#SheIsSEMA Spotlight: Talena Handley of Girlie Garage

By Ashley Reyes

The SEMA Businesswomen's Network (SBN) named Talena Handley as thisSEMA month's #SheIsSEMA spotlight member. Handley is the founder and CEO of Girlie Garage, a consulting company for the automotive aftermarket.  

Get to know Handley in her interview with SEMA below.  

SEMA News: How many years have you been with your current company, and what do you enjoy most about working there? 

Talena Handley: I launched Girlie Garage in the middle of COVID [July 2020]. I am passionate about helping women, and I get to do that every single day. 

SEMA News: What is the most challenging part of running your business or job? 

TH: Having high standards. I hold myself, all of my work, and any work that is performed under my brand to very high standards. 

SEMA News: How many years have you been in the industry, and what was your first industry job? 

TH: Fourteen years wrenching. My first job in the industry outside of school was with a race team in the Rolex series. 

SEMA News: What three qualities got you to where you are today? How have these qualities benefited you? 

TH: One: honesty. It might be great news or not-so-great news, but it is better to know and make educated decisions than hide something. It's best to move forward as efficiently as possible. Honesty builds relationships and has helped me make friendships during some of the hardest times we have seen in our lifetimes. 

Two: grit. The automotive industry is male-dominated. Having grit has helped me push through adverse times to be able to connect with others who I consider colleagues and mentors. 

Three: eternal optimism. One of my personal sayings is, "It's all going to work out in the end. If it hasn't worked out, then it is not the end." Starting a business is difficult, and doing it alone is difficult. There are so many days that I would like to quit, but I stay optimistic. 

SEMA News: Being a woman in the industry, what have been your biggest challenges and accomplishments?  

TH: I once tried out to be on a race team. I drove three hours to work at the track the whole day, then drove home. The manager told me to my face that his wife would not want him to hire a woman, but that I worked harder than any man he'd seen. He hired me, but that interaction has always stuck out to me. 

Overcoming my fears is a big accomplishment. Outside of school, which was 14 years ago, I am self-taught. Learning to cut things off a car was super scary, and also just trying new things in general. I get scared of doing big jobs I've never done before--like an engine swap--then I tackle it, and I rock it. That fear is paralyzing, though. Sometimes, it's taken me years to do something simple because I didn't know if I had what it took to do the job. Just putting my coveralls on and getting out there and getting started makes all the difference. It also helps to have the right tools.  

SEMA News: Who are your role models or mentors in the industry?  

TH: @LadiesStartYourEngines--Lori scooped me up when I was in a dark place. I had been working by myself for a while and I was starting to feel really sad and alone. She was willing to chat with me without asking for anything in return. That led me to build more connections with other women in the industry. 

It might be silly to say, but I look up to every female tradesperson. Women who wake up every day and say, "I can do this." It's really beautiful to watch women constantly lifting each other up, and that is what they do in the automotive industry. It's like we all have each other's back. 

SEMA News: What is the best career advice you have received? How has this advice helped you either professionally or personally? 

TH: Sometimes, people just need to be heard. They might be yelling, but they need to get it out and feel like you were listening. This has helped me not take upset people so personally. Humans just want to be heard and respected. 

It doesn't have to be perfect. Get your product/service into the hands of your customer so you can iterate based on what they want and need, not what you think they want and need. This helps build something that works and also keeps you close to your customer. 

Failure is a learning experience. I've always had very high standards for myself, so when I began to create expectations for my business and I found out I was wrong, this was a difficult realization. I turned it around to capitalize on what I was learning rather than on what I got wrong. 

SEMA News: Have you always wanted to work in the automotive industry? What keeps you here? 

TH: I went to school to be a mechanic, so I had the knowledge to work on my own car--after it had been stolen for a second time. I have fallen back on my knowledge many times. Starting in racing, then I worked for Porsche in parts and all positions front-of-house, and now here we are. I realized that I can use my skills to help people, and I want to figure out how to do that on a scale that is super impactful (helping millions of people). That's why I am here every day. 

SEMA News: Who was the most influential person on your career/goals? 

TH: My Grandpa. He is the most kind and optimistic person I know. He used to restore Model Ts and would let my brother and me create things in the shop. I think having access to tools and to be creative with my hands helped me discover how things work, which fed my love for automotive. 

Fill out a #SheIsSEMA spotlight form to submit a self-nomination or nominate a colleague and highlight how you or she is contributing to the specialty-equipment industry. Selected candidates are automatically eligible to be considered for SBN's #SheIsSEMA Woman of the Year award, featured on SBN's social media, SEMA News and recognized on the website.