An all-female shop specializing in restoration work, Ink & Iron has carved out a successful niche.
Hilary Nowak began her journey into the world of body repairs at 17, when she was a high school co-op student. She got a placement at a local body shop and that was it, she was hooked.
As she gained experience, Nowak discovered there were very few females in the trade. “I was the only one through my three levels of schooling,” she says. As Nowak progressed into the professional world of body repairs, she started connecting with other women in the trade and a plan started to form.
“I really knew I wanted to have my own shop,” she says, “but in order for it to stand out it had to be different.” In 2016, Ink & Iron Auto opened its doors at 5900 Dixie Road in Mississauga. Primarily specializing in classic car body repairs and restoration, it was unique in boasting an all-female staff.
Four years later, things are progressing well. Ink & Iron moved from Mississauga to Oakville in 2019. Located in a more expansive facility at 458 Woody Road, the business has also transitioned into exclusively classic car and custom work.
“My passion has always been on the restoration side,” says Nowak. “I always wanted to go that way, but there’s a popular perception that you don’t make any money off restorations.” Four years into her business journey, Nowak and her team are clearly proving that sentiment wrong.
Growing client list
The client list continues to expand and there is often a several month waiting list for customers to get their car in. She does admit it was hard going at first. “With classic cars, they often tend to be prized possessions and before a customer brings you their vehicle, they want to see samples of your work.”
Word of mouth reputation is everything in the restoration business, but as news of Ink & Iron has spread, Nowak has seen her client list and demand for the shop’s services steadily increasing.
The range of vehicles they work on is incredibly diverse. During our recent visit there was everything from an early 1970s AMC Javelin, to a 1969 Porsche 911T, to a 1957 Chevrolet 210 being worked on.
As Ink & Iron has grown, Nowak has become more experienced with the business side of the operation, though she admits it required an entirely new set of skills. “Coming at this from a technician perspective and with no prior business experience, it was a steep learning curve in the beginning,” she says. Today, however, things are very different. There are systems in place for quoting work, tracking hours, managing cashflow and documenting each and every job that comes in.
With business continuing to grow and a full-time staff of three, plus additional help when needed, Nowak is looking to the future. “The long-term goal is franchising,” she says. “Our next step is looking at opening a location in Detroit. My husband is from there; it’s the centre of car culture there,” she says. For Ink & Iron, it looks like the combination of a unique proposition, earned reputation and solid business strategy is paying off—big time.