Teresa Wanderstadt: In the Owner’s Chair

Davis, California, is a small city on the outskirts of Sacramento. It’s just far enough away from the capital that life in Davis moves at a more relaxed pace. On the corner of F Street and Covell Blvd. sits the local SpeeDee/Midas Oil Change and Auto Service center. Behind the counter, or perhaps under a hood, you’ll find owner Teresa Wanderstadt. Wanderstadt is one of the few female owners in an industry that is overwhelmingly male. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, less than 2 percent of auto technicians are women. However, Wanderstadt never set out to break any ceilings — even glass ones.

In fact, when she arrived in Davis in 1995, having just moved from her hometown of Mt. Shasta City, Wanderstadt was just looking for any work she could find. As fate would have it, she stumbled across an ad in the town newspaper for a cashier job at the local oil and lube shop. She landed the job and began working at SpeeDee for just $5 an hour, barely more than minimum wage at the time. She never imagined that her gig at SpeeDee would be anything more than a stopover on the way to some other career path.

Wanderstadt started working the SpeeDee’s cash register, but she quickly got bored with simply cashing out customers, so she started spending time on the shop floor learning how to do oil changes, swap filters and perform other maintenance tasks. The dirtier her hands got, the more she started to like her job.

“I told my mom it was the best job I ever had,” she said. “I got to hang out, boss boys around and get paid for it!”

SpeeDee was quickly becoming more than just a job to Wanderstadt. When she started, SpeeDee was the only oil change business in Davis, with a strong base of repeat customers whom Wanderstadt came to know by name. As her relationships with her customers and fellow employees grew, the thoughts of finding another job began to fade away.

SpeeDee’s owner at the time, Ray Scholl, further endeared himself and his business to Wanderstadt through his genuine care for his employees and customers. As time went on, the job at SpeeDee went from being nothing more than a short-term way to pay the bills to the place Wanderstadt wanted to be indefinitely. When asked why she decided to make the oil and lube business her career, Wanderstadt didn’t hesitate, “at that point it wasn’t a decision,” she said. “I loved the owner, and I loved all my customers.”

In 1999, the Davis SpeeDee shop was in the midst of some internal turmoil. At the time, the shop’s manager was causing problems for the business, and Wanderstadt knew she could help right the ship. She went straight to Scholl and asked him for the opportunity to run the shop’s day-to-day operations. Seeing her drive, determination and dedication to the business, Scholl appointed Wanderstadt as the manager.

“I was excited when I became Manager,” she recalled. “I had been doing the job mostly already, and once the old manager was gone, it was a much better environment.”

Over the next few years, Wanderstadt continued to run the shop. The struggles associated with the previous manager faded from memory, and the Davis SpeeDee thrived. Scholl, however, was getting a little older and knew his time as the shop’s owner would not last forever. He began grooming Wanderstadt as his successor, telling her to save her money for the day when he would hand over the keys to the business.

That day came in 2006. Scholl had decided to retire, so Wanderstadt and her husband, Randy, sat down with Ray, his wife Kathy and their longtime accountant. After hammering out the details, the actual exchange was gradual, and it took almost a year before everything was finalized. Wanderstadt had climbed the ladder all the way up from part-time cashier to the owner’s chair, but the work wasn’t over yet.

Going from manager to owner was quite an adjustment, with perhaps the hardest transition involving the other employees — her friends.

“When I first took over ownership, of course, all of the employees were my friends, which made it hard to transition to an employer-employee relationship,” she said. “Now, I don’t hire anybody I can’t fire. In my view, I’m still friends with them, but on a different level.”

Though she had become the boss, the fact she was a woman still caught some off-guard. When asked what challenges she’s faced as a woman in a male-dominated industry, Wanderstadt replied, “Rarely anymore do I face challenges that I’m a woman. There are still occasions that someone wants to talk to my mechanic and not to me, but it’s changed a lot since I first started.”

After she took over the shop, Wanderstadt’s husband, Randy, continued at his day job. However, he began coming in to work at the shop on Saturdays. Then, in 2010, he decided to join the team full time. Officially, Randy’s title is manager, and he also works as a smog technician/mechanic.

“We have truly become a family business,” Wanderstadt said. “Honestly, I could not do this without him.”

Also in 2010, Midas Corporation, which had bought out SpeeDee a couple years before, offered the Wanderstadts the opportunity to turn their business into a co-branded SpeeDee/Midas. The move paid off.

Wanderstadt explained, “Really we had only added tires, suspension and alignments, but with the Midas sign on the building, all of a sudden customers realized we were more than an oil change shop. To date, we do the most tire sales in our region. It has changed the business platform with a 60-percent to 40-percent mechanic to lube ratio, where it was flipped before.”

Wanderstadt and her husband remain very hands-on owners with one or both of them in the shop nearly every day.

“We don’t have days off together. It’s tough, but it’s rewarding,” Wanderstadt lamented.

Still, even after working at the same place for over 20 years, Wanderstadt still very much enjoys her work.

“I enjoy everything! I enjoy the people — my customers. I enjoy what I do,” she exclaimed. “I love it when people stop me out in public, ask me what’s wrong with their car and I can answer them!”

When asked what advice she would give other women who might want to carve a place for themselves in the oil and lube industry, Wanderstadt didn’t hesitate.

“I would like to see more women be involved in the field. Don’t let your gender be a factor,” she said. “It never came into play for me. If it’s something you want, just do it!”