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Marketing to Women the Ask Patty Way

May 2007, F&I and Showroom - Feature

by Mara Lazdins - Also by this author

Since 1999, Jenny Trostel has proudly stomped on a longstanding tradition when it comes to her F&I operation. The owner and general manager of Saab of Baltimore (Maryland) says she broke from convention not only to improve her CSI, but to also make her dealership female friendly.

Trostel’s dealership is what one might call a “box-free” environment, as she’s moved the F&I process up to the dealership’s sales consultant area. She calls it a “we-come-to-you” environment, and says it is one of the things she’s done to repair the image of the two departments her female customers complain about the most: F&I and service.

“Women say, ‘I hate buying a car because the auto business is one of the last male-dominated businesses,’” says Trostel. “Women come in and men ‘honey’ them to death and say things like, ‘If you don’t understand, maybe you should bring your husband or boyfriend in.’ There’s still too much of that going on.”

There are other morsels of wisdom Trostel has gained through her years of experience, such as female customers disliking the F&I experience because managers don’t fully explain terms and conditions —leaving women to feel forced into a corner and talked into buying products they don’t want. That exact situation is what sent one F&I manager packing, and further committed her to her we-come-to-you approach.

In November 2006, Trostel made another move to make her dealership more female friendly. She became one of the more than 150 dealerships to have either completed, or be in the process of becoming certified through Ask Patty — an organization started by Jody DeVere, president, and Peter Martin, CEO, to help dealerships attract, sell, retain and increase loyalty with women consumers.

“Many F&I managers try to get you to sign and rush through the paperwork, and women want them to explain everything in terms they understand,” says DeVere. “When someone speaks in a language you don’t understand, you automatically become fearful that they’re trying to get something over on you and rip you off. Women predominantly go into dealerships with that feeling anyway.”

By the Numbers

For those that question the importance of addressing the female consumer segment, DeVere simply points to the numbers.

Women purchase more than 50 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States each year and influence about 80 percent of all vehicle purchases, she says. Martin notes that many dealerships set aside certain amounts of their advertising budget for Internet advertising, nonprime advertising or advertising to specific ethnic groups, but fail to focus on 50 percent of their customer base.

“Even though dealers know the math, it sort of goes in one ear and out the other,” says DeVere. “Dealers need to take action based on the market definition. If the environment you’re selling in is directed toward a man, you’re financially missing the mark.”

And Ask Patty definitely hasn’t missed the mark.

Work on the Ask Patty project began in March 2006. In May of that year, DeVere and Martin launched the Ask Patty blog, allowing readers to ask questions about purchasing a vehicle. By July, the Web site was launched, and Martin and DeVere have been on a public-relations whirlwind ever since.

By October 2006, Ask Patty graced the pages of The New York Times business section, and its consumer tips began appearing in national publications, such as the Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Even talk radio shows, such as National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation, jumped on the Ask Patty phenomenon. In all, Ask Patty has appeared in at least 23 publications, Web sites, blogs and radio shows since its debut last July.

“Ask Patty has definitely captured the attention of the media,” says DeVere. “It’s been really exciting. Patty’s time has come and the market is responding.”

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