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Car repair shops increase focus on female consumer market

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Car repair shops increase focus on female consumer market

Daniel Dullum
May 11, 2006

More and more, auto repair garages are seeing the advantages of marketing to the female consumer.

Cruise the Internet, and a site for a garage like Auto Repair & Fuel Systems in West Fargo, N.D., will pop up, exclaiming, “Women love our professional service!”

They’re not alone in that marketing approach. In Wilmington, Del., Christian Porter fixed his friends’ cars as a hobby while he worked full time at MBNA as a project manager in the technology department. While working on the cars of his friends and acquaintances, women confided that they were uncomfortable going to “professional” garages.

“You hear this enough, and you recognize an opportunity,” Porter told the The News Journal of Wilmington and New Castle.

When MBNA announced volunteer severance packages to trim its staff, Porter took the buyout, seized the opportunity and opened his own garage that would cater to women – Everest AutoWorks & Auto Spa – in July 2005. While Porter doesn’t turn away male customers, he estimates that 80 percent of his business comes from women.

Douglas Lee, an official with AAA Mid-Atlantic, said Porter’s strategy is smart because “despite the stereotypes, it’s women who most often decide where a car gets serviced.”

Porter’s plans included car repair workshops for women, something already being done at shops like Ponder’s Auto Repair in Johnson City, Tenn., where owner Brian Ponder presents his “Women on Wheels Seminar,” and at Accurate Auto in Hillsboro, Ore.

Rick Kersey, owner of Accurate Auto, explained to the Hillsboro Argus newspaper that he wanted to “empower” female drivers, especially for encountering roadside emergencies, when finding a reputable mechanic can be a challenge.

“Our main goal is to help educate women in the local community about repairs on their cars and get them more prepared for that unexpected breakdown or emergency,” said Kersey, who began his Women’s Car Care Clinics in April 2006.

In 2005, National Shopping Service conducted an automotive repair customer service survey, asking motorists to rank the services most important to them. For women, “wanting the price to be reasonable” topped the list, followed by having the service/repair “explained to me in terms I understand.”

Women surveyed expressed their desire not to be spoken to in a condescending fashion (No. 3), or to feel pressured (No. 4). And they insist on getting a receipt (No. 5), they don’t want “greasy fingerprints all over my car” (No. 6), and appreciate getting a written receipt (No. 7).

Least important to women were perks like having complimentary coffee or water available in the waiting room, seeing the employees in company uniforms, and expecting the employees to be “clean and neat.” However, Matt Wozniak, President and CEO of National Shopping Service, explains that such amenities do have an impact on lasting impressions.

“From a business owner’s viewpoint, amenities such as fresh coffee in the waiting area help to differentiate their business from the competition,” Wozniak said. “Wearing a clean uniform helps with brand recognition and consistency, and ultimately, customer retention.”

Another lasting impression comes from quality service itself. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence reports that women account for more than half of all automotive repair customers. For women to take control of their car repair experience, ASE makes the following recommendations:

? Do your homework before taking your vehicle in for service. ? Start shopping for a repair shop before you need one. Better decisions are made when not rushed. ? Ask friends and associates for their recommendations. ? Look for a neat, well-organized facility, with vehicles equal in value to your own in the parking lot, and modern equipment in the service bays. ? Read your owner’s manual and follow the recommended maintenance schedule.

ASE advises motorists to look for evidence of qualified technicians, such as trade school diplomas and other professional certificates. When a repair shop is chosen, ASE recommends:

? Start off with a minor repair job. If you’re pleased, return with more complicated repairs later. ? Be prepared to describe the symptoms and supply a written list of recent problems. ? Mention unusual sounds, odors, changes in acceleration, engine performance and problems with handling, braking, steering and vibrations. ? Ask as many questions as necessary, and request an explanation in simple terms and definitions.

When the vehicle is brought in, ASE recommends that the car owner not rush the service writer or technician to make an on-the-spot diagnosis. Instead, ask to be called and informed of the problem, the course of action, and estimated costs before work begins.

Once the work is completed, ASE recommends a three-point follow-up process:

? Keep good records, and keep all paperwork. ? Reward good service with repeat business, because it’s mutually beneficial to establish a working relationship. ? If the service performance was less than anticipated, don’t rush to another shop. Discuss the problem with the service manager or owner and give them a chance to resolve the problem.

The ASE report adds that reputable shops not only value customer feedback, they’ll make a sincere effort to keep your business.

Wozniak concurs, “Attributes above and beyond the minimum core expectancies, a fair price, a clear explanation of the work to be performed, and respectful verbal interaction help to match or exceed the customer experience.

“Businesses that meet all customer needs are the businesses that retain customers and gain market share.”

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