Starting with little, she and husband Robert have built a thriving business

By Isel Longoria
Contributing Writer 
Santa Barbara Family Life

Throughout her years in the automotive industry, she’s been a pillar for gender equality. Nikki Ayers and her husband, Robert, have built Ayers Automotive Repair into a successful business in Santa Barbara.

The couple met when they were 15 years old during high school in Richmond, Conn. A few years later, they got married and moved to Santa Barbara.

Having a business idea but few resources made it difficult for the Ayers in the beginning. In 1979, Nikki Ayers found an empty Shell gasoline station on the corner of Bath and Haley streets. “We were able to rent that property for very little money at the time,” she recalled.

Robert Ayers was working as a Jaguar technician as they tried to start their own business.

After six months at that location, they were required to move because the city had changed the zoning on the property.

“It was a very scary endeavor,” Ayers added. They found a place on Chapala Street, which remains one of the locations for “Ayers Repairs.”

Switching locations early in the business was a huge shift. Their rent went from $1,000 to $3,500 a month, with a newborn baby in the picture.

Owner of Ayers Automotive Repairs Nikki Ayers, right, speaks with Parts Manager Rob Gonzales.
Photo by Daniel Dreifuss

Being a mother, managing the business and having a job on the side was difficult to balance. With a determination to succeed, the couple persevered and managed to keep the business afloat.

Fortunately, Robert Ayers’ grandparents helped them buy some equipment for their new location. But with no entrepreneur background, “we really had to learn a lot,” Nikki Ayers said.

Robert Ayers manages the shop while Nikki Ayers handles the business.

“Robert and I are there from 7 in the morning until at least 6 every night, every day of the week,” she said.

After 38 years, they have a second location in Santa Barbara and also give back to their community. Ayers Automotive Repairs has partnered with the nonprofit Partners in Education and have hosted a female intern.

“I feel strongly about giving back,” Ayers said.

They’ve also hosted projects for the community where they have helped repair people’s cars at free of charge.

Nikki Ayers believes she owes her success to her grandmother and her upbringing.

“I think a lot of my success comes through the fact that I was brought up with a good strong foundation in my life,” she said.

When her grandmother saw their business, she was amazed and proud.

“I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and so she gave me a lot of good philosophy along the way,” Ayers said.

Being in the automotive industry almost all her life has given her particular experiences along the way.

“Back in the ’80s it was difficult to have a seat at the table,” she said. Now, she’s going to be the first female president-elect of the California Automotive Business Coalition in July.

“It’s been a long journey to get to where I am today,” Ayers said.

One of the things that distinguished her was that she was on the front line with her husband when building their business.

“I was so involved in my husband’s business … that I was able to bring a voice that a lot of other women couldn’t bring,” she said.

She learned every aspect of the business, which has helped her and her husband. “My husband has been sick and I have run my business alone, and I can do it alone if I have to,” she added.

She says Ayers Automotive Repairs plans to stay with its two locations in Santa Barbara. With new technology advancements in the automotive industry, the Ayers plan to focus on helping their employees.

“We are going to continue to grow the people that are in our business,” Nikki Ayers said.

Ayers Repairs is at 1301 Chapala St. and 220 Anacapa St. Contact them at 805-962-7316 or www.ayersrepairs.com.

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