AskPatty Certified Female Friendly Logo

Chicago Tribune Features Ask Patty

Published Jan 11th 2007, 6:29pm by Patty Streeter in Pressroom Articles

 

Web site trains auto dealers in female-friendly techniques


By Sarah A. Webster
McClatchy/Tribune newspapers
Published January 10, 2007

DETROIT -- Women flat-out decide or in some way influence most of the car and truck purchases in the United States -- more than 80 percent, according to some estimates.

But talk to women candidly about their auto-buying experience, and you'll find that many aren't thrilled with the experience in showrooms. Auto salesmen are still from Mars, and women car buyers are still from Venus, it seems.

"When are you going to bring your husband in? When are you going to bring your dad in?"

Women still report being asked those types of disrespectful questions, said Fara Warner, author of the 2005 book "Power of the Purse."

So what's a male-dominated industry like the car business to do?

Enter AskPatty.com, started by a couple of entrepreneurs who thought they could make some money straightening out the problem.

Many dealerships have already installed child-friendly areas, and dealerships report doing their best to treat all customers with respect.

A communication issue

But AskPatty.com, a New York-based Web site, aims to go a step further and help improve the communication between female customers and auto sellers.

The site educates women about all things automotive, with a staff of female automotive experts who write articles and answer questions on repair, maintenance and car buying.

Certification plan

AskPatty.com also provides a unique service: certifying dealerships as female-friendly after they have passed a course on how to communicate with women, which continues to pose a challenge to many salesmen.

Forty-nine percent of the nation's dealerships don't have even one female salesperson, according to a 2006 survey by the National Auto Dealers Association. The number of women selling cars and trucks in showrooms declined in 2006 -- to about 8 percent of the 231,400 auto salespeople nationwide.

"I'm not a screaming feminist waving my finger at auto dealers," said Jody DeVere, president of AskPatty.com. "I'm a businessperson, and I saw an opportunity."

To be certified, members of a dealership's sales team must read a book on how to communicate with women, titled "How to Get Rich Selling Cars and Trucks to Women," and take a training course. Then they must pass a 134-question test, which takes about an hour to complete.

"We're teaching them how to attract, sell and increase loyalty with women," said DeVere, who also has two male partners in the AskPatty.com enterprise.

AskPatty.com gets about 20,000 visitors each month. About 50 dealerships have signed on for certification services.

Dealerships pay $225 per person for 12 months of training and $795 a month for the dealership certification.

The dealerships get a link on the AskPatty.com site that will direct visitors to a female-friendly dealership in their area. The Web site also provides the dealerships with a complete marketing and advertising program.

AskPatty.com visitors can dial a phone number that directs them to dealerships.

AskPatty.com is partnered with Maddox Smye, a Naples, Fla.-based company that specializes in training salespeople about dealing with women.

Steve Rajnert, 32, the Internet sales leader at Dorian Ford in Clinton Township, Mich., took the initiative to get his dealership certified after finding the Web site earlier this year.

"They've actually given us a lot of information on selling to women," he said. "Women are doing a lot of the purchasing on their own. ... Sometimes the women don't feel comfortable. This trains us on how to communicate a lot better."

Rajnert says he has changed the way he sells to women.

"I give them a lot more attention than I would before," he said.

Before the training, he didn't always explain information about engines or transmissions.

"I would kind of brush over the internals of the car, and just say, `Make sure you change your oil,"' Rajnert said.

Now, he explains everything. Roanne Swaneck, a 36-year-old married mother from Clinton Township, met Rajnert online, where she was seeking information on replacing her Ford Freestar minivan. She noticed the AskPatty.com link on the dealership's Web site, but didn't click on it.

Ready to buy anyway

She again noticed the AskPatty.com logos at the dealership, and asked about them. Knowing that the dealership was certified as female-friendly was a nice perk, though Swaneck doubted it influenced her decision to buy a 2007 Ford Explorer.

She had nothing negative to report about her experience with Rajnert.

"I felt like he was my buddy," she said.

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