By Richard Greene, AR NewsMagazine Editor
August 15, 2007
SARASOTA, Fla. — What began as a blog in May 2006, then expanded to a
Web site two months later, has since turned into a major force that's
giving a voice to women's concerns within the auto world. And,
according to Jody DeVere, president of AskPatty.com, industry leaders
are taking notice and listening.
Now headed into its second year, AskPatty's growth curve will continue to tick upwards, DeVere added, both in terms of attracting new visitors to its expanding Web site and also in terms of training new dealerships and other auto retailers to become certified as female-friendly.
"Without a doubt, our goal is to educate and empower women and to improve communication between this powerful and influential market segment and the industry at large. But not only is AskPatty.com a safe place for women to come and learn more about buying, selling and maintaining their cars, we are also giving a voice to women's concerns," DeVere told Auto Remarketing NewsMagazine.
DeVere said that women are just as passionate about their cars as men are. "Maybe not about the same things, but they are equally passionate and interested in automobiles as men are," she said. "This is a shock to a lot of people in the automotive industry because it's just been an assumption that it's a man's world. But AskPatty gives women a place to talk about those passions and how important cars are to them."
As a result, there is sort of a "revolution" that AskPatty has tapped into, DeVere pointed out, and that voice is becoming stronger and more pervasive. "Automotive industry leaders are watching AskPatty and learning every day, and I believe our article content by proxy is educating those leaders about how to improve their results.
"And because of all the positive publicity surrounding AskPatty, we are actually waking up the automotive industry, and from the reaction I see from manufacturers, automotive suppliers and others, they are taking action to provide a more positive and rewarding car-buying experience for women, who are the majority car buyer," DeVere went on to say.
"This is a tremendous success story, and we are very proud and excited about the future," she also said.
Not to say there weren't some anxious moments before launching AskPatty two Mays ago, DeVere said. When researching to develop an in-depth, female-friendly certified training program, which would become the cornerstone of AskPatty, Devere scouted the horizon for materials to help her efforts. But she kept coming up empty-handed at every turn. That shot up her anxiety level, she added.
"I looked and looked in so many places for some material to find some kind of outline on how to work with women in order to help me put together an ongoing training program to automotive retailers, but I couldn't find anything," DeVere noted.
"Either two things occurred to me. We were definitely on the wrong path, and that was a scary moment because if nothing had ever been done, maybe nobody wanted it. Or, we had stumbled inadvertently onto what I call a blue ocean, where no one had ever really developed anything like this, and we were going to be the first," she explained.
Then DeVere discovered Maddox Smye, a premier diversity training company, which had released the book "How to Get Rich Selling Cars and Trucks to Women." DeVere got a hold of the book, and that led to a partnership, which had benefits that are still felt today.
That contact helped crystallize for DeVere and others within the privately held company, including Peter Martin, chief executive officer, that they were indeed onto something.
"I have had a number of successful businesses, and I get a feeling when something is going to be big, and I absolutely knew that this would more than likely be the biggest success that I had ever been involved with," she pointed out.
That intuition would soon be validated. Once they launched the blog — "Ask Patty — Automotive Advice for Women" — in May 2006, the media attention has at times reached a frenzied level. Newspaper, radio, TV and trade publication interviews have demanded a tremendous amount of time on the part of DeVere and Martin and others. Not that they're complaining, DeVere proudly said.
Two media watershed moments stand out in particular, DeVere said. First came when AskPatty was a featured blog on SixApart's Typepad blogging platform, which she said is akin to appearing on the front page of The New York Times in the blogging world. The second came a few months later when AskPatty was actually featured in the front page of The New York Times business section.
"I am a serial entrepreneur, and from a business perspective, the visibility that those two large events provided became pinnacles, career highs," she noted. "The press attention really skyrocketed from there and has not stopped for a year."
The increased media attention has helped spur visitors to AskPatty.com. According to DeVere, the Web site gains about 100,000 new unique visitors each month, and that rate is only escalating.
"What this tells me is that we really resonate with women, and this product and our brand and what we're doing have really hit the mark," DeVere added. "The blog is the little engine that could, and we wrapped the Web site around the blog, and we're updating that all the time with new features."
AskPatty.com recently launched a female-friendly FAQs feature, including enhanced search tools to provide fast answers to auto-related questions. A panel of 50 women, who hold major leadership roles in the auto industry, answers the questions. In the beginning, the panel comprised 10 women, but it has since been expanded to accommodate the number of questions. The panelists volunteer their time and expertise, DeVere emphasized.
In addition to educating women about the car-buying experience and how to service their vehicles, DeVere said the company wants to help more women enter the auto industry at all career levels. There are far too few women who are dealer principals, she said.
"The auto industry still has the reputation of not being a place for women to enjoy a good, rewarding career," DeVere noted. "This is erroneous. Many of the positions, from salesperson to technician to service writer, can be very lucrative.
"And with more than 51 percent of women over the age of 18 being single, they need to earn a substantial income, and I think it's important that they know about this career choice. We are passionate about this at AskPatty," she continued.
When she is not responding to media inquiries or submitting editorial contributions to the blog, a responsibility she shares with Breanne Boyle, eMarketing manager, DeVere is exploring ways to strengthen and expand the company's intensive female-friendly certification training program.
The nationwide list of new-car franchised and independent dealerships, along with automotive groups, that have undergone the training and can publicize that fact is growing, but DeVere said adding to that number is one of her chief priorities these days.
"The only complaint that we receive to AskPatty, and we receive a few a month from women, is that they go to our female-friendly dealer search and can't find a female-friendly certified dealer within 300 miles of their location," she explained. "This tells me that women want to buy from female-friendly certified retailers.
"We have a waiting list of women who are waiting for dealers to get certified, and honestly, I don't think they care what brand it is, as long as they are female-friendly certified, and this is a powerful indication that women demand this," she added.
Respect and trust are two attributes that women want when they buy and sell a vehicle, DeVere said. "When women understand their buying power, that more than 50 percent of cars are purchased by women and that 80 percent of women influence the car-buying decision, they want a better experience."
They don't want to show up on a dealership lot and have a sales associate talk down to them or tell them, "Where's your husband?" or "Bring your husband back to make a decision," she said.
"Through our training program, we counsel dealerships on not only how to approach the female market and how to attract women to the dealership but also how to retain her as a lifelong customer," DeVere said. "You can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on how to bring women into the dealership, but if they don't have a great experience while they're there, you've just thrown away a lot of money.
"I think the innovative, smart automotive retailers understand this and embrace our program. They see this program as a strategic advantage for their business," she added.
DeVere said she wants to go beyond training new-car and used-car dealers. She's eager to reach independent service facilities, body shops, aftermarket accessory companies and parts and services companies. They have also developed on-site training courses to complement its current online training.
"Our year two will be a big growth year for AskPatty," she said. "We have established a base of business that we can grow. I don't see our growth curve slowing down any in year two. We are working very hard to keep up with the demand for our products and services. It will be exciting to see this play out in the future."