Jody DeVere calls it the “black hole in the automotive universe.”
Repair shops have done little to account for the changing demographics of consumers. Women account for the majority of purchases across the board in the auto industry—maintenance, repair, new cars, used cars, everything, she says.
Without paying attention to this trend, DeVere says, shops are creating a void in their business and, ultimately, hurting their bottom lines.
“Keeping your restroom clean is not the only thing you need to do,” she says. “Women are much more sophisticated in today’s market, and keeping the restrooms clean is not enough anymore.”
That’s one of the reasons DeVere created Askpatty.com, an online resource center focused on educating women about the industry and training shops to better serve female customers. The company’s trademarked Certified Female Friendly certification program has trained nearly 1,100 mechanical repair shops and is helping to change the way auto businesses reach their customers.
“I’m here to help them,” DeVere says. “I don’t say these things in a combative way. I understand the challenges that shops face, and we provide the resources and the training to help.”
In a recent conversation with Ratchet+Wrench, DeVere discussed the importance of marketing to and meeting the needs of female customers.
How did you first get into the automotive industry?
I’ve been in the auto industry my entire life. I am the youngest of four daughters, and I was my dad’s pal; I was the one holding the flashlight while my dad was tinkering with the car. That’s where it all started.
I married a second-generation tire dealer owner, who also did auto repair. He passed away over 20 years ago, and in 2000, I began a consulting business, and my client base was all automotive businesses. It was just a natural fit. And because my children’s father passed away when they were so young, I was responsible for the repairs on my own vehicle. So I had to learn a lot and I was very empowered with those things as well. Thank God for my father, who showed me around the block there.
What I do now is less about my passion about the car culture and more about my passion to empower women and their automotive needs and to empower shops to really meet the needs of women and to differentiate themselves. We want to increase their effectiveness with women.
Can you talk about the impact of women as consumers and their ability to make purchasing choices? How has it changed from the past, relating to the auto care industry in particular?
Traditionally, many shops don’t track the percentage of customers, but when I talk to many of them they say they noticed the change. Instead of the wife saying, “I have to check with my husband,” it’s the husband saying, “I have to check with my wife.”
The national average is that 73 percent of service customers are women. In fact, there are more women than men in North America. Women are not a minority, yet they are often treated, from a marketing view, as a diversity play. The truth is women are the majority purchaser of service and repair, and you would not know that by looking at the industry at large—yet. I always say “yet.”
What are some of your top tips for shop owners?
To earn market share with women, you need to do things differently, and we offer that solution and that help. If you want to dominate your market with women, you need training, information and innovative marketing. If you’re doing the same thing over and over, you’ll get the same results. It’s imperative you address the needs of women, and not just give lip service.
Where is the first place a woman goes? To the website. Shop owners should depict an image that women are welcome here. Most sites have pictures of wrenches and pictures of guys fixing things. That’s usually their first image of you, anyway. It would be much more representative to have pictures of families or customers more.
Then it’s keeping your building maintained, not just the exterior but the interior, too. Women tend to notice things that men would just walk by. Offering Wi-Fi, keeping it all clean, having a clean and nice child play area is a nice idea, if you have room for it—those are all things that help. One tip I like to give is having a baby changing station in the restrooms and having a sign saying that you have extra diapers and wipes if they need it. It’s a nice gesture that even women without children will see and say, “Wow, that is really nice.”
Last but not least, is telephone answering. You need to develop consistent and better ways to answer the phone. You spend a lot of money on marketing and advertising, and often, pick up the phone—and because you’re in a noisy environment or in a rush—and you’re sounding like you’re yelling or hurrying them off the phone. You’re just throwing marketing dollars down the toilet. Greet them cheerfully.
The biggest skill is learning to listen. Because your job is fixing a problem, you often want to just cut to the chase and don’t have the patience to listen to her whole story. When you listen to her, though, it builds trust and respect.
What is the most common mistake you see shops making?
Because they already have women as customers, they’re assuming they do the right things and not realizing there’s room for improvement. There’s always room for improvement, no matter how good you are.
I call it passive resistance. In other words: “I am not comfortable with the women’s market, and even though I need to do something, I’m not comfortable with doing it.” So some people are in passive denial about it.
And the problem for shop owners is that things have really changed now with Yelp and Google and all the other online review services. Women have a voice now and they can complain, and complain loudly and actively.
The best way to address this is to address the needs of women by setting a bar in training. This is like any other area of your business, and if you want to own that market of women, dominate your market of women, it’s a commitment—a year-round commitment.
What do you feel is the female perception of the auto repair industry?
The main things I hear from women is that, first off, they don’t want to get ripped off. There’s still fear that they are going to be taken advantage of. The second is frustration in communication when things go wrong.
We’ve had a lot of women talking about this topic, and they’re always asking basic things about their cars. Women want to know these things, and a good business practice is to offer ladies day car-care clinics. And over the last several years, I’m seeing more of those happening. Women want to know, and they want to be able to take care of things themselves. Be an educator for her.