As General Manager of Reaume Chevrolet in La Salle, Ont., Jennifer Reaume-Natyshak has taken a unique approach to sales and management.
In an exclusive video interview with Autosphere, Jennifer shares her experiences and how, through a unique approach of compassion and inclusion, she has been able to reshape the culture within the dealership leading, not only to greater success for her staff and her business but also serve as a leading light of inspiration in these uncertain times.
Background in the industry
Autosphere: Can you tell us a little about your background?
Jennifer Reaume-Natyshak: I have been involved in the automotive dealership business for 22 years as of March 22 this year! Before I started working for my family I kind of wanted to make it on my own and show that I could make a go of it outside the family business.
I love being around groups of people—so I spent a lot of my time doing jobs that consisted of working at golf courses and the local casino here in Windsor. I just love the energy of having a lot of people around me. I reached a point where I was getting ready to settle down and start a family and that lifestyle of working late nights wasn’t going to work going forward. So, on the fourth ask of my father to come to work at the dealership, I finally said yes. That was in 1999.
How did you first get started at the dealership?
JRN: My father was looking for a female salesperson and it was very important to him to have that diversity within the store. He knew the energy I bring and how I like to take care of people and serve people. A couple of the sales staff had retired before I joined the team, but at that time I just wasn’t ready. When the timing was right, my father saw me as a suitable choice for a female salesperson at the dealership and so I took the opportunity.
An industry in need of women
To date, are there any particular roles, positions and milestones in your career that stand out?
JRN: I love selling cars. Out of all the positions I have held at the dealership my favourite was in sales. I discovered there was a real need to help other women with the stories I was able to present. I was able to make other women feel comfortable and there was no intimidation because I’m also a woman. I really enjoyed the sales aspect, but when the dealership needed a business manager, I took on that role. I remember that I felt literally getting thrown into that position.
The previous business manager had placed the keys down on the desk on a Saturday without two weeks’ notice and so I hit the ground running. Once in that role, people would often come by my office because there was not another woman in the store at that time for them to talk to. And it was precisely for that reason that today, I always want to make sure we have a female on the floor selling cars.
Can you tell us about your current role and what it entails?
JRN: Today, I’m General Manager and part-owner at the dealership. I’ve got a great team around me and as of late, I am really getting comfortable with my leadership style. We’ve really been having a conversation around the idea of mindset, energy and vibration. All the things related to this I’ve been working on over the last five years I really feel have, ultimately, made me a better leader.
What are some of the changes/initiatives you have been able to introduce to the dealership to help improve customer service and business performance?
JRN: People are often frightened when you talk about the myths of straight commission, long hours and the perceived goings-on at the dealership. I am really trying to debunk those myths and change the culture within the dealership to not work from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. but instead to work from 9 to 3 p.m. or 3 to 8 p.m.. It is really important for our employees that they have a life outside of work.
I firmly believe they have to have something they are passionate about and makes their heart sing outside of work.
When they can relax, recharge and do things that they succeed in outside of work, they are better employees, they are more engaged and work better when they are at the dealership. As a General Manager and a female, I think I have a different perspective on that than perhaps many men would, as they might not always recognize the role that women play outside of work when it comes to looking after the household and the children.
My goal is to make this industry an attractive one for women as there are a lot of opportunities. And I believe I also have a responsibility because I am already at the table and in a position to help make it happen.
Effect of COVID-19
What was COVID-19’s positive or negative impact on your business operations?
JRN: At the beginning, it was scary, but we also saw an opportunity. I did not like the fact that people were scared. Being in a leadership role, I really wanted to just allow people to be where they were and that there was no right or wrong when it came to how they viewed fear and safety.
Day-to-day, a dealership can be a very reactionary environment but COVID-19 really allowed us to be proactive. We started by enhancing our presence online and scheduling appointments. We started coaching our salespeople into doing videos and asking our customers how they were looking to buy a vehicle and where they were at in the process instead of just asking them to come in.
These practices were already there but I think COVID-19 really jump-started it. We also trained our sales staff on how to post on Instagram and Facebook. It was a four-month investment but despite what was going on around us we kept that mindset of learning and really taking the opportunity to help our team grow.
Advice for women in the auto industry
What advice would you give for women considering a career in the auto industry?
JRN: Women are needed at the dealership. I think that the balance between the feminine and masculine energy serves our customers better and it also serves our team better. Yes, it can be a hustle and a grind at the dealership at times, but I would invite women to come to take a look at what we do and understand the concept of balance and flow.
I think it is important that as females, we don’t need to prove ourselves and we don’t need to be one of the boys in a male-dominated field. We can just be ourselves and for me, that’s really exciting.
What’s your approach when it comes to helping women succeeding in this industry?
JRN: Leadership is not always easy, because, as a leader, you have to lead your emotions, your mindset and so many things within yourself before you can lead others. You have to stay positive, keep your vibration high and your light lit so you can permit others to do the same.
We are trying to change the types of conversations we have at the dealership and it is not easy, but the key is to not give up and keep moving forward, bit by bit.
To help, I’ve started what I call a Lead with Love initiative on Facebook, where I have invited like-minded women–not necessarily in the automotive industry (but we have many who are)—to celebrate each other and to maybe help each other through some of the challenges we have had on a day-to-day basis within the dealership. It’s fairly new, but already, we’ve seen a lot of participation, so I am quite excited about that because it is needed.
I am excited to be able to do this outside of the dealership—to be of service and help people navigate through whatever challenges they are facing so they can learn and grow.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention regarding helping women?
JRN: Whether it’s motherhood, being a business owner or a leader, the one thing I do want to say is that I felt I was juggling all these balls up in the air and there wasn’t one for me. As soon as I was able to shift my mindset, I was able to start asking myself what my desires were and what I needed to do in terms of self-care. You have to be able to do that, to take care of yourself first and be able to recharge before you can help others.
Are there any current or plans that you’re excited about?
JRN: I am planning to run a retreat this year, provided if things open up again and we’re allowed to do so. I will be inviting a small handful of women to teach them meditation and to teach them journaling and attitude to help them in both their personal and professional development. Also, I’m really hoping to bring in a four or five-step process into the dealership for both men and women.
I really feel that in addition to women, men can also really benefit from the shift and transformation that I’ve been able to make in the dealership.
So please feel to reach out to me—Jennifer Reaume and Lead with Love on Facebook. I would love to hear from you.