Georgia FFA alumna Chantell Matthews isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She’s been helping at her dad’s automotive repair shop and towing service, Matthews Garage Inc., since she was six years old. Today, the 19-year-old Cass High School graduate works there full time.
“I’ve been around the shop all my life. I started by riding in the tow trucks and helping my dad in the shop by handing him tools or holding things for him,” Chantell says. “I began working there part time after school when I was 15 and then full time after I graduated in 2013.”
Located in Cartersville, Ga., Matthews Garage was established by Chantell’s grandfather, Mack, in 1963.
Her dad, Ricky, became owner in 1991, and the business has grown to include three shops – automotive repair, body shop and heavy-duty diesel repair. Chantell’s older brother, Jeremy, also works at the garage.
“We live directly across the street from the shop, so Chantell has always gone with me on towing calls and helped get me things,” Ricky says. “She always had a strong interest in it. She especially enjoys the towing part, and she has the highest level of certification available to operate the recovery part of the wrecker. She was the youngest female in the world to become a level 6/7 WreckMaster.”
FFA Sets The Foundation
During high school, Chantell was president of the Cass FFA Chapter, where she showed cattle and competed in public speaking and tractor driving contests. In 2013, she became a national finalist for the National FFA Agricultural Proficiency Award in agricultural mechanics repair and maintenance.
“FFA was her passion, and it most definitely prepared her for working at the garage,” Ricky says. “As chapter president, she learned how to deal with people. By showing cattle, she learned responsibility. FFA played a huge part of her life in high school.”
Chantell considered going to college, but instead decided to jump into her career immediately after high school.
“Since I know this industry is where I want to be for the rest of my life, I feel I will be better off continuing to work at the shop and going to some business seminars when I get a little older,” she says. “Knowing my grandfather started this business back in the 1960s gives me the drive to continue in this industry and carry on his legacy.”
She Can Do It All
At the garage, Chantell works wherever she is needed, whether it’s doing minor vehicle repairs by herself or helping technicians with major repairs.
“I go out on wrecker calls. I dispatch calls. I do estimates and invoices for the work we do at the shop,” she says. “I never know what exactly I will be doing each day when I go into work.”
Some customers are surprised to see Chantell show up for a towing job in an industry typically dominated by men.
“People who don’t know me well are very surprised when I tell them I work at a garage. While I’m at work, quite a few people have been surprised to see me working in the shop or out pulling cable, hooking up a car in the wrecker,” she says. “Most people are proud for me that I’m doing what is considered a man’s job. But then I do have some guys who don’t think I know what I’m doing just because I’m a girl.”
Gaining Industry Recognition
Ricky says many people give Chantell a “thumbs-up” because she started out in the industry so young.
“People in the industry know her because she attends tow shows all over the country, she’s been in tow magazines and she won the first Young Tower’s Achievement Award ever given,” he says. “In the general public, people might raise an eyebrow and think, ‘Why is she out here?’ But then they see what she can do.”
Aside from all the technical skills she’s learned, working at the garage has equipped Chantell with patience and responsibility.
“Working on a vehicle or out in the wrecker, I’ve gained patience to keep trying and never give up even if something isn’t easy,” she says. “I’ve learned to be patient when dealing with the public. I know one day my brother and I will take over our family business, and I’m learning the responsibility of how to run a business.”
Through the years, Matthews Garage has won an impressive number of industry awards for service and performance. Ricky has no doubt that with Chantell and Jeremy in charge, the family business will continue to serve north Georgia long into the future.
“I’ll be involved as long as I’m able. When my dad retired and turned the business over to me, he still came to work every day until the week he died at age 87,” Ricky says. “I’ll probably be the same.”
When they aren’t working, Chantell and her dad enjoy attending antique tractor shows.
“My dad worked on a lot of tractors, so Chantell got interested in tractors when she was little. She has her own antique tractor that we take to shows together,” Ricky says. “I’m very proud of her. I can’t even put it into words.”
– Jessica Mozo