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Women Driven Barrie: Flexibility, Consistency and Resilience

Autosphere » Dealerships » Women Driven Barrie: Flexibility, Consistency and Resilience
Women Driven kicked off its multi-city tour with an event in Barrie on May 23. Photo Huw Evans

Industry networking event provided some valuable insights for females in automotive retail.

On May 23, the Motor Vehicle Retailers of Ontario (MVRO) kicked off its 2024 Women Driven series of networking events.

The first stop on the tour was Barrie, where the Automotive Business School of Canada at Georgian served as the host venue.

Created with a mission to amplify the ability of women to thrive in the automotive retail sector, these events serve as a dynamic platform in which women from across the industry can meet, share ideas and network, helping foster an environment of opportunity, inspiration and innovation.

The Barrie event drew women from across the region and featured a keynote from leading consumer branding expert Katie Mares.

The importance of resilience

Mares delivered a very personal and moving address, highlighting her own career development and personal struggles and how resilience and self-love are hugely important to succeeding in both life and career.

Mares said that often, women don’t give themselves enough credit, especially in industries such as automotive retail that are traditionally, male-dominated.

She also said that community is hugely important and, by surrounding yourself with supportive and motivated people, it can provide a springboard to enable you to reach the next level. She noted that negative thoughts can be incredibly powerful, but so can positive ones, and that by training yourself to be positive every day you not only change your outlook and mood but also change the world around you.

“Have you ever heard the expression you can cut the tension with a knife?” asked Mares to a captive audience. “That’s because we each have this energy field around us,” she said. This energy and frequency field has the ability to influence not only the outcome of our days but also our lives. “The words you use not only change your mood but literally change the way [other] people see you,” said Mares. “They change your facial expression, and the energy you project, whether you smile or don’t smile; whether you’re approachable or not and whether you decided to go the extra mile and show up in excellence.”

Consumer and branding expert Katie Mares delivered a captivating keynote. Photo Huw Evans

Projection and behaviour

Mares said that the way you project yourself is hugely important in the auto retail environment, as it influences the way you behave, not only around your colleagues but also how you interact with customers, particularly female customers.

She noted that women today, are the most influential consumers in our society and are often the decision-makers, even when it comes to big-ticket items like houses and cars. Therefore, there are huge opportunities for women in automotive retail, particularly when it comes to sharing experiences with potential female customers and building genuine, long-lasting relationships.

Following Mare’s keynote, a panel discussion took place on stage. Hosted by Tabita Banzaru from DriveHRIS, it included Christy Hines from 400 Chrysler, Katie Mares, Nicki LeBlond from Weins Auto Group and Michelle Malcic from Barrie Subaru.

The discussion began with Banzaru asking the panellists what was the most valuable strategy or lesson they’ve learned during their careers.

Michell Malcic said that for her, it was about consistency—being consistent in your work, your personality and attitude. “People always need to know what to expect from you and you need to be consistent in your performance,” Malcic stated. She stressed that by being consistent, you demonstrate accountability and reliability, and other team members and managers know they can count on you when it matters.

The panel discussion focused on a range of key topics and generated some very insightful discussion. Photo Huw Evans

Open mind

Nicki LeBlond said that in her case, it was keeping an open mind and always being willing to learn. “Keep learning and improving yourself and ask others how you’re doing. Don’t be afraid of feedback,” she said.

Katie Mares explained that career paths aren’t always linear, and sometimes it can seem like snakes and ladders, but ultimately, she said it’s about being willing to take risks and being flexible—understanding there are multiple different avenues that can take you where you want to go.

Christy Fines noted that for her, a big one was believing in your leadership style, and focusing on being positive and setting an example for others, even if the world might seem to be crashing down around you at times. Fines stressed that positivity and resilience can lead to great things and looked at her own career path, where she stepped into a General Sales Manager role which led to her becoming Managing Partner in the dealership. “There are so many things coming at us every day, that we just figure it out, so don’t worry about it.”

In asking what changes have made things more successful for women, both from their own career perspective and the industry as a whole—Michelle Malcic, said that today, she’s actively involved in the hiring process of new staff. This means that she can help determine whether a particular person is right for a specific role, plus give advice and build confidence with females who are looking to apply for that job, allowing a defined career path to be developed from the ground level.

Panelists pose for a group photo: (L-R) Tabita Banzaru, DriveHRIS; Christy Hines, 400 Chrysler; Katie Mares; Nicki LeBlond, Weins Auto Group and Michelle Malcic, Barrie Subaru. Photo Huw Evans

Being an advocate

Nicki LaBlond stressed that it was important to be an advocate for engaging with and attracting women into the industry. “I’ve really started to spend time engaging with high schools and getting those young ladies in on a high school placement,” she said. “Even if it’s not in the store, we can still show them all these roles and opportunities that are available.” She noted that it was important to understand that not everyone can or even wants to be a sales or service manager, and that multiple different roles are available, that enable people with various different skill sets to thrive.

Katie Mares said that awareness is a big factor and while there has been significant improvement over the last 25 years when it comes to career opportunities for women in automotive retailing, there’s still a lot of work to do, particularly when it comes to the younger generations. “I was at a conference the other week, listening to an amazing 14-year-old speak, and she didn’t know about the automotive industry,” Mares said. “We need to put it out there and show how incredible this industry is.”

The event provided some great networking opportunities for attendees. Photo Huw Evans

Workplace flexibility

Christy Fines noted that at her dealership, some of her best sales producers are female. “At our location last month, 44% of our total sales volume was done by three female staff.” She also stated that a big part of success in hiring women is offering workplace flexibility in terms of schedules. “One thing I really struggled with as a mom, was my schedule,” said Fines. “Car dealerships are often open until 9 p.m. during the week and so that meant working 12-9 p.m.or 1-9 p.m. and often racing home to get things ready for the next day.”

Fines explained that when dealerships are looking at hiring more women, they need to consider that they have a life outside of the store and that they have children, families and obligations. “I think that’s important. I think that’s better for home life. I think it’s better for work-life balance, and I think it’s going to be better for productivity.”

Given how staff retention is a major issue impacting automotive retail as well as other sectors, Banzaru asked the panellists what their thoughts were on creating and developing effective staff retention strategies, particularly for females.

Christy Fines went back to the concept of flexibility, taking into account that women often have families and obligations, so scheduling video calls at 8.00 a.m. in the morning is probably not a good idea, especially if they have children that need to get ready for school, etc.

She also noted that dealership management should also offer flexibility when it comes to providing their sales staff with demonstrator vehicles. Years ago, Fines said she’d requested a pickup truck so she could take her daughter to horse shows, but it wasn’t policy for female staff to have demo pickups and it proved to be a difficult moment and one, when she almost considered leaving the dealership due to the lack of flexibility being given.

Training practices

Katie Mares said that training practices often leave a lot to be desired, which not only causes staff turnover, but customers to choose to do business with competitors. She noted it was important to create a training and development process that focuses on brand, value and corporate culture first and then layer in the technical training for the role, rather than doing it the other way around. Mares said that when technical training is put forward first, it can often be a disaster, especially for new recruits who alienate customers because they don’t feel confident or supported by the organization, causing them to leave and the dealership to lose valuable business.

“Take a look at what your culture is,” she stated. “Don’t over promise and under deliver. Under promise and over deliver, if you can, and create a proper training process where you’re teaching staff what the company culture is and how to uphold it”. She noted that this can’t be stressed enough because “every time you lose an employee, the cost is three- or four-months salary. It’s expensive, so, do yourself a favour and put in the time, money and effort in developing and nurturing your culture and training your people the way they need to be trained.”

Nicki LaBlond added that when it comes to training, it’s not only the employees that should be focused but also the management and leadership teams. “We focus a lot on leadership training because we want our leaders to set the tone [for the organization]” she said. Gone are the days, when gruff, top-down leaders simply dictate to their staff. Today, a collaborative approach is often required to get things done effectively and open communication helps empower staff (both female and male), across the entire organization, boosting their confidence, motivation and faith in the organization. The result often translates into better productivity, better profitability and better retention.

Women Driven’s next stop is at Porsche Centre London, in London Ontario, on June 13. For more details visit: mvro.ca/women-driven-london.

 

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