Tuesday 19 March 2019

International Women's Day: 'A customer asked me, 'what do you know about cars?'' - mum who runs car dealership

Karen Burke (left) and Pauline Burke Ryan (right) run JJ Burke Sales in Mayo.
Karen Burke (left) and Pauline Burke Ryan (right) run JJ Burke Sales in Mayo.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

Pauline Burke can remember a day in her car dealership business, when a customer didn't believe she was the manager.

The mother-of-three (35) runs a Peugeot, Renault and Dacia dealership with her sister Karen (40) and brother Joseph. They took the reins from their father when he decided to take a step back.

“I started in 2003; it was male orientated but I was lucky to have a great team that worked with us in the service department.”

“I’d get males asking can I speak to the service manager, and they’d say ‘what do you know about cars?’” she tells Independent.ie on International Women’s Day.

“As I grew and learned more and understood more, I’d have customers who’d talk down to me. I progressed by doing different courses to become a service manager,” Pauline says.

“It pretty much is a male industry, even any conferences or meetings, it’s male oriented.”

“Now I’d have peers in the industry that would ring and ask me something.”

Karen and Pauline have grown JJ Burke Car Sales, which they admit runs in their blood, from a staff of 12 to 30. Taking over the business was a natural fit, after they'd spent childhood summers cleaning and hoovering cars, and filling petrol.

Karen adds: “Even when Dad started off in a little garage up town, I remember coming into work with him on a Saturday. We always grew up with it, so the love was always there from an early age."

Adrenaline now fuels the sisters forward, and extend the business, Pauline suggests.

“Cars present with so many different items that can change on a regular basis. Every day in the motor industry is a learning day. Every new model that comes out, the staff go on training courses for them.”

“I do enjoy it. It’s pure adrenaline. You don’t know what you’re facing, you can think you’ve everything booked in, but for example if an ambulance breaks down everything stops because we can’t provide them with another vehicle.”

“When we come to work we enjoy it too. We’ve come to the conclusion over the years that the people we work with, we spend more than with them than our family. We enjoy our time together, we make as much fun together as we can. The doors don’t close at 6pm.”

“It was exciting. It still is. Every day is different; no two days are the same. The time flies. It’s always, always different.”

And the icing on the cake for Karen (40), was that moving back to Ballinrobe from Galway city to take over the business, led her to meeting her husband.

“I was leaving the social scene of Galway and coming back to the family business, and Ballinrobe didn’t have a lot going on, being a small town.”

“Dad rang me twice or three times asking would I work for him. What I actually said was 'I’ll never meet anyone in Ballinrobe', but as Murphy’s Law would have it, I actually met my husband in Supervalu a month after I went home.”

Today is International Women's Day.

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