Website certifies car dealers as female-friendly
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.
Data from J.D. Power and Associates show that the situation isn't as bad as some anecdotes suggest. Men pay a little more for their new vehicles than women, and women are a little less satisfied than men with the maintenance and repair process at dealerships.
Many dealerships have already installed child-friendly areas, with toys and child videos, and dealerships report doing their best to attract female salespeople and to treat all customers with respect.
But AskPatty.com, a New York-based website, 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.
The site even featured Stephanie Esterline, a 17-year-old from Grosse Ile, Mich., for her book, "This Girl's First Car," on how teen girls should care for their vehicles.
AskPatty.com also provides a unique service: certifying dealerships as female-friendly after they've 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 this year -- 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 website also provides the dealerships with a complete marketing and advertising program where the name of the dealership is co branded with AskPatty.com.
What's more, AskPatty.com visitors can dial a phone number that directs them to dealerships. Each phone conversation is recorded for training and quality control.
AskPatty.com is partnered with Maddox Smye, a Naples, Fla., 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 website early last 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 confesses that he has changed the way he sells to women; the training also has improved his personal relationships.
"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 website, but didn't click on it.
By the time she got to Dorian Ford, she had talked to Rajnert about 10 times by e-mail and phone.
She again noticed the AskPatty.com logos at the dealership, and asked what they were about. 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's thrilled with her new SUV and had nothing negative to report about her experience with Rajnert.
"I felt like he was my buddy," she said.