Web site gives car dealers a woman's view
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, say some estimates.
But talk to women candidly about their auto-buying experience, and you'll find many aren't thrilled with the experience in showrooms. Auto salesmen are still from Mars, it seems, and female car buyers are still from Venus.
"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 The Power of the Purse.
So what's a male-dominated industry such as 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.
The site aims to help improve the communication between female customers and auto sellers. It 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.
AskPatty.com also provides a unique service: certifying dealerships as female-friendly after they've passed a course on communicating with women, which still poses a challenge to many salesmen.
Forty-nine percent of the nation's dealerships don't have a female sales associate, according to a 2006 survey by the National Automobile 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 business person, 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 -- How to Get Rich Selling Cars and Trucks to Women! -- and take a training course. Then they must pass a 134-question test.
"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 20,000 visitors a month, and about 50 dealerships have applied to be certified.
Dealerships pay $225 a 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.
AskPatty.com visitors can also dial a phone number that directs them to dealerships.
Steve Rajnert, 32, the Internet sales leader at Dorian Ford in Clinton Township, Mich., has gotten his dealership certified.
Rajnert says he has changed the way he sells to women, and it also has improved his personal relationships, as a result. "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.