Cars have changed in the past 60 years, as have gender norms — although not always at the same pace.
Judy Zimmerman Walter has watched both with great interest.
“It was probably more difficult back in the '70s and '80s than it is now,” Zimmerman Walter said. “It’s getting better all the time, but it’s still an old boys club in many ways. It’s not uncommon for me to go to an automotive training and be the only female in the room.”
Zimmerman Walter is a second-generation owner of Zimmerman’s Automotive, the service center and dealership started by her father, Norman, in 1958, at the intersection of Routes 15 and 114 in Upper Allen Township, just south of Mechanicsburg.
Zimmerman Walter’s two uncles, Norman’s brothers Paul and Jay, are co-owners, as is her husband, Jeffrey Walter — and she’s training her daughter to become a third-generation leader.
“I’m very much a proponent of women being involved in the auto industry,” Zimmerman Walter said. “I also believe in educating other women so that when they come in, and what they need done is beyond their knowledge, they know enough to trust us. And if you want to learn, we’re more than willing to teach you.”
Much has changed since Zimmerman Walter first started working for her father in 1975. The business has gone from six employees to 29, and moved locations.
The original gas and service station Norman Zimmerman started was demolished to make way for the new Route 15 interchange. The current location, about a quarter-mile down Route 114, opened in 2000.
Zimmerman’s started as a service center, but has since become a used car and tire dealer. The move in 2000 also included the addition of a quick-lube operation to expand the service sector.
“Cars were different back then,” Zimmerman Walter said. “You did points and condensers and spark plugs — obviously you don’t do that anymore.”
As a family-owned venture, Zimmerman’s has faced a great deal of pressure from larger dealerships and chains. But the business has concentrated on its niche, and thrived.
“We go after the relationship market,” Zimmerman Walter said. “You’re not a number here. We know who you are and what your car is because we service it here.”
Owners: Judy Zimmerman Walter, Jeffrey Walter, Paul Zimmerman, Jay Zimmerman
Age: Judy is 62
Years in business: 61
Years at current location: 19
Hometown: Upper Allen Township
What do you like best about what you do?
I love the automotive aftermarket. This industry is a vital part of the American economy. We provide a service to our customers. We believe in developing a relationship with our customers, getting to know them and their vehicle needs. It is a relationship of trust. Why is trust important? Because when the services we provide are very technical, the customer trusts the recommendations of our professional technicians to solve their vehicle issues. Through training and experience we make ourselves better and that is then used as we help our customers.
What is the toughest challenge you face as a small business owner?
The toughest part is staffing. Everybody is told they need to go to college, and we lose out on the technical jobs. Employee benefits and the costs are also constantly rising.
Why is it important for a small business to be involved in the community?
We are very involved in our community with events and fund raising for charities such as New Hope Ministries and many others. I feel it is important to be involved in my community. I live here and have raised my family here. My grandchildren are now growing up here. Several ownership are involved in local charities and local township government. We host a car show every summer for the public. Everything is free to our attendees. It is part of our way of giving back. We accept food and cash donations for New Hope Ministries. This has been a very successful and fun event.
What’s your proudest accomplishment as a small business owner?
Recent awards include Harrisburg Magazine Simply the Best;10 Top Shops in the USA by MotorAge Magazine; Pennsylvania Independent Automobile Dealers Association's Used Auto Sales Dealer of the Year in 2004; 2016 Female Shop Owner of the Year by Auto Care Association.
What are the key elements of your business success?
We serve locally,state and nationally on many boards and committees that help shape our industry. It also helps us stay abreast of the ever changing automobile and the future of personal auto transportation.
What’s left to do for your company?
What’s left to do is to keep striving to keep our community. This industry has probably changed more drastically than many others have, and it will keep changing. Our goal is to keep being a family owned and operated company and not be absorbed by a large corporation.
Email Zack at email@example.com.
"I’m very much a proponent of women being involved in the auto industry. I also believe in educating other women so that when they come in, and what they need done is beyond their knowledge, they know enough to trust us. And if you want to learn, we’re more than willing to teach you."
— Judy Zimmerman Walter
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