By April Chadwick
Christine Mitchell could claim the title of Car Lady long before becoming an automotive presenter and spokesperson. Moving from part-time receptionist to the lube lane, she has a history of bucking traditional gender stereotypes.
In her 12 years in automotive retail, she has also worked as a technician, service advisor and salesperson.
The single mom said that over time, she began to be identified by customers as the “Car Lady.” Over the last 16 years she has turned that friendly nickname into a thriving business that aims to help dealerships retain their female and male customers throughout the ownership lifecycle.
As a business, The Car Lady says she counts some 50 dealerships as regular clients and employs two other presenters, as well as a full time coordinator to manage events across Ontario.
Mitchell’s busy schedule sees her travel around a 1,000 km every three days. She has already racked up over 200,000 km on her 2010 Toyota Corolla, affectionately dubbed “Lola.”
The Car Lady offers a host of services, including new model demonstrations and VIP events. The most popular presentations are Women At The Wheel and Know Your Car Nights.
Mitchell explains that the Women At The Wheel presentation is designed to build trust between the dealership and its female consumers.
“Attendees learn from another woman how their car works, what happens from the moment they turn the key to the wheels beginning to turn,” she said.
By offering women the automotive knowledge to make informed decisions regarding their car’s service and maintenance, she said dealerships are providing an invaluable skill set that creates a relationship with the customer and builds loyalty.
A knowledgeable owner is more likely to take advantage of all dealership-offered services, from routine maintenance to winter tires, shuttle services and online appointments, she added.
Female customers generally feel more comfortable learning and asking questions from another woman. She is quick to add that dealerships have changed with the times creating a more female-friendly environment to purchase a vehicle.
In addition, women are a common sight within the dealership in a sales and management role and, increasingly, as technicians and service advisors.
Market research dictates the advantages of making the dealership more gender-accessible. In North America, women account for 50 per cent of new car sales, influence up to 80 per cent of all car purchases and request 65 per cent of the service work done, according to Women-Drivers.com.
Mitchell’s Know Your Car Nights are aimed at both female and male clients, teaching them about their new car and the dealership. It is an opportunity for the dealership to make “a second first impression instead of just a wave goodbye,” she said.
“Customers are invariably in a rush to enjoy their new car and are not fully aware of the car’s features and the services offered by the dealership.”
Originally branded Second Delivery, the presentation addresses the time constraint issue dealerships face, letting customers learn about their car after they have had some initial experience behind the wheel.
“Servicing their car is a mystery to many drivers. High schools have eliminated auto shop, and as vehicles have become more complicated there are no parents or older siblings to pass down automotive knowledge.”
In a scheduled and relaxed environment, owners are taken through their car’s features. The drivetrain and braking system is explained with an under-the-hood and under-the-body demonstration. Service items, such as belts, filters and fluids, are also covered. Practical information on warranties, what to do in case of an accident, winter driving and car cleaning tips are all part of the Car Lady’s repertoire
The Know Your Car Night concludes with a dealership walkthrough, acquainting customers with the various departments and explaining the benefits of servicing their vehicle at a factory trained shop.
The Car Lady said she takes care of planning and organizing the entire event, including distributing comment cards at the end of the seminar to provide the dealership with direct customer feedback.
Michael Carmichael, dealer principal at Toronto’s City Buick Chevrolet Cadillac GMC, has been running customer clinics for 15 years and has used The Car Lady for the last five.
“Christine provides a turn-key service that is interactive; engaging and educating the customer. We used to do our own events. But after seeing how well she does it, I wouldn’t do it any other way,” he said.
Both Women At The Wheel and Know Your Car Night presentations are a means to build a long lasting relationship with customers.
“Every year dealerships spend thousands upon thousands to get new business,” Mitchell concludes. “But how much do they spend to keep it?”