Why Women Face a Greater Challenge

Unlike any other industry, car dealers’ showrooms have defied the laws of probability.  I cannot quote exact statistics, but an educated guess might be that only about 10% of all salespeople in car showrooms across the country are women.  In contrast to this, every other commission sales industry has seen the female population surpass the men’s.

For example, the real estate industry, advertising sales (radio, television and print), furniture, appliances—just about every commissioned sales position you can think of has experienced dramatic increases in female representation.  But the automobile dealers’ showroom has remained unreceptive to this trend. This curious phenomenon plays a key role in how a woman should structure her approach to buying a vehicle. You see, a showroom is the epitome of male supremacy.  Car salesmen do not generally receive a female salesperson with open arms. What they see is a threat, an invader that wants to infiltrate one of the only havens left where men can be men.

Like defenseless animals backed in a corner, salesmen will do everything possible to intimidate a female salesperson to the point that she just can’t cope with the pressure and will have no option but to resign.  A female salesperson is subject to sexual harassment, degradation, sarcasm, vulgarity, and isolation. The “boys” have an exclusive club and they will fight to the death to protect this macho-society from female infiltrators.  And I truly believe that many times this deplorable treatment is more inherent than freely selected.  It is the nature of the beast.  To effect change would be like trying to teach a cat not to chase birds.  And if you think that the sexual harassment laws and hostile environment laws protect women, think again. They may be effective in corporate America, but in the automobile business they’re impotent.

Only a handful of women across the country have the fortitude, stamina and desire to overcome the sacred domain and territorial egotism of car salesmen.  During my eighteen-year tenure in the automobile business, I saw woman after woman enter the showroom with the confidence of an Olympian, only to throw in the towel weeks later.  It’s not fair; it’s immoral and unethical.  But it is a reality that exists and I don’t know if it will ever significantly change. Make no mistake about it; women have made great strides in establishing themselves as a force to be dealt with in the auto showroom. However, it is doubtful whether or not they will ever break the male stronghold.

Back when I was a General Manager for a very successful Honda dealership in Upstate New York, I hired a soft-spoken young woman as a sales associate. To this day, I’m not quite sure why I hired her. She didn’t really impress me during the interview; had no sales background; and seemed somewhat timid. Nonetheless, my sixth sense compelled me to give her a shot. Well, for the first two months she really floundered. She sat at the bottom of the pack with dreadful numbers. And the few deals she did make represented what we call “mini-deals”. In other words, the profit she generated on the cars she sold was way below objectives. As the man in charge, I was faced with a decision. So I called her in the office and told her as gently as I could that I didn’t think it was working out, and I thought it better if we parted company. She totally understood my position, but asked me to give her one more month. I knew the owner wouldn’t be happy—he had been hounding me to let her go for weeks—but again that little voice in the back of my head told me to give her another chance to prove herself.

Well, I’m not quite sure what factors influenced this young lady to change her sales approach, but remarkably, she went from lowest-performing salesperson to my little superstar! In fact, she earned a deserving nickname: the Velvet Hammer. What she learned to do was to use her supposed weakness—being soft spoken and timid—to her advantage. By strategically using her non-threatening demeanor to completely disarm buyers, she remained in control and out-negotiated them time and time again.

I tell you this story merely to illustrate that there are a few women who have been successful selling cars, but they are few and far between.

You may be wondering how this applies to women car buyers.  Well, if you think it’s difficult for a woman to work side by side with a car salesman—and I assure you it is—try to imagine how this chauvinistic pack-of-wolves perceives women car buyers.  When a woman ventures out to purchase a car without the assistance of a man, she is considered to be the easiest of all prey. It makes no difference whether this perception is real or imaginary. The point here is that salesmen are hungry alley cats looking at female car buyers as wounded birds. Remarkably, even the most honest, ethical salesman in the world can’t resist the urge of making an obscene commission on an unsuspecting female buyer.  And here’s the sad truth: 8 out of 10 times this is exactly what happens.

You can be the shrewdest, toughest, most cunning woman in history, but the minute you enter a car dealer’s showroom alone, you’re venturing into uncharted waters.  And the sharks are everywhere! I am not suggesting that every woman in the world who has ever purchased a car on her own has overpaid, or received less of a trade-in allowance than she should have. But aside from the money issue, women in general are treated like second-class citizens. And most women will agree with my allegation that buying a car alone is not an easy task.  Even if a salesman isn’t insulting, or a sexist, or patronizing and condescending, he most certainly wants to reach deep into your pocketbook. And as hard as it might be to believe, many times this action is totally innocent and involuntary.  As I said earlier, it’s simply the nature of the beast.  As a woman buyer, you not only have to deal with the many challenges of buying a car—and they are numerous—but unfortunately, nature has added one more obstacle: macho-minded men.

During all my years as a general manager, I paid very close attention to statistics, especially the growing number of female car buyers.  Over 55% of our new and used car sales resulted from female buyers who made the car buying decision completely on their own.  I monitored our sales figures very carefully as well.  We consistently made more profit (a lot more, I might add) with women buyers than with men buyers. And that’s a fact.

Here’s why.  First of all, most women are much more cautious and suspicious of a salesman when they first encounter him.  However, once the salesman works his magic—convincing her that he’ll work hard to give her a great deal, and that he really is an okay-guy—she feels less threatened, more at ease, and more trusting than the average male buyer. Once the salesman gains her trust, however, he can usually manipulate price and talk her into buying dealer installed accessories, extended service agreements, rustproof, paint sealant, fabric protection, and financing through the dealer.  I am not suggesting that the tactics he uses are unethical or unscrupulous. In fact, just like any other industry, the car business has their good guys and bad. But make no mistake about it. He will say and do anything short of breaking the law to create the illusion that you got a great deal, when in reality, the dealership made an enormous profit. And you can bellyache all you want, but the sad truth is that it would be difficult to accuse the car dealer of anything, except being a shrewd businessman.

Second, women who feel insecure about purchasing a car on their own will usually make the tragic mistake of asking a male friend for advice. Sorry guys, but you haven’t fared well in the car buying process either.  You’ve done a little better than women, but nothing to brag about.  Asking an uninformed man how to buy a car would be like asking the Big Bad Wolf if Little Red Riding Hood should be left home alone. Their help is negligible.

So, how does a woman deal with the unique problem nature handed her when buying a car?  This may sound over-simplified, but please don’t undervalue its worth. The only thing the female buyer needs to protect her from all of the pitfalls and misconceptions associated with the car-shopping and car-buying process is reliable, accurate information and a “game plan” to apply this information to the negotiating process. Sound too easy?

As you continue to read the Tip of the Week series, you’ll learn how to avoid the most common pitfalls, dismiss the fallacies and misconceptions, and most important you’ll be able to easily employ my proven methods of negotiating to ensure that you outmaneuver the dealer at his own game. Even if you are a relatively timid person, you will enjoy a renewed confidence.  When you enter the car dealers’ showroom, you will be armed with car-buying secrets that will give you an unfair advantage over the dealer. Knowledge is power. When a typical salesman approaches you, he’s going to lick his chops and hear the dinner bell ringing, assuming of course that you represent a helpless, misinformed female buyer. He’s going to presume that you, like most other women, will yield a handsome commission. What this unsuspecting soul won’t realize until it’s too late is that he’s dealing with a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This presumption will ultimately be his undoing. His loss will be your gain. He won’t know that you’re armed with all of the car-buying secrets he doesn’t want you to know. He won’t recognize that you know exactly what he paid for the car. When you sit across from him at the negotiating table, you’re not the prey he’s accustom to. Instead, you’re the predator and he’s the prey.