Twenty years ago jobbers would hire swimsuit models as drivers, and send them out to deliver parts. A lot has changed since then. Today women are respected in this industry for their professionalism and technical expertise," explains Peggy Volpe, co-owner of Autobody Supply, Inc. They are also respected as a growing consumer force, and if you haven't factored female consumers into your marketing plan, you are putting your business at a disadvantage.
Backing it Up Statistically
Women purchase a significant amount of automotive products and services. AAIA's recently released The Aftermarket Consumer: Do It Yourself or Do It For Me? shows that 25 percent of women responsible for maintaining their vehicles tackle light jobs like changing wipers and batteries, and checking and refilling fluids. This supports findings by Aftermarket Business which shows that air fresheners, car wash products, floor mats, pinstriping kits, tire care products, waxes, polishes, wheel cleaners and wiper blades are all popular with female consumers.
"I don't think any retailer is able to throw away a demographic," says Mike Willins, managing editor of Aftermarket Business. "Women may not be going after the hard parts just yet, but they are interested in dressing up their vehicles and doing some of the lighter DIY stuff."
A recent Car Care Council survey found that women make up 65 percent of the customer base for service centers. Unfortunately, 80 percent of these customers are not satisfied with the service and repairs they receive, and 89 percent feel they are treated differently because of their gender.
Data collected by AAIA's market research department show that trust is by far the most important factor to the female service consumer.
Perhaps this explains why the 1999 DesRosiers Light Vehicle Study found that women are less likely than men to have muffler repairs, oil changes, air filter replacements, spark plug replacements and transmission repairs performed. "A case could be made for installer advertising campaigns targeted specifically at women ? such a campaign would work on a national level, but could be complemented by marketing material that goes right down to the outlet level," argued Aftermarket Watch, a newsletter published by the Automotive Industries Association of Canada.
Women at the Repair Shop
The impact of women consumers goes beyond the retail shelf. More women are taking their vehicles in for service. The Car Care Council formed the Women's Board in response to this trend. The goal of the Women's Board is "to encourage women to become active vehicle maintainers; and to promote career opportunities for women in the automotive parts and service industry."
"I wish we covered women consumers more in our publications," says Kathleen Schmatz, vice president and group publisher at Babcox Publications. "The best opportunity for growth is to reach out to this demographic, as they are making buying and repair decisions, and should be part of everyday business operations."
"Because women make up a big portion of DIFMs and are also having an impact on the DIY market, we decided to use a woman, Leah Remeni, for Quaker State's 2000 advertising campaign," explains Julie Diehl, vice president of national accounts for Pennzoil-Quaker State Company. "The female population has been on our company's radar screen for a long time. When we develop promotions or advertising for any of our products, we always evaluate how those initiatives will be received by women. While women may not always be the target of what we develop, they are certainly part of the viewing audience, and we want to make sure that our programs appeal to both genders."
Valvoline takes a similar stance. "Our overall strategy is to target women from the DIFM perspective, however, we do understand the importance of educating female consumers about their vehicles. We've found that technical knowledge is well received by women," says Larry Solomon, manager of consumer research for Valvoline.
Including women on your marketing team is an excellent way to reach female consumers. Megan Moshontz's father owns Blue Magic, where she is vice president of sales, and the age and gender differences serve as a bonus to the company. "From a product development standpoint, the father-daughter partnership is very strong. He has the experience and technical know-how, whereas I am more in touch with younger consumers and women," Moshontz said.
Trust Over Convenience
Data collected by AAIA's market research department show that trust is by far the most important factor to the female service consumer, and convenience is secondary. Car manufacturers recognized at least ten years ago that women play a very significant role in purchasing and maintaining vehicles. Car dealers took notice, and started to make their service departments more female-friendly. Aftermarket service outlets have started to follow suit, but have been somewhat slower to do so. A shop that boasts knowledgeable staff, clean restrooms and a brightly-lit waiting room is miles ahead of its competition.
As a jobber, Autobody Supply, Inc. does not have direct contact with consumers. However, they are eager to help their customers grow their businesses. "We have a vested interest in the success of our customers, and there have been cases where we've advised a body shop to clean up their facility. They weren't catering to women, and as a result, their business was suffering," Volpe said.
Currently, Jiffy Lube is testing a new design for its waiting rooms. Future stores are planned to include female-friendly amenities like Internet access, CD listening stations, televisions, telephones and a toy box for kids.
Keeping records on your customers can be tricky. You have to be careful not to miss important details. "Many times a man will bring his car in for service the first time, and you end up with his name in the computer, even though it's his wife who comes back every time after that," says Craig Grenko, vice president, marketing, DIFM segment for Valvoline.
One thing we have learned from our research is that anything we do to attract female consumers is readily accepted by male customers.
Comfort and Respect
"You don't have to change your business model to reach out to female consumers. Women want to feel comfortable and respected, and we want the real story. We're just as concerned as a man about the safety and performance of our vehicles," explains Schmatz.
"One thing we have learned from our research is that anything we do to attract female consumers is readily accepted by male customers," says Marc Graham, president of Jiffy Lube International. "Customers want that fifteen minutes of downtime while they wait for their oil change, but if it's going to be any longer we need to make that time productive."
"No one these days should have to go to a dirty, tired looking store," says Steve Steffens, vice president of marketing for Merchant's Tire & Auto. "There are a lot more women bringing their cars in today than ten or 20 years ago. We've definitely taken notice of this trend, and are doing some remodeling to make our stores more appealing."
"Our system tends to keep the customer in their vehicle. This allows them to feel involved, and more in control. It also eliminates any question over what work was performed, or if it was done properly," Grenko explains. "Research has shown that all customers prefer a brighter, more open space, so we've eliminated banners and improved the lighting in our service bays."
Women Behind the Counter
Another way to reach women customers is to have more female technicians and counter staff. "Women are expanding into different job markets and buying parts and service. It makes good business sense to have women providing these services to women," says Donna Wagner, vice president of the Car Care Council.
Everyone's probably heard at least one horror story from a woman about her experience buying parts, or getting her vehicle repaired. Don't be that shop. "Try to average out your employee base, so that you have an equal ratio of men and women on your staff," advises Graham. "Right now one of our goals is to hire more female managers. You also need to train your male technicians to treat all customers equally."
"I once had a customer whose air conditioning was broken. She'd taken it in for repairs once already, but the shop didn't really fix the problem. When she went back to complain, the technician told her that women's body temperature was higher than men's, and that was why her car seemed too warm inside," says Cathy Reichow, co-owner of Dan R's Sales & Service.
"We'd love to hire a female technician, because it would bring a whole new dimension to our shop," says Mark Salem, co-owner of Salem Boys Auto Parts. "Other shop owners who've hired female techs have praised them highly. They are generally cleaner, more organized, and help to put female customers at ease. Right now we have a female senior service writer who excels in customer service, and has an abundance of knowledge and common sense."
"We have some women working as senior service writers and store managers, but we have very few female technicians. The tire business is still viewed as a man's world, and this is unfortunate because the women techs we have are very good," says Steffens. "They are detail-oriented and very customer-focused, which is hard to find in a technician."
It Pays to Teach
Two-thirds of the women who patronize aftermarket businesses are college-educated, and 15 percent of these women hold postgraduate degrees. "Quite honestly, women want more information than men about the repairs you're doing. If you intimidate her, or make her feel stupid, you've already lost," says Graham.
"Our surveys indicate that women enjoy learning about vehicle maintenance," says Wagner. Help your customers understand their cars. This is all part of building a trust relationship, which will pay off in the long run.
"Women customers generally ask more questions, which allows us to build credibility," says Salem. "The easiest way to gain more customers is through word of mouth. We always offer to give seminars to women's clubs, where we can educate them about auto maintenance and choosing a repair facility."
Women want more information than men about the repairs you're doing. If you intimidate her, or make her feel stupid, you've already lost.
Merchant's Tire & Auto offers car care clinics roughly seven or eight times per month at various store locations. "We use three women who have been through the Michelin training program to teach the course," explains Steffens. "So far the turnout has been strong, and we plan to continue with it. The majority of attendees are women, but some men come too. I couldn't tell you if it's had an impact on sales per se, but it's definitely been good for our brand."
The future is clear: everyone agrees that women are fueling major change in the automotive aftermarket. Hiring practices, consumer demographics and customer service are all reflecting the influence of female consumers. It makes good business sense to embrace this trend, and reap the benefits.
Career Education Resources
National Automotive Speakers Bureau (hosted by the Women's Board of the Car Care Council); (419) 734-5343
Rewarding Careers in the Automotive Industry, published by the North American Council of Automotive Teachers; (858) 487-8126
Automotive Career Education Day - October 25, 2000 (sponsored by the Coordinating Committee for Automotive Repair); (888) GRN-LINK