Car sellers learn the language of women
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.
Women still report being asked, “When are you going to bring your husband in?
When are you going to bring your dad in?” and similar 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 Web site, aims to go a step
further and help improve the communication between female customers and
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.
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.
Such female-friendly certification strikes the general manager of Fort Myers Toyota as “funny” and a bit insulting to women in the 21st century.
“Woman or man, we treat them equally,” said John Marazzi at the Fort Myers dealership, which says it’s Toyota’s seventh-largest in the nation.
“If you have different policies in place, it means you don’t view them as equals,” Marazzi said.
The mistake some car salespeople make, Marazzi said, is assuming the vehicle is for the man. If a couple comes in for some car-shopping, Marazzi said his salespeople will try to find out who expects to use the car most, and then direct the most questions to that person.
Overall, “we find that 70 percent of the time, the woman is the decision-maker” on a household’s auto purchase, Marazzi said.
His sales force currently has three women. The newest, Cheryl King, in November moved over from 15 years of auto dealer accounting, to sales.
“I just needed a new challenge, and approached John (Marazzi) about the job,” said King, 43.
King still “shadows” other sales people, but already has some sales to her credit. Although each buyer is different, King did offer these gender-based observations:
“A man wants to know what’s under the hood, the special features, the horsepower, how fast it will go.
“A woman wants safety, affordability and reliability — with some style.”
The Fort Myers Toyota dealer doesn’t have to go out to recruit able salespeople; they come to the dealership, Marazzi said. Although many of his key support staff members are female, he said few women apply to sell cars. Marazzi thinks that’s because showing cars on a lot all day during the region’s long, hot and humid summers is especially unappealing to women.
King, however, thinks it could be “a lack of self-confidence. That’s what I’m building up now in myself.”
—Gannett News Service and The News-Press staff writer Laura Ruane contributed to this report.