A shortcut to showroom equality
An online company uses information to get women a fair break when they buy a car.
By CHRISTINA REXRODE
Published February 16, 2007
There's a woman running Pepsi, a woman running the House of Representatives, a woman running Harvard University. There might even be a woman on the next presidential ballot.
But for all those strides in business, politics and academia, there's still one place the women's movement hasn't penetrated: the car lot.
That's the story from the creators of Ask Patty, a Sarasota company that started in May as a blog of automotive advice for women. Think Click and Clack in high heels, or Betty Crocker with jumper cables.
On Thursday, the Crown Dealership Group of St. Petersburg announced that it has become the largest dealership so far to send employees through the Ask Patty certification program.
The certification program, which launched in the fall, works like this: Dealers pay to put employees through online classes that will help them make female customers feel comfortable when shopping for a car or getting one repaired. Lessons might include diversity training, advertising advice, or coaching on how to build trust with customers.
When the employees pass the final exam, AskPatty.com lists that dealership as a "Female Friendly" business.
"Until Ask Patty, nobody has addressed some specific things that many female consumers, who make up 50 percent of our customer base, are looking for from a dealership," said Jim Myers, Crown's chief operating officer. "It was the first of its kind."
Peter Martin, the CEO of Ask Patty, says the overwhelming majority of women will tell you that "car buying was just a horrible experience for them."
He still fumes when he recalls the stereotyping that his mother endured when she went car shopping a couple of years ago.
"They said to my mother, 'Well, come back with your husband.' And what was even more horrible was, my dad had just passed away."
The unequal treatment also extends to pricing, Martin said. His company frequently cites a study that says that women on average pay $500 more than men for the same car.
Crown has eight dealerships in the Tampa Bay area; at least five employees at each location are now Patty-certified. Crown's commitment brings the number of Patty-certified dealers to 86 nationwide. More than half a dozen are in the Tampa Bay area, including Tampa's Courtesy Hyundai, Infiniti of Tampa, and Mercedes-Benz of Tampa.Christina Rexrode can be reached at 727 893-8318
Consumers can submit auto questions to Ask Patty via e-mail or blog. The questions are answered by a volunteer panel of female automotive experts.