Women flock to Paris all-female garage for manicures, massages and lessons in mechanics
An all-female garage outside Paris offering manicures, massages and lessons in mechanics is doing a roaring trade since opening last month, challenging stereotypes of auto repair being an essentially masculine domain.
Only Girls, in the suburb of Saint-Ouen-l'Aumone, caters to women who feel they have been taken for a ride by male mechanics who bet on them showing little interest in what goes on beneath the bonnet.
"When you're a woman, it's like you've got 'sucker' tattooed on your forehead," said Sandrine Hautenne, one satisfied 42-year-old customer.
"One time, I went round to three different garages, and got three different estimates. Since then, I've sent my uncle to get estimates and – guess what? – the prices have dropped!," she told AFP.
From spark plugs to shock absorbers, a female mechanic outlined the trouble spots of Miss Hautenne's car. "If it had been a man, he wouldn't have explained any of this to me," she said.
Just one month since opening, Only Girls has seen 40 customers, two-thirds of them women, with most appreciative of the tailor-made service.
In addition to a "beauty corner" that includes a nail bar and massages, other uncharacteristic features include a children's playroom with mauve-coloured wallpaper, hardwood floors, flickering candles and velvet sofas.
While so-called "gender marketing" is already prevalent in countries including Britain and Japan, France has been slow on the uptake.
But the trend has now spread to areas like sports clubs, insurance companies and even credit cards catering to a specifically female clientele.
While some feminist critics have denounced the trend as a "daft" and shallow marketing ploy, it has been a boon for the Only Girls' two female auto mechanics.
Aurore Dabireau said the macho world of car repair had put a spanner in the works of her career, despite a degree in auto mechanics.
"Garage owners are sceptical (about hiring me), and I've often been told, 'you've got no place here'," she said.
Only Girls is France's second made-for-women auto mechanic, following a first female garage in the southern French city of Montpellier.
"We only change what is strictly necessary, and we show our customers the parts and explain what we're doing," said Laid Hdachi, the manager.
Despite the female focus, in one sense Only Girls remains traditional; Mr Hdachi is a man.