The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, January 23, 2022 1:00 am

Women take the wheel in sales

Local dealership says sales increase in friendlier store

Kami Neff | For The Journal Gazette

When Lori Miller began working at Vorderman Volkswagen 11 years ago, the sales team included just one woman.

Now, the auto dealer's staff of more than 50 includes 14 women – seven of whom have roles in management and sales.

Over the years, the dealership has been pushing into new territory, stating that it has become “laser-focused on empowering women.”

The company believes its commitment to adding more women to its staff shows leadership and is changing how people view and do car sales.

Miller, new car sales manager, believes women, through compassion and gentler communication, bring balance to the “cut-and-dried method” of male salespersons.

“I think the way a woman presents is we have softer sides, and sometimes we can get the same point across as a male but not be as pushy while doing it. Customers' ears open up when you do it that way,” said Miller, 51.

Though there are still skeptics, Miller estimates that about 15% of customers who see saleswomen in this traditionally male role are resistant at first.

“There are men out there who still feel that this is not a place for a woman, so they will shut you down,” Miller said.

While statistics have shown that more women have entered into the auto industry, it is still largely male-dominated, which is why Vorderman can be considered an outlier in the business with its female empowerment initiative.

According to labor statistics, women make up only about a quarter of the automotive manufacturing workforce.

But employees note that things are changing, including the minds of customers.

“We value personality over experience,” General Manager Mike Brookfield said in a statement. “Customers are looking for an experience. The auto industry has changed with the rise of the internet, and customers come to the dealership armed with more knowledge than ever before. There's no longer a need to wheel and deal, and the stigma of the sneaky salesperson has gone by the wayside. The women on our team provide a personalized and friendly experience that keeps customers coming back again and again.”

Transformation

Vorderman Volkswagen opened in 1990 and is co-owned by Reg and Connie Vorderman. Following Connie's lead, the company began looking to women to reshape the way it did business.

The company began to transform from a typical car dealership, to a family-friendly business that put customers of all ages and genders at ease and comfortable coming through their doors. As Vorderman hired more women, the culture and atmosphere at the dealership began to change, employees said.

“It's an easygoing and family friendly atmosphere, I just can't explain it,” said Caril Bernard, assistant sales manager. “When I walked through the doors on the day that I came in for an interview, it instantly hit me, like, 'Wow, this is home.'”

Bernard, 56, joined the team in 2014.

“A lot of people didn't realize I was in sales, because they were like, 'A saleswoman?' It was a little intimidating at first,” Bernard said. Adding that “I think at first, men look down at you.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that women accounted for roughly 21% of the country's auto dealers in 2020. That percentage has been relatively constant since 2004.

The data also showed women constituted nearly 17% of workers in auto repair, parts and tire shops in 2020.

Resistance from men and traditional gender roles, along with evening and weekend hours, tend to be the top factors why more women aren't joining the industry. 

“They're afraid they're not going to be taken seriously, or someone's going to walk in and say they don't want to work with a woman,” Miller said. “But to be honest, we have the opposite. We have people who come in here and say they'd like to work with a female,” she said.

Both Miller and Bernard see a woman's more gentle approach as key to influencing the way sales are done.

“With a woman, we try to get to know the person first rather than sell them the vehicle,” Bernard said. “You are able to put down their defenses right off the bat.”

They both say such approaches to customers shows authenticity.

You add a woman to it,” Miller said, “you show some compassion, and it tends to change people.” 

The idea for more inclusion of women isn't just local. At General Motors, 87.7% of its North American workers are women. In addition, the company, which has an Allen County truck assembly plant, made headlines in 2018 with the appointment of the company's first female chief financial officer. GM has become one of the few companies to have both a female CEO and CFO.

Voderman believes improving the gender diversity of its team has proven successful.

The company reported in December that it has grown from a sales average of 50 cars sold per month to more than 150 since its push to include more women.

And the hiring strategy seems to line up with nationwide statistics, which show that women buy more than 50% of vehicles in the United States and influence more than 80% of all vehicle purchase decisions.

“It's changing, things are changing,” Bernard said. “We've had a lot of people tell us that we treat them with respect and treat them nicer.”  


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