Reaching Out to Female ConsumersPosted 4/1/2008
By Angie Kilbourne
AskPatty.com's mission is to turn women into automotive experts. What can you learn from their team to become a more female-friendly business?
According to Road & Travel Magazine's "2004 Female Buyer Study," women spend $300 billion annually on used car sales and vehicle maintenance and repairs. Women also influence more than 85 percent of all automotive sales in U.S. households, and, if you hadn't already noticed, they make up anywhere from 50 percent to 65 percent of the customer base at service centers.
Targeting your marketing efforts to women certainly isn't a new idea. But what would capturing even one more percentage point in market share do to your bottom line? What about 5 percent or 10 percent? If we've piqued your interest, here are two more gems from Road & Travel: Eighty percent of those female service customers report they are not satisfied with the service they receive, and 89 percent feel that gender plays a role in how they are treated. Ouch.
"A Safe Place"
Designed to educate women about their vehicles, AskPatty.comwas launched May 2006, armed with a team of female experts - its advisory board - who are on call to answer questions about vehicle purchases, maintenance and repair and any other automotive-related topic. These advisers bring a variety of backgrounds and disciplines to the table, from marketing and sales to service and motorsports.
But AskPatty.comis designed to be more than just an educational tool. In its own words, the site is "a safe place for women to ask automotive-related questions and read tips and tricks, and get advice about car buying, selling, maintenance and repair."
"Are men having the same bad experiences at repair centers? Yes they are," says Jody DeVere, president of AskPatty.com. "Unfortunately, they don't admit it. But cars are very complex today. There is a lot more today to repairing cars than years ago, and as they add more and more features, it becomes very complex to diagnose and repair. I think all consumers feel the same about car repairs."
So why do women need a safe place to learn about their vehicles? "When speaking to a woman or any consumer for that matter, many service advisers speak in a language we can't understand," adds DeVere. "Seventy percent of our [AskPatty] questions are in the repair area. Somehow they [repair shops] are missing the boat communicating to women and need to learn to say, 'This is the repair you need, and let me help you understand why you need it.' When a woman understands it, she is more comfortable spending money on the repair."
What Are Women Searching For?
In a July 2006 article on MarketingProfs.com, author Gerry Myers, president of Dallas-based Advisory Link, wrote: "Women want respect; they want knowledgeable salespeople who are professional and who will take the time to answer their questions. They want someone they can build a professional relationship with, someone they can come back to when they need more products and can refer their friends to."
Kim Walker, co-owner of Peak Automotive, Apex, N.C., and ASA-North Carolina's current president, is an AskPatty expert adviser and joined because one of Peak's goals is to educate customers: "We try very hard to be a good resource for our customers, including women."
As an adviser, she fields questions, including technical ones, submitted from the site's visitors. "I was very clear with them that I am not a technician, but my technicians here are second to none. I get a lot of the import questions on maintenance," says Walker. In addition to technical questions, she also answers questions about vehicle purchases and prepurchase inspections.
The goal is to reply within 24 hours: "My husband and the guys at the shop are aware of AskPatty and its vision and mission." All the employees at Peak work as a team to provide AskPatty visitors with the answers they need in a timely fashion.
Partnering for Success
Studies show that women in high numbers - from 78 percent to 96 percent of those surveyed - use the Internet to research products and services before making a purchase, online or offline. "[A woman is] 28 percent more likely to buy from a retailer that she knows is trained to address her specific needs," DeVere wrote in a February 2007 article for iMedia Connection.
Devere and her team are always on the lookout to add to their corral of advisers. She is currently searching for additional female ASE-certified technicians with experience and knowledge, plus the enthusiasm and motivation to share and educate.
There are other opportunities, including marketing and advertising partnerships and participation in AskPatty's Certified Female-Friendly program. Similar to its dealership program, AskPatty is now launching a Certified Female-Friendly program for automotive repair centers, tire stores and other aftermarket retailers. Businesses that complete the certification requirements will be listed on the site's search function and on the MyCarPage feature. In addition, they are provided with marketing tools to promote their participation.
Certification requires that shop personnel complete the first module of training, which is delivered in an interactive online environment. The training is designed for everyone in the shop who speaks with a consumer: technicians, counter persons, service advisers and receptionists.
But DeVere emphasizes training doesn't end there: "Our training is 12 months. We don't believe that behavior changes in a couple of training sessions. New modules are loaded up every few weeks to continue the training and reinforce their learning."
Walker says her AskPatty partnership helps her business meet two of its goals: Educating customers and increasing the shop's credibility with consumers. It also provides her with networking opportunities and connections within the industry.
For shops considering an AskPatty partnership, Walker advises, "It depends on what your mission is for your customers, for your shop and for the industry. You have to be really good to every single customer because they all count."
Two Women Head Up ASA's Mechanical and Collision DivisionsPosted 4/1/2008
Addison, Caspersen share what it's like to lead automotive service professionals in the 21st century.
Meet Robbie Addison and Denise Caspersen. They lead the Mechanical and Collision Divisions at ASA and have definite opinions on women in automotive service and collision repair. They reveal their thoughts on various topics such as what it's like to lead predominantly male operations committees, what female consumers want from their automotive service, the evolution of women in the industry and much more.
Question: How long have you worked in the automotive service and collision repair fields?
Robbie Addison (RA): I started my service in the ASA membership department in 1995, and I have worked in the mechanical division since 1998. Since childhood, I enjoyed hands-on experience helping my dad on the family vehicles. I learned the ups and downs of an automotive repair shop from my uncle who owned L&K Motors, an independent repair facility in Tulsa, Okla., for 30 years. I have my own toolbox and learned how to work on a car from the basic oil change to brake pads and rotors ... by the time I entered high school. I never would have thought that the experiences I had when I was younger would be relevant to the work that I am doing at ASA.
Denise Caspersen (DC):I started working with ASA 13 years ago as the research specialist. My initial task was to conduct market surveys, analyze industry trends, create statistical reports for the association and design the ASA Information Center, an online informational resource for ASA members. The end result was a 10-year foundation of in-depth research into the independent mechanical and collision repair market, which has greatly equipped me for my current task as ASA Collision Division manager.
Question: What changes have you witnessed regarding the role of women in automotive service and collision repair - how has it grown/expanded/evolved/ changed for the better?
RA: Challenging careers as automotive service professionals are no longer gender specific. Servicing and repairing today's vehicles requires more brainpower than physical strength. It's an industry that has become more electronics and computer-oriented. Computer skills and mathematics can be mastered. Women have sharp reasoning abilities, patience and good communication skills. Women can multitask, and in busy repair shops that is very important. Also, this industry is providing higher salaries.
DC: ASA, over the past two years, has recognized the increased presence of women in the repair workplace and is striving to provide educational, motivational and networking opportunities for these women by creating the Women's Professional Development education track during the International Autobody Congress & Exposition (NACE). This track is designed with females in mind, although it is open to both genders. It's designed to provide educational opportunities to females in the mechanical environment, the collision environment, the vendor environment, the exhibitor environment and other professional areas.
Another organization, which ASA participates in, is the Women's Industry Network (WIN), which was formed nearly three years ago and has a focus on women in the collision repair industry. This young organization, built by strong female leaders, is providing education, networking and in a sense - team building - for women involved in collision repair (owners, technicians, painters, estimators, insurers and administrators).
Question: Robbie, you just returned from the VISION Hi-Tech Training & Expo show where you participated in a panel discussion on women in automotive service. What were some of the key points of discussion that you recall?
RA: The Women's Industry Roundtable was a "vision" of Sheri Hamilton, the executive director of ASA Missouri-Kansas. Its purpose was to address issues faced by women every day in the automotive service industry and business.
Some of the topics discussed were the advantages and disadvantages of women in the shop and managing emotions and stress in the shop. Another topic was separating work from your personal life. This was especially important to the married co-owners but also would affect relatives working in the business. There was consensus that during work hours, you refer to each other by "first" names just as other employees would. It is very important - whether you are on the phone or across the counter - not to use "my husband," "my wife," "my daughter/son," etc.
Question: Denise, the NACE women's track in 2007 was a big step in recognizing and validating women's roles in collision repair. What other steps/changes/perceptions must be addressed in order for women to succeed and thrive further?
DC: The composition of the Women's Professional Development track at NACE is actually a test of balance. To date, the women present in the collision repair industry exhibit two sides of a coin. One side is well established, seasoned leaders who have found their voice and confidence in a predominately male arena. The other side reflects an eager, intelligent and ambitious female, who with time, experiences a sense of belonging, which will develop her confidence.
As more and more organizations - such as ASA, WIN, www.askpatty.com and Akzo Nobel - continue to draw attention to the women leading programs, discussions and offering viable solutions to industry situations, the perception of the female by the establishment will begin to change.
Question: Robbie, as more and more women take responsibility for servicing cars in their families, what are some things that shops can do to make their businesses more female-friendly?
RA: According to the Bureau of the Census, in October 2007 there were 96,939,131 female licensed drivers over the age of 20. If a shop has not changed its marketing strategy to include women, now is the time.
As a potential customer, I start evaluating the shop from the moment it comes into view. I do a mental checklist, beginning with the parking lot and the exterior of the building, along with the signage and the landscaping.
All customers should be greeted, whether it is by the service adviser when he/she meets you at your car or when you enter the shop. The service counter should be clean. There's nothing worse for a woman than to get grease on the sleeve of her coat or blouse. The waiting area should also be clean from the floor to the furniture. There should be magazines for men, women and children. Refreshments should be easily accessible to customers. Plants are a nice touch. A woman prefers her own restroom if possible. If not, be sure to add some special touches for female customers, such as soft paper towels and maybe some hand lotion. It would be very beneficial to a shop that wants to become more female-friendly to ask their mother, wife, sister or lady friend to take a look at their shop and provide suggestions. But also be ready to accept some criticism.
Question: Denise, as a female manager of the ASA Collision Division Operations Committee composed of males, how does your leadership skills as a woman either enhance or counterbalance the operations committee that you work with?
DC: I am fortunate to be working on the ASA Collision Division Operations Committee with a group of gentlemen who are willing to guide, offer input, listen and cooperate. The ASA team is built upon respect and a desire to solve problems and advance the collision repair industry. Although my approach comes from the perspective of a woman, I feel that leadership skills are gender neutral and are only relevant if there is mutual respect from all the team members.
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