Did You Know? Women and the aftermarket

Dec 19, 2012

It is not breaking news that women are increasing their presence in the automobile industry as insider professionals as well as consumers. Nonetheless, 2012 was an especially significant year for women in the aftermarket. For one prominent example, in an effort to raise awareness for women in the aftermarket, more than 40 women volunteered their expertise and time to customize a 2013 Mustang GT for the SEMA Mustang Build Powered By Women.

That project began with a design contest, motored through a near-complete restyling, that included the powertrain, suspension, interior, paint and rose-gold chroming, all the way through a historic presentation at the 2012 SEMA Show and a final auction of the muscle car.

While the all-female vehicle customization project sent a clear message to the automotive world that “a woman’s place is in the garage,” research released by the University of Michigan revealed that a woman’s place is also on the road. Analysts at the school’s Transportation Research Institute revealed that women are outnumbering men on the road in the United States for the first time in history, and the trend could have widespread impact on the automotive industry because women are making more vehicle-purchasing decisions than men.

Other related news includes Marla Moore’s recognition as 2012 SEMA Person of the Year (only the third woman honored since 1968) and marketing-to-women agency AskPatty.com’s launch of the Women’s Automotive Speakers Bureau.

To gain some insight into how women will impact the future of the restyling aftermarket, Restyling asked some female automotive professionals to provide their opinions.

The panel included:

Mandi Woodell, Weathers Auto Supply, Petersburg, Va.

Melanie White, Hellwig Products, Visalia, Calif.

Donna Green, Retro USA, Burnsville, Minn.

Jody DeVere, AskPatty.com, Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Kellie Colf, Colf Creative Resources, Akron, N.Y.

Restyling (RE): The Women’s Mustang Build has stirred up some great buzz in the last few months. As a female automotive professional, what message do you think the project conveyed about women and the aftermarket?

The Mustang Build was such a cool project. It really highlighted the talented women who work in our industry. Honestly, it even highlighted that for me; I wasn’t aware of all the hands-on women I actually knew. Following the SBN (SEMA Businesswomen’s Network) Facebook page and seeing them on a news program while I was in L.A. made me so proud of what the SBN was doing and how well the women participating in the build were representing the rest of us in the aftermarket.

– Melanie White, Hellwig Products

I was not at the actual unveiling event so I can’t speak to that, although the pictures conveyed a real sense of exhilaration. It was great to see women get some credit for the work they do in the industry. I hope it broadens the career choices for young women. There are a wide variety of jobs in the auto world: sales, marketing, mechanical, designer, engineering, etc. As a marketer it has been difficult to spend money advertising in venues where women are portrayed as a visual stimulus rather than a potential customer or industry professional. I appreciate that Restyling magazine doesn’t do that.

– Donna Green, Retro USA

I think that it depicted a lot about what you could do to “primp your ride.”… I think there’s this idea that aftermarket products and the displays at SEMA are guy products. The Mustang Build actually made a big statement that these are girl products, too.

– Jody DeVere, AskPatty.com

I believe the perception of women in the industry is changing in that we have raised the awareness that there is a large number of women in the world who actually do work on cars and enjoy it. The project showcased just what lengths women were willing to go in support of the project. Women from all over the country came together to volunteer to build this car, to show their support not only for the project but also to show other women that they aren’t alone. There are more of us out there than most people knew. Much of this project was about recognizing that women build cars, just as men do. Many people tend not to be as cognizant of that as they should. Just because we’re female makes no difference, and we’re working to correct those stigmas.

– Kellie Colf, Colf Creative Resources

RE: There was recent news that women are now outnumbering men on the road, thus making more decisions regarding vehicles (buying and accessorizing them, for example). What do you think this means for the aftermarket?

Women have always had to work hard to prove themselves in our male-dominated industry. I think because we do work hard, we set the bar high. And if this makes everyone around us work harder, that can’t mean anything but good things for the future of aftermarket accessory sales.

– Mandi Woodell, Weathers Auto Supply

Having more women on the road equals new potential buyers for our parts. It’s a great opportunity for companies to market to a new crowd.

– Melanie White, Hellwig Products

I think women will shop differently…I do think that women are looking for more options and accessories that they consider valuable because of the way they will be using the vehicle. For example, my daughter took a tape measure to make sure the car seat was going to fit. It was also important how the seats moved in and out of the vehicle for transporting people or for moving bigger items such as strollers. Convenient storage in the interior also matters – a pocket for sunglasses and a cell phone are appreciated. All in all, my bet is that the majority are going to be focused more on function than appearance. Having said that, there will be opportunities for aftermarket manufacturers to combine form and function in a way that personalizes the car.

– Donna Green, Retro USA

I like when these stats are published in such a large format by news channels because I think it helps the auto industry get a little perspective on who the chief purchaser of their products might be…The reason that I’m so passionate about this is because I really see that women are the primary purchasers of vehicles and should be the primary purchasers of aftermarket [products]. I don’t think the aftermarket industry in general is seeing women as their customers, so they’re not positioning their products that way.

– Jody DeVere, AskPatty.com

With women outnumbering men on the road, the demographic is changing. Due to sheer numbers they will be making more buying decisions. I believe aftermarket accessory companies who recognize this and market their products accordingly will benefit from this.

– Kellie Colf, Colf Creative Resources

RE: What can auto accessory dealers do to better market to their female customers?

There are a lot more women driving trucks now; I’m one of them. There are a lot more women working parts/accessory counters in our industry now, too. So having more women in the field who can identify a little better, woman to woman, makes sense.

– Mandi Woodell, Weathers Auto Supply

It would make sense for retail stores to become more female friendly. [Accessory dealers should] create a brighter and cleaner showroom with plenty of educational tools.

– Melanie White, Hellwig Products

It starts with the manufacturers. Quality is important all the way from the design to the product to the instructions. And in the showroom, product presentation is going to be important because women shop visually and more from “what is it and how will it serve me.”  I think that there will be a transition from customizing to personalizing a car, which offers opportunities for both exterior and interior accessories.  Women will also shop the Internet for price comparison, so the main street accessory dealers will find it more necessary to have an online presence. A website offers the opportunity to invite her into the store for professional installation of the accessory, which may be more in demand. Since relationships are typically more important to women, accessory dealers will want to build on that from the initial contact. Being found is the first step, and local installers/restylers for the most part have not made the most of the Internet.  A new online directory will be giving both sexes the opportunity to locate a nearby accessory dealer or installer. Lastly, look around your place of business and ask yourself if it is welcoming to the female customer. Will she feel comfortable buying and come back?

– Donna Green, Retro USA

You need to depict your products with women using them and how women would use them. Don’t assume that all women are “soccer moms.” Women drive sports cars: Sixty percent of sports cars are purchased by women. For some reason, the industry often portrays women in sports cars as the sexy babe but not as the driver…It’s not just about how to depict that product and market it; you have to create a community of women to buy your aftermarket products just as you create a community of men to buy your aftermarket products…There’s no simple answer, but I think they need to educate themselves on how to go to market with women, and they need to have resources if they don’t know how.

– Jody DeVere, AskPatty.com

Aftermarket accessories and parts have historically been marketed more exclusively toward men…Women simply want quality products and not to be talked down to. Products and companies that treat us as just another customer, not [just] as a girl, will find more success.

– Kellie Colf, Colf Creative Resources