Photo Courtesy DGDG.com: Elwira Wilczynska Director, Women’s Buying Network
Del Grande Dealer Group (DGDG) has created some industry leading programs that address the gender gap and can help other dealerships grow their success with women buyers. Their flagship program is the Women’s Buying Network, which offers a substantial team of professional women in sales, finance, management, service and the DGDG Buy Center. They view the program as a strong pillar of their overall culture and success. They began the program in 2017, the first year they topped a billion dollars in revenue, selling roughly 35K cars each year. They are a profitable dealer group with a clear sense of the value every guest and team member brings. We sat down with Laurie Johnson, VP Vice President of Training and Andrea Schulz Director of Team & Culture, to learn more about their efforts. They share ten tips for building a focused program to improve appeal to female buyers.
- Get motivated. For DGDG, they heard two stats from a vendor. One was that only 25% of woman truly comfortable entering a dealership; the other was that 48% of women would rather work with women in a dealership. They felt if those statistics were even close to true, they knew they had a large opportunity on their hands.
- Build a core team. A core team that is willing to go above and beyond is the engine of success. Andrea and Laurie knew the time was right when they had four women in key human resources and operational roles who could be the heart of the program both functionally in position to make changes needed and also to support one another especially as the program got off the ground.
- Support from the top. Both CEO Shaun Del Grande and President Jeremy Beaver were supportive of the program from Day 1 and look at the Women’s program as an important part of their overall culture and create a different environment than a typical dealership. That support has been indispensable from launch to the ongoing evolution and overall culture change.
- Respect differences in shopping style. Men and women shop differently. A woman may want more questions answered and an opportunity to build a stronger relationship. She may have a higher bar for the experience throughout the car buying process. A man might be more tolerant of a poor experience if they get a good price on the right vehicle. There is no right approach, but matching customer needs is key.
- Have a learning orientation and be inclusive. No process is going to be perfect out of the gates. They ruffled a few feathers initially and had to be open to changing and adapting the process. They didn’t compromise on finding each guest the right salesperson match, while still being inclusive and inviting any male sales staff to join, if they were willing to take a different approach.
- Treat your customers so well, they want to be employees. DGDG’s core values are integrity, caring, performance and efficiency. Schulz shares, “We would never put performance and efficiency over integrity and caring. Our team members love working with each other. We have family feel and culture of positivity. We hire a lot of our customers. Over the last few years we have probably hired eighty of our customers. The loved the experience so much they want to be part of it.” That’s a remarkable goal for dealerships to build towards, having a buying process so positive it can serve as a recruiting process as well.
- Grow mutual respect across groups: Open conversations about differences are hard, but DGDG consistently is bringing what they see and hear from customers to sales team meetings and more so the full team can benefit. The have a solid culture of inclusion and mutual respect, and it’s showing results. They’ve been a Bay Area Top Workplace for nine years in a row.
- Take women seriously when they walk into your dealership. One of the biggest pieces of advice Laurie had to share from her years selling directly as well as within DGDG was simply to value each customer walking in the door equally. As CarMax and Carvana and other non-traditional dealership models offer women appealing alternatives, the bar for service continues to rise.
- Use “women” targeted efforts to help build your overall culture and strengthen your appeal to younger generations. Many of the things that are valued by women are overall culture-builders that appeal to a wide audience. A desire for work-life balance, flexible work options and an educational relationship-building approach are welcoming for younger generations as well. 50% of their workforce is millennials now and Gen Z is coming in strong. They don’t look for automotive experience in sales. Schulz explains, “We can teach you how to sell cars, but we can’t teach empathy, how to be a positive force. It has to be a culture fit.” Improving customer satisfaction, improves team member satisfaction. For DGDG, their Project 100 effort to deliver 100% customer satisfaction to 100% of their customers-100% of the time, is a perfect example that benefits all customers and staff. “Doing the right thing for your guests is a benefit everyone can enjoy,” says Schulz.
- Encourage women to join the industry: Both Schulz and Johnson are bullish on the expansion of roles for women in automotive. As the gender balance and diversity overall improves, the ability to better serve a broad audience is natural. Johnson welcome the change, “I would encourage every woman in the world to consider automotive, it can be a great career. You can do well financially. The technology is crazy cool. Now a car is a smart phone on wheels.” Schulz is equally encouraging, “Get in here women the industry is waiting and the sky’s the limit. It’s not saturated with women, so you can really make a difference.” At DGDG, they have a wide range of roles that women fill including general managers, finance, technicians, and frontline sales.
Asked what’s next as they look to the future, Johnson expects the focus to grow beyond the dealership, “I would like to partner with OEMs to create an even better experience for our guests and in addition figure out a way to get more women involved in the industry. Their support and reach could help the “dealership network” immensely!”