation visitors. "People have said, 'My grandpa brought his car here, so I'm going to do the same,'" Richer said.
Her least favorite part of the job, she said, is when she has to tell someone their car has a major, costly problem.
Richer plans to retire from the business in nine years but has no plans of how she will keep herself busy, she said.
Out and About is a new Pioneer feature where we will profile everyday people doing everyday things in and around Bemidji. We plan to run the stories on Tuesdays. If you know someone you think should be profiled, please email Maggi Stivers at firstname.lastname@example.org or email email@example.com.