Career

The Auckland sisters who started their own car yard and are smashing all the stereotypes about women and cars

“When you say used cars, the picture that comes to most people’s minds is a man wearing a gold chain with slicked-back hair,” Hannah says, as both ladies giggle.

By Ciara Pratt

For as long as she can remember, Sarah Kilburn's life has revolved around cars. While many kids would walk out of their house to a green lawn, Sarah's backyard was a car yard.

"Yes, I was pretty much born into the car industry," Sarah (30) laughs. "The car yard office also doubled as our home. But even when we moved to another house, I would spend my school holidays at the yard washing cars for pocket money."

Selling cars has been a family affair for the Kilburns ever since Sarah's dad Brett decided to start his own business about 32 years ago. Keeping it in the family, Brett's children followed in his footsteps helping sell cars at the family yard, when one day Sarah had an idea.

Hannah and Sarah launched their own car yard, [Auto Angels](https://www.autoangels.co.nz/|target="_blank"|rel="nofollow"), where all the staff is female.
Hannah and Sarah launched their own car yard, Auto Angels, where all the staff is female.

"At the yard at the time, we were beginning to have quite a few female staff members, and our customers were giving feedback about how unusual they thought it was and the difference it made when they were buying cars," Sarah explains.

"So I said to Dad as a joke, 'I bet you the girls can outsell the guys,' because there's nothing wrong with a bit of friendly rivalry. And if we won, we could start our own car yard run by women. Dad is really open, so he said, 'Go for it.'"

Sure enough, in one month the team of women outsold their male counterparts, "I can't remember by how much," Sarah admits, and in one evening, they set to work on their business plan.

"It happened really quickly. Dad was so excited about it. He was telling everyone!"

With the help of her sister-in-law Hannah Kilburn, the ladies got to work launching their own yard, Auto Angels.

"I had to love cars to be in this family," Hannah (30), who's married to Sarah's older brother Paul, laughs.

"I have two brothers who weren't particularly interested in cars. So my dad took me to Big Boys Toys every year and we used to listen to all the cars revving up. I think I was brought up as his little petrol head. And I love that he never looked at me and thought, 'She's a girl, she won't be into cars.'"

Hannah, who now lives next door to Sarah and her family, worked in the Kilburn family car yard before building the Auto Angels idea with Sarah. Being in the car industry, they knew what they were up against.

"For me, it doesn't feel different because I have been around cars my whole life," Sarah says, "but we get so much feedback from people who come in, which reminds me how it's not common to see a female in a car yard actually selling the cars."

It's no question that buying a car can be a daunting experience, Hannah adds, which is why they are out to make that experience a much easier and calmer process for women.
"I hear a lot about husbands and wives going out into car yards and the salesperson will only acknowledge the husband," Hannah says.

"I had that when my partner bought his ute," Sarah jumps in. "I went with him to look at it. The salesperson only spoke to him about the car. But when we walked outside, he saw that I'd driven over in a really nice car and when he learned it was mine, his whole demeanour changed."

"When you say used cars, the picture that comes to most people's minds is a man wearing a gold chain with slicked-back hair," Hannah says, as both ladies giggle.

"But our team is definitely not that. We're a real family," Sarah says smiling. "We have grandmas, mums, petrol heads and even some students on the team."

With thousands of cars under their belts and the business fast expanding, the Kilburn ladies are on a mission to empower women when it comes to buying cars. After all, Hannah says they want their own daughters to grow up smashing stereotypes and knowing they can do any career they're interested in and it isn't "bound by their gender".

So what would be their advice to those who become overcome with anxiety at the thought of walking onto a car yard?

"Make sure you feel comfortable with the person looking after you and you have someone with you whose opinion you trust," advises Sarah. "It's like buying a dress. You may walk into a store and the shop assistant will say it looks amazing on you, and you question if they just want to make a sale. So the same works for cars."

Hannah adds, "My tip would be, always test drive a car! No two cars drive the same. A lot of women are scared and feel like they don't know anything about cars. But you can learn! You just need the attitude. We don't want to just see women behind the desk in the administration roles at a car yard."

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