February 24, 2005

Steady rise in women-owned car dealerships in U.S.

New Orleans, Louisiana – Last month, the National Automobile Dealers Association held its first gathering for female dealers, a breakfast that attracted more than 200 women dealers, managers and sales staff.

According to CNW Marketing Research of Oregon, 7 per cent of 20,000 franchised new-car dealerships across the United States were owned by women in 2004, an increase from 2.9 per cent in 1990 and 5.9 per cent in 2000.

Observers say the trend is embracing the realities of the American marketplace, where women buy or influence 80 per cent of all vehicle purchases.

‘When we look at the performance of our female dealers, they’re at parity with the majority,” said Patricia Roberts. She runs General Motors Corporation’s Women’s Retail Initiative, launched in 2001 to increase the number of female-owned car businesses. Since the launch, GM has added 63 female owners, bringing its total to 262, or about 3 per cent of its 7,400 dealers.

Ford reports that its numbers have grown from 231 in 1997 to 342 in 2004, to more than 6 per cent of its overall dealers.

Marianne McInerney, president of the American International Automobile Dealers Association, said the number of female-owned foreign-brand stores grew from 115 in 1997 to 558 in 2004. She expects the number to reach 600 by year’s end, as companies such as Honda and BMW make aggressive efforts to recruit more female and minority owners, and Asian nameplates expand their U.S. dealer networks.

In some cases, female dealers are wives succeeding their late husbands, or daughters buying or inheriting the business from their fathers. Roberts said GM’s biggest obstacle to increasing female dealers isn’t finding owners, but locating opportunities; most owners are hanging on to their businesses. “We have more women with capital who want to become dealers than we have opportunities each year,” she said.

Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing, said that while his “mystery shopper” staffers who visit female-owned dealerships find the operations not too different from those run by men, they typically have more women on the showroom floor, in the service bays and in finance and insurance departments. He said that it makes good business sense to note their status in advertisements, since men generally aren’t concerned with who owns the business, but women are more apt to visit a female-owned company.

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