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Growing The 85 Percent Niche -- Women and Women of Color

Published Mar 18th 2008, 3:32pm by Patty Streeter in Featured Articles

437598911_7bf1e68046_flickrcomphoto "What," you may ask, "is the 85% Niche?" And, "What does it have to do with the automotive market?" Well, the answer to that is twofold: The 85% Niche stands for the power that women represent as consumers in the automotive industry. Yes, women influence the purchase decision of up to 85% of all new car and truck sales in this country and buy over 44% of all new vehicles! That's over 6.3 million new cars and trucks. And at an average price of $30,000 per new vehicle, we are talking about roughly $200 Billion dollars in automotive sales led by women. Among women of color--Black, Latina, and Asian--we are looking at an audience that purchases over 1.4 million new cars and trucks (22% of all women purchases)--generating $42 Billion dollars in sales. There is no disputing that we are a force to be reckoned with--no matter what our ethnicity or culture!

The 85% Niche also represents the name of the company I founded three years ago after having spent 25 years as an executive in Fortune 100 automotive and consumer packaged goods companies. As the head of marketing and/or diversity, I sat at the decision-making table, marshaled the troops to create advertising and brand messages that connect with women, launched new products that were aligned with our needs as consumers, developed sales training to help retail teams learn how to build effective relationships with women, and executed these programs in a way that generated incremental sales and profits. Now, as CEO of The 85% Niche, I can focus this experience to help companies tap into the power of all women--White, Black, Latina, Asian, Native American, Middle Eastern, and more--and across many industries (from automotive to financial services, to home improvement, travel, consumer electronics and more) through women/diversity savvy marketing and sales strategies. My goal is to dispel the notion that women are a "niche segment"; we are a powerful group of consumers capable of generating significant business results!

Consider these facts about the diverse woman of color buyer:

  • Black, Latina, Asian, and Native American women together, accounted for 31% of women in the U.S.--or nearly 46 million persons in 2004. In two short years, by 2010, this number will swell to over 52 million women.
  • If diverse women of color were a country, we would be nearly as large as any one of the European nations--Spain, Italy, or the United Kingdom.
  • We are increasingly well-educated. 43% of Asian women, 17% of African American women, and 11% of Latina women have a bachelor's degree (vs. 24% for women overall). Educational attainment among other groups, such as Middle Eastern Arab Americans is also high; the proportion of those with a college degree is higher than the national average and the number of those attaining master's degrees or higher is twice that of the general population.
  • Economic buying power among diverse women of color is nearly $1 trillion dollars, larger than the GDP of many wealthy countries, including Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Taiwan, and Argentina.
  • Women of color span many different economic strata. There are approximately 2.6 million U.S. households who earn incomes of over $200.000. 14% of these are of households of color...with an annual combined disposable income of approximately $75 billion dollars.
  • Diverse women of color own 1.4 million firms, generate $147 billion in sales and employ 1.3 million people. These firms grew at six times the rate of all U.S. firms (1997 vs. 2004). All told, women of color own 22% of U.S. privately held, women-owned firms.
  • One in four new car and truck purchases by women is made by a Black, Hispanic, or Asian woman. This will vary from market to market based on the density of the ethnic population to a particular geographic area--in markets like California and Texas where 50% of the population is diverse, new car and truck purchases by women of color can be closer to two in five.
  • Prestige and luxury car and truck purchases perform particularly well among African American and Asian women. The quality, styling, interior appointments, and luxury features of these vehicles make them particularly appealing to aspirational women buyers.


What this means for the automotive industry among other industry leaders, is that diverse women of color are pivotal consumers. They are a segment of buyers not to be overlooked or marginalized as inconsequential to the bottom line.

In fact, based on diversity population growth trends, corporations will be increasingly more dependent upon diverse women of color to achieve company sales targets. As the general market declines in size, the diverse and women's markets take on more and more importance. Focusing on the needs of all demographic and gender groups, is essential to fundamental business growth.

The automotive industry has taken note of the power of women. Volvo, for example, had eight women design a concept car focusing on ergonomics, space and storage needs that women told them were important. General Motors launched a series of "Women in the Driver's Seat" educational booklets for women and women of color, focused on the car buying experience, what to expect during service, and safety features. In addition, Saturn Ion's seating accommodations, telescoping steering wheels, adjustable pedals and safety features appeal to a wide spectrum of demographic and gender segments. Ford's Focus is great on style and versatility--two features that women and diverse women of color rate highly.

While these are great initiatives, it's important for the automotive industry to continue to recognize that when a woman--especially a well-educated and professional woman--is considering a new car or truck, she is comparing the dealership experience with the service she receives at Nordstrom's, Sak's, or Neiman-Marcus. We know from extensive research that there are certain triggers that will engender strong reactions from women and women of color--positive or negative--during the retail dealership experience. Consider this statement from one woman of color interviewed by The 85% Niche:

"...As I walked into that car dealership, it's amazing that I walked out of one equally as fast when they asked whether my husband was going to co-sign. They made an assumption about me...about my buying power."

Or my personal experience many years ago, when on a Saturday, dressed down very casually with jeans and a summer shirt, I walked into a dealership asking for information on a new SUV. The dealer gave me the quick "once over" and asked if I could send him a copy of my pay stub as part of the application process. Not knowing that this was illegal (I was not in the auto industry then), I sent him a copy of my pay stub, only to have him call me and ask if I had accidentally added some zeros to my pay stub, increasing my salary level! Clearly, this dealer could not imagine of woman of color being able to afford a luxury SUV, much less earn such a high six-figure salary.

Fortunately, this kind of behavior is less prevalent today than it was 20 years ago. Dealer body groups are increasingly aware of the need for diversity and sales training. They encourage their sales and service consultants to participate in this training and many are actively recruiting more women and diverse staff to mirror the marketplace. This is good news...good news that bodes well for the industry and for women and diverse women of color new vehicle buyers. They are, after all, the 85% Niche.

Miriam_muley_2 By Miriam Muley,
CEO, The 85% Niche

Miriam Muley maintains a vibrant entrepreneurial business as strategic marketing consultant, professional speaker, diversity expert, and business writer. Her new book, 'The 85% Niche: Rallying the Power of Women of All Colors for Exponential Business Results," will debut this fall. She is CEO of The 85% Niche (www.85percentniche.com), a company committed to providing a "voice" to all women and to helping companies appreciate that marketing to women does not mean marketing to Caucasian women alone. She does so through gender and diversity savvy marketing strategies that connect brands with women of all ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds--Latina, Black, Asian, Middle Eastern, and more.

Ms. Muley, a Puerto Rican by ancestry, holds a M.B.A. in Marketing from Columbia University's Graduate School of Business and has 25 years of executive marketing and sales experience in Fortune 100 companies. She was Executive Director of the Women's and Diversity Markets at General Motors Corporation and General Manager at Avon Products, Inc. She resides in Michigan with her family and is a voracious reader, often devouring three books at the same time.

creative commons images courtesy of itsallaboutmich

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