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Catering to the most buyers: women

November 17, 2010

Women buy 52 percent of all vehicles and influence more than 85 percent of all automotive sales, according to a 2004 female buyers study by Road & Travel magazine, and a Canadian dealership is responding.

When the Vancouver-based Clutch first opened, the staff was entirely female, to appeal to a target market that cites shoddy treatment as the No. 1 complaint about shopping at dealerships.

"We wanted to put ourselves out there as an option for women who were looking for something that wasn’t so intimidating," said Ashley Marin, client care coordinator for Clutch. "It’s amazing that nobody else really thought to open a dealership that was geared toward women. There’s (sic) all kinds of female gyms and fashion boutiques, so why not an auto dealership?"

CNW Marketing Research in 2002 reported that women held about 7 percent of all jobs at dealerships, up from 3.5 percent in 1990. But even Clutch found that having women selling to women is not an all-purpose solution; the dealership now includes male salesmen.

Martin said the process and environment and business philosophy trumps the gender of the sales force. To cater to the needs of its female clientele, Clutch starts with the surroundings, which resembles a chic lounge or coffee bar, with eye-catching art, comfortable chairs, brightly colored walls and hip music.

"If it weren’t for the cars that were in the showroom, you’d think you were in an art gallery or an upscale lounge," said Martin. "Our female customers always react very well to the space. It’s nice to have a cappuccino or latte when you’re making a decision like that. It makes a huge impact and I think our customers absolutely appreciate it."

Clutch also offers its customers valet service. Customers can simply pull up in front of the dealership and have a valet park their car while they shop.

"We’re constantly reinventing ourselves to stay ahead of the market but I think you’ll find a lot of dealerships are changing their environment to cater to that because they realize that in order to get women in, you need to have an inviting place that’s not so intimidating," Martin said.

Another Canadian dealership, Nurse Chevrolet Cadillac in Ontario, also uses its environment to appeal to women. The dealership boasts a 50-percent female sales staff and has an open environment devoid of closed cubicles.

"So when your salesperson leaves, you don’t have to wonder where they’re going or what they’re doing," says Mary Nurse, the dealership owner. "I think the open environment creates a trustworthy feeling and that’s an important criterion for women."

Even more important than the environment is the way in which customers are treated by the sales staff. Nurse said her staff is trained to build trustworthy relationships and provide factual, honest information.

"When a husband and wife come in to buy a car, if the salesperson talks directly to the man, the woman—who influences the decision-making—will go elsewhere if she’s not spoken to, asked questions and her needs are met," says Nurse.

Martin and Nurse both say women generally have a clear idea of what they want before they walk through the dealership doors. The Road & Travel survey reported women spend approximately 17 weeks on the car-buying process and place high value on a vehicle’s reliability, durability and safety features.

"Women research an automobile before they actually come in," says Nurse. "They research on the Internet, in consumer reports, magazines and talk to friends and acquaintances for feedback."