Carolyn Tidwell can diagnose why a fridge or washing machine might be broken. Most importantly, she makes sure it’s done right.
The Houston native, who lived in Winnie for 27 years before settling in Beaumont, helps Southeast Texans in need of gadget repairs through her business called Fix It Gals Repair, which she founded in April 2021.
The Enterprise sat down with Tidwell to talk about her female-led business and how it’s changing perceptions of the space.
Q: You started Fix It Gals Repair almost two years ago, repairing appliances like refrigerators. What drew you to this job?
A: A little backstory about me: Growing up, I took everything apart, trying to figure out how it worked. I ripped my mom’s cell phone so many times it drove her insane. But I put it back together.
My parents didn’t have much money so things needed to be fixed around the house. I watched my father do it and then I started. My father taught about vehicles and mechanical stuff…
I have (previously) worked in the mental health field. My husband (Donnie) was alive then and I wanted to work with people and they put me in an office.
(Then) my boyfriend’s washing machine broke, so I thought, “I can fix this.” I went over and fixed her washing machine and a little lightbulb turned on in my head. It was like, “Wow, I can do that.” So I put my name on Facebook, went to my first job (and) was scared because I was going to go to someone’s house alone, and I just learned how to do these things…
I just learned how to do it. I read the service manual and did what it said. So I continued.
Then I found (my mentor) Andy Tucker who works at the Appliance Parts House in Beaumont. He sells me his parts, but he also helps me when I get stuck, because you can’t know everything about everything.
I’m honest about my abilities. If it’s over my head and I can’t do it, I let people know.
I lost my husband in a car accident in 2019 and that motivated me to move on and start my own business, to do something different.
Q: How has your mental health experience helped you in your current work?
A: It helped me to (learn) to talk to people…
You go to people’s homes and you don’t know where they are until you talk to them.
We always engage with the device, treat it as an important part of their life. Washing machine and dryer break down, you have three children – this is a crisis. The washing machine and dryer break down, you have an elderly parent or grandparent living with you – this is a crisis.
You must have these devices. We have come to a point in society where we depend on these devices for our daily lives. If someone calls for a fridge or freezer I try to get through to them asap because they are losing money (via) groceries. If we can come over and fix the problem, set them up with what they need to make sure the device is working properly, then they won’t lose money.
Food prices are outrageous these days. You can’t afford to lose food.
RELATED: Woodville is a natural fit for new business owners
Q: Which devices take time to fix and which devices can be fixed quickly?
A: There are so many electronics in refrigerators that it sometimes just takes a while to get to the bottom of the problem.
We can turn off washing machines and dryers while we sleep. We’re good with that, really good with that.
Dishwashers are really tough because it’s the tight space you have to work in. You have to work underneath. You can’t pull it out and turn it upside down without water ending up all over the house. Everything is on the bottom so those are tight.
We work on gas appliances, but we cannot do gas installations.
Q: Given the work you do, what does it mean to you to be an all-women company?
A: As an all-women company, I feel like we are empowered to do these things and we empower those around us.
I empower my nieces to show them that we are not stuck in a life rut, that we are capable of expanding ourselves beyond what society says we can and cannot do.
Q: Do you think that companies like Fix It Gals Repair are helping to break down the barriers of what is supposedly a “man’s job”?
Older women are very impressed. Even older men who you usually think are stubborn are impressed that we do this work.
I have many regular customers who are older.
We are busy every day. We treat ourselves to three to four jobs a day. That’s really a lot because we travel a lot.
We travel everywhere (in Southeast Texas) people don’t go… Anahuac is having trouble getting devices fixed out there.
As far as women do this job, what are we doing for women? We show women that we are more than a cliché. We can branch out and do whatever we want, whatever our heart’s desire. If we follow this desire and follow this dream, we can achieve anything.
RELATED: Photos: Pioneering Women celebrates its 2022 honorees
Q: You mentioned earlier that customers you deal with feel more comfortable when a woman repairs their devices. Why do you think this is?
A: They feel more secure when women come into their home rather than a total stranger, especially in this day and age.
Women feel more comfortable when a lady comes into their house and they just feel more secure. That’s what customers have told us over and over again.
Our customers feel so safe that they even leave their keys or open their house and go to work. I think that they believe that we will not only be gentler with their gadgets, but also with their stuff in their house, their belongings in their house.
We’re very careful not to damage the stuff around us, so we take extra care… If we damage something, we tell them, “Listen, I think I scratched that… we ( made) this scratch here, we (made) this dent here.” Sometimes things happen; You drop a tool. It just happens.
Q: What is the most satisfying part of the job?
A: When you take a device that isn’t working and a person is in crisis and you make it work, that’s satisfying.
The second thing that is satisfying is being able to talk to people and being real. We take the time to stop and listen to the little old lady having her crisis situation (with) her device or even crisis situation with her family. I think listening to people is the most important thing.
There are so many devices out there that it’s impossible to know everything about everything.
We use our mentor (Andy) and sometimes we use YouTube to figure out how to take things apart because they are all so different.
Everything is a mystery. How to take it apart is a mystery. How to diagnose it is a mystery.
It’s satisfying when you’ve made it. You walk away, the person is happy, and you’ve accomplished something.
We make sure it’s done right.
There was this elderly lady (an earlier event) and her dryer went out. It was a (safety) thermostat that failed. Investigating the situation further, my assistant and I discovered that the vent was plugged all the way to the outside, posing an extreme fire hazard. It literally took us three hours to clean that up with our cleaning kit. We didn’t charge her for those three hours because she couldn’t afford it.
(The woman’s daughter) gave me a check for $100 (next day) and said, “Thank you for not taking advantage of my mother and thank you for protecting her.”