Women Driven London: Encouragement and Collaboration

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Women Driven’s second event of 2024 took place in an actual dealership- Porsche Centre London. Credit: Huw Evans

Creating a sense of community is critical in tackling issues such as retention and growth in automotive retail.

On June 13, Porsche Centre London played host to the second of MVRO’s Women Driven networking events. The setting proved to be a great place for a dinner, networking reception and some great content, courtesy of Women Driven 2024 Keynote speaker Katie Mares, as well as an in-depth panel discussion that followed.

Kind, sincere and helpful

Emceeing the event was Shannon Maloley, of Finch Auto Group. Maloley, who has worked in the automotive retail industry for more than two decades, shared her own experiences. Maloley recalled how she began working in a largely male environment, and overcame obstacles to become a highly successful salesperson, focusing on being kind, sincere and helpful to every single customer who came through the door. Maloley said her core focus was to find customers “the best vehicle that fit their needs at the best price. I was a 24-year-old girl, who knew nothing about cars, nor car dealerships,” she said. At first, Maloley said she didn’t see working in the sales department as a competition, but that soon changed. Nevertheless, she quickly became a top performer, eventually taking on management roles including Financial Services Manager and later General Sales Manager. “Don’t let other people’s broken records dictate your reality,” she said.

Today, Maloley serves as Vice President of Business Development at Finch Auto Group and continues to be an inspiration to other women in the automotive retail industry.

Shannon Maloley, Vice President, Business Development, Finch Auto Group, served as emcee and shared her own career journey. Credit: Huw Evans


Seven dealerships

Following Maloley, keynote speaker and consumer branding expert Katie Mares took to the stage. Mares didn’t hold back, sharing her own personal challenges, tragedies and triumphs. She talked about her own terrible experience about trying to purchase a vehicle a number of years ago, that saw her visit seven dealerships before actually buying her next vehicle.

Having a better experience from purchasing a $7 latte versus a $70,000 vehicle led Mares to investigate why, her automotive retail purchase— particularly as a woman—was so substandard. “This led me to develop a keynote presentation, to write a bestselling book entitled The Custom-Her Experience, and to speak at virtually every major automotive industry conference in North America.

Today, Mares is a highly sought after keynote and at Women Driven London, captivated the audience, noting that how, after going through some very difficult circumstances during the COVID era, founded an organization called Ladies Take Control. She noted that one of the biggest strengths women and anyone for that matter has, is their community. Mares noted that even through some very tough times, she found strength and support in her community, peers and network, and that encouragement, along with a focus on taking real, decisive action, led her to where she is today. And she noted, that having the right mindset and the right network can lead to amazing things. “You have this incredible [Women Driven] event and network,” she said, “so take advantage of it and lean on your peers, as they can help you smooth out the bumps as you progress, grow and advance in your career.”

Katie Mares, consumer branding expert, talks to an engaged audience. Credit: Huw Evans


Panel discussion

Following the keynote, a panel discussion took place, featuring Sonia-Michelle DeSouza from Porsche Centre London, Shannon Maloley, Shannon Brown from Reynolds and Reynolds and Carolyn MacSween from Kijiji Canada, with Sandra Conway from DealerPilot serving as moderator.

The panelists focused on a range of topics, including the need to be transparent and kind, as well as building strong relationships. Sonia-Michelle DeSouza said that the number one thing she learned early on was to be transparent. “Some people will love you for it, some people will hate you for it, but always be transparent.” DeSouza explained that by being open and honest, but also by being tactful and kind, you build respect among others, which leads to greater collaboration and better results. She notes that true success “takes a village,” and “even though I’m the only dedicated marketing person in this building, I wouldn’t be anything without my team.”

Shannon Brown noted the importance of training and mentorship and that for females in the industry showing that new and different opportunities are available and that they don’t have to necessarily stay in the same role can be highly encouraging. She also stressed the importance of having an open-door policy and enabling staff to talk freely with management. Brown said this can be a huge game changer, particularly as it relates to confidence and motivation, since it creates an environment of real collaboration, fueling true success and growth.

Panelists pose for a group photo: (L-R) Carolyn MacSween, Kijiji, Shannon Maloley, Finch Auto Group, Shannon Brown, Reynolds and Reynolds, Sonia-Michelle DeSouza, Porsche Centre London, Sandra Conway, DealerPilot and Katie Mares. Credit: Huw Evans


Multiple opportunities

Carolyn MacSween said that it was important to understand that there are multiple opportunities available in the automotive industry that extend beyond the dealership and retail sales, including financing, advertising, technology, product and software. MacSween noted that since she started working in Kijiji, more women have joined the organization to the point that today, 50 percent of workforce is now female, with 60 percent of the leadership team being women.

On the subject of retention, all the panelists acknowledged that it remains a challenge in the industry, with high turnover still a significant problem, particularly at the retail level.

MacSween said, that the need for staff to be able to recharge and take proper holiday time is an essential part of retention, in order to prevent burnout which can be a serious problem in high pressure environments such as sales. Mental health benefits, parental leave and other factors can be a huge benefit, particularly for women and by having more females in leadership roles, these practices are actively encouraged, which in turn encourages more women to apply for positions in automotive retail and makes the likelihood of them staying far more probable.

Event provided some great networking opportunities for attendees. Credit: Huw Evans


Better ‘fit’

Brown said that boredom can also be an issue when it comes retention, which was why she stated that it is so important to let employees know there are other opportunities within the organization and by encouraging them to explore new challenges and new roles, it demonstrates that the organization cares about them and has an active interest in helping them grow and develop. It can also serve in helping find a better ‘fit’ or task for employees who may be struggling in their current role, giving them the opportunity to flourish and by extension, the organization as well.

Maloley said that for women, particularly in sales and in an environment such as a dealership, stepping into a full commission role can be very daunting and today, retail stores are increasingly adopting different approaches, including starting salaries to help ease the transition. She also noted that organizational support and assistance is also critical in helping employees succeed and can often be a big factor in boosting retention. She also stressed it was critical to highlight the progress that can be made and how people who started as receptionists or detailers and now serve as vice presidents or department heads can serve as highly effective role models, showcasing the opportunities that are available.

DeSouza added that it was important to always be curious and be willing to learn and look for that role that truly fits and that you love doing. If you find that position doing something you love, she stated, then “you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Categories : Editorial, Mechanical


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