Women and Your Business

Dec 3, 2009

Maintaining a loyal customer base is the key to business success. That customer base includes women. We’re bright, we know what we want, and we’ve got so much purchasing power that shop owners simply must consider us to be a crucial part of achieving and maintaining long term success.

We’ve pored through the latest industry research and talked to some of the brightest women in the industry to provide you with the best information, advice and insight into creating better and lasting relationships with your female customers. We hope it will be a benefit to you in developing new and better customer relationships.

Restyling and personalization continue to grow

According to SEMA’s 2007 Market Study, specialty product installation outlets accounted for more than $3 billion of combined product sales in 2006, faring almost $1 billion better than automotive chains combined. Full-line auto parts stores including jobbers follow with $659 million in sales, speed shops and performance retailers at $543 million and independent repair shops at $168 million.

As personalization continues to become more popular, specialty shop owners have taken a more dominant role in the industry. So how can these small operations consistently show growth in product sales? According to this most recent market study, it’s directly related to the kind of customer you attract. Specialty product consumers typically require more expertise and service than today’s club and discount stores can provide. And the psychology of this type of consumer includes women.

The female consumer and the power of the purse

“As a shop owner, the very first thing that should pop into your mind when a woman walks into your store is this: Women account for over 50 percent of vehicle sales, and are the decision makers about all other purchases between 70 and 85 percent of the time,” says Kathleen Schmatz, president, Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association.

In addition, about 95 percent of the time, she’s got purchase-veto power. The fact is that women in this country dominate spending.

But we are different than our male counterparts in terms of how and why we buy. We buy different things, we buy for different reasons, we communicate differently and we consistently break the typical consumer behavior rules. We often favor meeting a need over achieving a want, especially when the financial climate of the household demands it, because our spending behavior is driven by current economic conditions.

We love our vehicles just as much as the guys, but tend to purchase products and services that are driven by the desire to increase convenience and functionality inside the vehicle, and safety and performance outside the vehicle. Investments in vehicle maintenance and service are focused on prevention, and repairs are completed with the long-term vehicle life in mind.

Women have the potential to be your most loyal customers. The key to winning that loyalty is by establishing yourself as a trusted product or service provider.

Trust or bust

AAIA market research indicates that trust is by far the most important factor to the female automotive consumer. In fact, trust consistently outweighs convenience as the motivator for selecting one service provider over another. This goes back to Psychology 101 and women being more relationship-focused than their male counterparts, and it means that if I feel I can trust you, I’m going to go out of my way to visit your shop, rather than your competitor’s shop. So what’s the best way to establish trust with your female customers?

Communication style is key

Every person that we interviewed, without exception, says the first thing you should do when a woman walks into your shop is to greet her and make her feel welcome.

“Part of the concern women have is that they are not vehicle experts and they sometimes do not know the right questions to ask, so they may already feel overwhelmed before they arrive,” says Jody DeVere, president, AskPatty.com. “So, the first thing that you should do is greet her and make her feel welcome. Even if the environment inside the shop happens to be chaotic at the time, say hello and make her feel comfortable as soon as she walks in.”

The next step is to listen and diagnose the reason for her visit.

Women and the repair shop

A recent Car Care Council survey found that women make up 65 percent of the customer base for automotive service shops, but 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.

“One of the things you must do to establish trust is to listen to the entire story before you respond,” says DeVere. “She is probably going to tell you much more information than you really need to know in order to diagnose the problem, because women are story tellers. But do not interrupt her. Just look her in the eye, and listen to what she is saying. Now this doesn’t always come easy for men because number one, they usually are not very good listeners, and number two, if they used that same listening technique with another guy, it would be interpreted as threatening or weird.”

After she’s finished telling you what’s happening with the vehicle, ask her several questions to establish the vehicle use and maintenance history. Women enjoy learning about their vehicles. They want to know what’s happening, how it happened, how to fix it, and what should be done to prevent it in the future.

“Women want to hear the truth,” says Katie Noga, president, Car Care Council Women’s Board. “Just explain what’s happening in simple and straightforward manner, and take the time to answer any questions or concerns she may have.”

“Woman also like a visual reference of some kind, and a systems check list is ideal,” continued Noga. “When you are checking a vehicle for maintenance and repair issues, use a checklist that shows me exactly what you did. Make some notes on this form, and then go over them with me. Let me know what is needed now, and what might be needed in the near future. Give me the information I need to make a decision about whether I want to get these things done today, or schedule an appointment for a future date. This is a great way to build trust, and to bring me back for future service.”

Women and specialty products

Repairing and upgrading a current vehicle rather than buying a new one is a trend that is likely to continue. Folks who pay off a vehicle want it to last as long as possible, and more and more, are coming around to the idea of personalization.

Some of the most popular products range from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars and include things like air dams and spoilers, anti-theft devices, bug deflectors, camper caps, car phone holders, racks, custom seats and seat covers, custom wheels, grille guards, new gauges, keyless entry systems, mats, neon trim, pinstriping, tonneau covers, towing accessories, RV accessories, remote engine starters, running boards, stereo system upgrades, navigation systems and tires. There are also a lot of new electronics like rear-view camera systems, iPod/MP3 connection accessories and hands-free phone systems. Some old favorites include window shades, organizational systems, portable battery chargers and much more.

“When I come into your restyling shop, make sure you greet me, but don’t call me cutie, honey, sweetie or doll face,” says Lauren Fix, The Car Coach. “The worst thing you can do is be condescending when I walk in, because you never know who you’re talking to. I’m an ASE Certified Technician, an engineer and a race car driver, and when I walk in a shop, and some guy calls me sweetie, you’ve just lost me as a customer.”

Some women walk into an accessory shop and feel dismissed. The most important thing is to welcome women into your store and listen to their needs and wants. Based upon their input, make some suggestions about options that can provide solutions for their immediate needs, and then provide suggestions for some other products or services that might enhance the initial purchase. In other words, maximize the opportunity to up-sell.

“Women want to customize their vehicles too,” continues Fix. “We want them to look good, function well, and be safe. Don’t dismiss me as a tire-kicker who only wants new wiper blades, even if that does happen to be the thing that got me in the door. Instead, assume that I want to spend money, because there are a lot of successful women with expendable income that want their cars and trucks to look and sound great.”

Take the time to provide some personal recommendations about other products and services that you offer that may be of interest. Provide them with the information on features, benefits and cost. Offer to assist them with these recommendations today, or on their next scheduled visit.

Get to know your customers

If you want to get more specific information about the products and services that your female customers need and want, why not ask them?

“If I were a shop owner, I would contact a couple of my female customers, and have them visit the shop for an informal gathering just to sit down and talk to me,” says Schmatz. “I would sit down with them and ask them to tell me what is most important to them. What do they want? What do they need? How can I make my shop, my products, my services, my employee response, and even the shop environment better for them? I don’t know anyone who has done this before but if I were a shop owner, I would definitely make some time to do some research based upon the responses of my own customers. It gives them a voice, and sends the message that my customers are important to me.”

Follow up

After a woman has visited your shop, follow up with a postcard or letter. If you recommended products or services that were not purchased at the time of the visit, feel free to send a note about those things.

“A note that references your recommendations and including any recommended schedule for repair or installation is a great way to follow up with me,” says Schmatz. “It’s also a great way to send me a coupon for a discount on the product or service you offered, and it motivates me to come back again.”

Maximize the word-of-mouth

The easiest way to gain more customers is through positive word of mouth, and this is especially true for women.

“If a woman comes into your shop for service and you treat her well, you’re going to make a lot of money,” says Fix. “You know why? Because women talk to each other, we network, we rely upon each other for advice about all kinds of products and services. If I’m impressed with the service I’ve received at your shop, I’m going to tell all my friends, and they’re going to tell all their friends.”

Boiling it down

If you boil all this information down, it requires that you follow a simple six-step process for establishing good, lasting relationships with your female customers: Think, greet, listen, explain, recommend and follow up. Think about my purchasing power, greet me and make me feel welcome, listen to what I have to say no matter how long it takes and look me in the eye while you’re doing it, recommend both an immediate solution and a complimentary product or service, and follow up with me regarding your recommendations.

We’ll both be happy you did, and I’ll tell all my friends.