'A Woman's Touch' long overdue

Jan. 1, 2020
A new column will address women's rols in the aftermarket.

Some of you may remember the story that we published a couple years ago about the woman customer who went to an auto parts store looking for a “seven ten cap.” As the story goes, the counterman was quite perplexed by her request.

Trying to help the counterman understand, she explained, “You know, it’s always been right there on the engine. Mine got lost somehow and I need a new one.”

The bewildered counterman asked, “What does it do?”

The clueless customer responded, “I don’t know, but like I said, it’s always been there.”

To get to the bottom of this, the counterman gave the customer a pencil and a note pad and asked her to draw a picture of the cap. So she draws a circle about 3 inches in diameter and in the center writes “710.” You guessed it...from his perspective on the other side of the counter he reads “OIL.”

Well, the macho among us may be inclined to laugh and say to ourselves, “What an idiot. How can anyone be that dumb? Women consumers are out of their element shopping for auto parts and accessories, aren’t they?”

When it comes to women consumers, this industry has created a worst-case scenario; not only have we labeled them “idiots,” we treat them like idiots. These idiots, according to the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, buy more than half the vehicles on the road and are responsible for maintaining 85 percent of the vehicles, and one-third of all do-it-for-me customers are women. Moreover, the association’s research indicates that 62 percent of female DIYers do light maintenance work, which includes changing oil, rotating tires, checking and refilling fluids, and changing or replacing wipers and batteries. Twenty-five percent will tackle medium maintenance work such as installing new brakes, draining, flushing and refilling the cooling system, replacing ignition parts, installing mufflers or exhaust systems and replacing shock absorbers. Moreover, the association reports that from the mid-1990s to the turn of the century, the percentage of households with female DIYers increased from 27 to 34 percent.

And on the professional side, a larger number of women repair shop owners and technicians than ever before presents great opportunity for those attuned to their needs.

You can expect the across-the-aftermarket female demographic to increase, says Jim Spoonhower, vice president of market research for the Specialty Equipment Market Association. Younger women make up 18 percent of the compact sport performance enthusiast marketplace. Not bad for a “man’s sport.”

Women account for 40 percent of the vehicle buyers within the SUV and light truck market, and close to 18 percent of them use these vehicles to reach off-road hunting, fishing and camping sites, according to lifestyle research from Microsoft Corp.

More evidence of the power of the female shopper comes from the Ford Motor Co., which reports that women have 95 percent veto power over vehicle purchase among couples. Also, most men will consult with their partners prior to approving an expensive repair.

Let me share a personal observation on this subject. Many years ago I was in training to run a new car dealership. Part of the sales training goes to the heart of the importance of the female customer. When couples came in together, we were taught to focus on the female partner. And, if a male customer came in alone, we were instructed to allow him to drive the vehicle home so that his wife could see it. If she didn’t like it, she usually came back to pick out the “right” vehicle.

Although we have run several in-depth articles over the years on the important part women play in our industry, as well as the unique position they hold as customers, we feel we haven’t done enough. So today I’m announcing a new — and, indeed, a long overdue — column that we will premier next month.

Called “A Woman’s Touch,” it will deal with the real-world issues that female employees and customers face in our industry. And, more importantly, we will offer some real-world solutions to these problems.

The way to do this, we think, is to have women write these columns. First up will be our own Senior Editor Sativa Ross. In the inaugural column, she will address why store managers should poll women customers to determine their needs and wants. After that, she will return from time to time to write additional columns, while the other columns will be written by women ranging from counterwomen to the industry’s top female business leaders.

Additionally, I want to give you a heads up on our comprehensive “Female Customer Study” that we will introduce in the December issue. This will be an annual study that will reveal what women customers — DIY and professional — buy at auto parts stores, why they buy certain products and if they have any problems buying them...indeed, what their worst encounters are. Most likely, and unfortunately, the “710” joke will pale to the real world.

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