For ten years Dutch’s Auto Service has been changing oil, replacing brakes and doing everything else under the hood for their customers. Located on North Sherman Avenue on Madison’s northeast side, Dutch’s is equipped to service 5 vehicles at a time but helping customers is their number one priority. Dutch’s is co-owned and operated by Nan Mortensen and Crystal Rossman.
Mortensen stressed how transparency and helping customers understand repairs has remained their focus over the decade.
“One of our drivers is transparency in the auto repair process. Why does this have to be done? Why does this cost so much? Why are we sourcing one part over another part? Say we can buy this from the dealership, we absolutely have to have a dealership part or can we buy this at an aftermarket parts store? So just trying to help the consumer understand the process of repairing the car,” Mortensen said.
We spoke in the Dutch’s Auto Service lobby while co-owner Crystal Rossman’s dog Gabby snoozed in the corner.
Mortensen explained how they encourage car owners to keep up with regular maintenance of their vehicles to avoid costly and unexpected repairs down the road. Dutch’s Auto Service website states “We will never hold your car hostage.”
“We’re not going to be looking for that magic number to meet our sales goal that day. We’re not going to be looking for that $600 repair or $1,100 repair. We’re not going to hold you hostage and say if you don’t fix this your car is going to fall apart, you’re in danger, this is worrisome. Nine times out of ten that’s an overstatement,” Mortensen explains.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that only 9 percent of auto mechanics are women. Mortensen told me her and Rossman try to hire and train as many women as they can.
“It’s important to give women opportunities in trades that are dominated by men. It’s not just automotive, it’s any trade that is male dominated. It’s important for women to be able to get their way into the field,” Mortensen said.
There are a few online resources that connect customers with women-operated auto shops. However, no site has more than a few dozen garages listed nationwide. Mortensen said Dutch’s retains a loyal customer base and is at times sought out for what makes them unique.
“I think some people seek us out because we are women owned. I think some people seek us out because even though we don’t fly the rainbow flag outside of our building, we do fly the rainbow flag,” said Mortensen.
Dutch’s co-owner Crystal Rossman recalls how she was the type of worker who got bored quickly. Due to the changing nature of auto work, she’s found her sweet spot as a mechanic.
“With automotive there’s always new things to learn. I’ll never know everything and that’s kind of what drew me to it. There’s always changing technology, there’s always something different,” said Rossman.
At the front desk of Dutch’s Auto Service there are chalkboards listing the services offered. Similar to a menu at a café. That’s where I chat with service writer Kat Ebbott. She’s worked in the auto industry for 35 years at dealerships and other independent shops. Ebbott describes herself as the teenage girl who was reading Hot Rod instead of the typical Teen Beat and shares the story of how she knew she wanted to work with cars.
“We had this old Buick and my Dad got ripped off by a local shop and he was so mad at them. So I dove under the hood of the car and fixed the problem without any training and thought, I can do this,” said Ebbott.
Mortensen says at Dutch’s they invest in their employees and help them grow. Zack Erickson is a B-level mechanic who’s been with Dutch’s for just over a month. Next to a lifted SUV he told me it’s more fast paced than previous garages he’s worked in. He appreciates the support and guidance he gets in a smaller shop.
“There’s a little bit more of an interpersonal relationship because there’s fewer of us here,” said Erickson.
Rossman and Mortensen knew each other before opening Dutch’s Auto Service. As Rossman washed the grease from her hands she echoed Mortensen’s words about customer service.
“Our goal is longevity with the customer. I would say we’re more interested in doing what’s best for the customer than how much money we can make today,” said Rossman.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Dutch’s shut down for 12 weeks and paid employees out of pocket. Now Dutch’s is operating with a fully vaccinated staff and facing an increase in service requests.
“So now we’re dealing with cars that have been sitting for a long time and that’s pretty much the worst thing you can do to your car is just leave it sit. So we’ve been getting the cobwebs and the squirrels and the mice and the spiders and the other things that move in over time out of cars and getting them back on the road,” said Mortensen.
Rossman says it’s been challenging as a small business to navigate the COVID-19 precautions during the pandemic and post vaccination.
“It was nice for them to say nobody has to wear masks anymore, or if you’ve had your COVID shot you don’t have to wear your mask. But what am I supposed to ask my customers to prove it? It puts us in a bad spot,” said Rossman.
As we go about our lives in a relatively safer world, Rossman had this advice.
“I hope that people have gotten out of this whole experience that ya know maybe be nicer to people that are working hard for you,” said Rossman.
Dutch’s caters to customers who don’t know much about cars and their internal workings. That can make car owners nervous and frustrated when it’s time for service. Mortensen says it doesn’t have to be that way. As the customer it’s your car and you can be empowered in the repair process.
“You know how your car feels. I’m going to be lucky to drive your car for three miles. Tell me how the car feels, tell me how something has changed. I know where 33,000 parts go. I know seven major systems. You know how your car feels. Please tell me how your car feels. Then we work forward from there,” said Mortensen.
From her spot at the front desk, Kat Ebbott says that the dedication to empowering and including the customer makes a huge difference.
“I like to see other women who come in here, they might walk in really timid and scared because [of other experiences] and they leave laughing,” said Ebbott.
Correction: This story has been changed to reflect the correct percentage of women mechanics.