A Message to Dealers: Changing the Industry Culture

I recently read an article written by Jeremy Cato, a multi-award-winning journalist and senior writer for the Globe and Mail. Twice, he was named the automotive journalist of the year. His credentials are sterling.

            Mr. Cato attended the February 2013 International Autoshow in Toronto and was guest speaker to a large group of car dealers. He was asked, “How can dealers be better at serving their customers?”

            He looked over the room and saw nothing but middle-aged men. His response was the same as many of us who have shared his 25 years working in the industry. “Hire more women for your sales force and find a way to keep them.”

            Cato advocates having 30% of the sales force be women. So do I. And dealers nationwide should have a woman in the finance department as well. A well-qualified female F&I manager has never been more important than right now. This truth will become increasingly essential by 2014 and beyond.

            Why? Because your buyers are Generation Y and M women, and they have a different life plan than Traditionalists, Boomers, or Generation Xers. Generation Y, also known as the Millennials, is the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce. And, according to Levi’s survey of 1,000 female Millennials at the end of 2010,

  • 96% list "being independent" as their single most important life goal,
  • 87% define success as being able to shape their own future, and
  • only 68% say becoming a mom is on their priority list.

            Why is this such important data for car dealers to ingest and diligently digest?

            Because knowing this and doing something about it for the long term will positively effect profits, elevate community respect, and communicate the message that actions speak louder than words. Women on the floor demonstrate commitment.

            Because a recent survey showed that 74% of these Generation Y and M women feel misunderstood by automotive marketers, yet they account for the purchase of 65% of all new cars and 53% of used cars, and they influence 95% of all auto purchases. (Road & Travel Magazine) Read that again!

            Generation Y/M women are a significant number of the 80% of all women who control national spending. They are vocal about their likes and dislikes, have grown up with computers and cell phones, and have huge (and valuable) numbers of social media contacts.

            Consider these facts:

  • 56% of U.S. women use social networking sites daily.
  • 58% of Facebook users are women.
  • 64% of Twitter users are women.
  • 82% of Pinterest users are women. (Source: Mashable, 2012)

            Why do these social statistics matter? Because if understood, they should influence how dealership marketing is done in 2013 and beyond. Social media marketing is no longer a choice; it’s a must. Generation Y/M women will someday be leading the majority of American businesses. Establishing their brand preference and store loyalty should start early, and social media marketing is a proven way to do this.

            Dealers should understand that the above statistics will account for a whopping increase in their female customers’ buying power, especially if they’re using social media to communicate with these women and their family, friends and neighbors in an ongoing dialogue as part of their new social marketing plan.

            Generation Y/M women will click on the dealer’s website, if they like the tone of the dialogue and if the other participants pass on praise. If the dealer’s website is designed to hook these independent women with easy-to-find and understand information, they’ll be more apt to call the dealership for specific facts. If the salesperson who answers the phone provides superior customer service, is thoroughly trained and knowledgeable, and creates such a trusting rapport with these callers that they visit the showroom, wise dealers will ensure that these women do not see only sales men.

            One more thing. Statistics show that women prefer to make such an important purchase as a car from women. They trust them. They speak the same language. And when women buyers see a significant number of saleswomen in the dealership and are ushered into the office of a female F&I manger to seal the deal . . . they are far more likely to make additional purchases and that should make everyone in the dealership happy.

            Any dealer reading this message should first make an honest personal assessment that includes identifying generational blind spots. Times have changed. There are literally thousands of Generation Y/M women with the sales experience, personality, drive, education, ability to teach and lead and who are interested in establishing working careers in auto dealerships, not temporary jobs.

            Women in sales and finance can and will make a huge difference. Find them. Train them. Encourage them. Support them. Praise them. Start now to change the good-old-boy auto dealership culture, one shop at a time. For the long term.


 Think Big. Start Small.



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Comment by Rebecca Chernek on January 7, 2014 at 4:46pm

            Thanks so much for the great comments. It is heartwarming to know that my passion for the business and objective suggestions for vastly improving it this year (2014) and those to follow have resonated with so many of you. I was also happy to see that so many men read and responded positively. It will take all of us to speak up for change. Facts and statistics are more effective than “I think we should” comments. Change has to occur from several sources within dealerships:

  1. the dealer himself has to become more aware of how the Internet and widespread use of social media platforms has already changed how customers select their next vehicle and want to provide the kind of dealership that reflects the buying power of women;
  2. sales managers need the same education and then the determination to do something about it by hiring more women on the sales staff and providing ongoing training and endless support;
  3. the sales staff must be willing to speak up about the importance of having more visible women in the business and be able to verbalize why, and they must work hard to prove their value to the company.

The dealer must become open to appointing a female F&I manager who has a firm understanding of the dealership industry, yes, but also the business and people skills required for the position. This woman needs phone skills, the ability to meet with bankers and loan company personnel, knowledge of loans and insurance and bookkeeping, the interest in knowing by name everyone in the company from the janitor to the owner, and in having daily or weekly meetings with sales staff and conducting regular seminars on how to meet customers, listen to their needs, present the best potential vehicles for those needs, and close on sales . . . all this while conveying a manner of eagerness to build a caring and lasting relationship with every customer and potential customer.  For these reasons, this female might well come from outside the dealership itself. The dealer can hire a search company, like “Hire the Winner,” to find the best qualified person. New “blood” brings new ideas, better ideas, more advanced ideas and everyone else in the dealership can benefit.

            And . . . for those women already working in the industry, stop talking about the long hours or working weekends or evenings! Think about it! Female nurses, waitresses, educators, chefs, small business owners, and department store sales clerks/managers all work long hours, late hours, evenings and weekends, and often, holidays.  It’s time to empower yourself to inspire more women to work with you in changing the culture to be more inclusive.

            Keep your comments coming, and watch for my next blogs on this subject.  Becky

Comment by Braden Cox on January 6, 2014 at 11:57am

I submit that we should take careful effort to not only recognize the value that women in the work force bring, especially in our industry,  but all people everywhere. The worth of a worthy, hard-working, capable individual, black or white, man or woman, tall or short, whatever they may be, is incredible. 

Comment by Michael Baker on January 4, 2014 at 1:27pm

Great conveyance with the 'credible' business metrics you provided Rebecca. Hopefully, more Dealers/GMs will read this share vs. just 3rd party professional services. The conveyance is 'spot' on for our franchised Automotive Industry. As ladies have been immersed in the F&I departments for many stores for many years, the sales forces in Dealerships can definitely benefit in having more female staff via modification of traditional pay plans, outside the 40 year work-plan hour regiment, plus management support an exclusive masculine biased environment... Thank You.

Comment by Marsh Buice on January 3, 2014 at 9:26pm
This is a must in our industry- great share Rebecca!
Comment by Gerry Fraenkel on January 3, 2014 at 2:42pm

Great blog. Our one and only woman salesperson happens to be the top performer. Attracting and retaining talent to the industry remains a top priority.

Comment by Craig Lockerd on January 3, 2014 at 1:07pm

Dealership Diversity

Amen Rebecca!

Comment by Joe Clementi on January 3, 2014 at 11:04am

Rebecca, excellent blog.  We need more women to empower other women to come into our business. It appears that the statistics support what I have always believed, women finance managers' make the best finance managers!  They are more organized and much better at presenting products in a supportive way.  Women sales people tend to be the hardest to attract to our business.  The hours, inconsistent pay and weekends away tend to lead professional women away from our industry.  I learned the business from the daughter of a dealer and my growth today is in direct proportion to what she taught me 20 years ago! This article is a great awakening for an industry in the midst of change.

Comment by Anne Fleming on January 3, 2014 at 8:59am

Rebecca, a spot on blog. Every DE member should print this off, take it to their Monday morning meeting and make this part of their 2014 manifesto and....watch their business grow! According to NADA, 18% of a dealership's workforce is currently female -- however, many are not in visible positions, so it "feels or occurs" to the public as a much smaller number. Having women in administrative, BDC, marketing, etc types of positions is important -- however, even more impactful to the bottom line is getting them in front line positions, as you have outlined. Bravo-- thanks for your blog. A great learning tip to all the DE community. 

Comment by Tom Wiegand on January 3, 2014 at 8:23am

Very impressive, Becky.  Right on!  These statistics even reveal 'the rest of the story.'

In our automotive world with Dealer Service Market Share trending downward every year since 2008, if we don't get and stay people-to-people personal with customers, competition will.  This we know is where consumers are trending, toward the business people of businesses as teams that show their caring and loyalty in hope of earning it in return from customers, keeping it, then having these now loyal customers share their business persons (teams even) with everyone they know, bringing their friends to them ongoing.

Not all retail is the same.  Our industry is unique in that personal business persons with customer communicating and relating is a most important part of purchase process.  The Ritz Hotel Leadership program teaches staying within the bookends of "experience" process.  They have high customer loyalty to show for it.  It simply has not and will not work in our industry. 

For real, true Customer Loyalty-For-Life to be earned and kept we must move OUTSIDE the bookends of just 'experience' and cultivate and build upon ongoing people-to-people business person with customer relationships that prove much more valuable than 'price' or 'perks' or even the 'experience.' 

We know on the 'ladder to the top of real, true Customer Loyalty-For-Life that satisfaction is the insignificant first rung of the ladder, and retention to the business and 'experience' are down there too.  Real, true loyalty at the top of the ladder can only be attained when people-to-people relationships are first earned, then kept, then shared, then bring their friends to this particular team of people within the business. 

Women are the bridge to once and for all prove to earn real, true Customer Loyalty-For-Life that is a culture, not a program; a pledge of relationship, not of perks or the 'art of the sale'; a movement to unconditional excellence in service, not of conditions. 

We currently depend on marketing and 'hope' for the next lead, the next appointment, the next service customer to call and set an appointment.  But, not for much longer.  Real, true Customer Loyalty-For-Life 'locks-in' like glue people-to-people relationship commitments that spreads to all they know, that then 'locks-out' other establishments and their people from attempting to lure them with perks for their business. 

Studies show that men are more likely to be loyal to a brand or entity, while women more likely to be loyal to a person or team of people within a brand. 

The balance of powers are shifting very fast these days.  The top-down male-dominate WIIFM western management business model will either fight to its dying breath to remain relevant or freely give in to this WIIFT bottom-up 'Customer AND Employee' (on the same equal top level) selfless servant leadership model that women prefer and want...and men will come to prefer and want as well...soon, very soon! 

Comment by tim elliott on January 3, 2014 at 8:06am

So Rebeeca,,,,,I agree with your statments....the only Gen Y women I see in Dealerships for the most part are the Reps hired to call on the middle aged male management.....what do you suggest as ways to attract these Gen Y ladies to a career in retail auto sales ? 

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