When Canadian auto journalist Jeremy Cato spoke to a group of dealers at this year’s Toronto auto show, he was asked, “How can dealers be better at serving their customers?”

He looked over the room and saw only men. His response was the same as that of many of us who know auto retailing: “Hire more women for your sales force, and find a way to keep them.”

Cato advocates a dealership sales force of 30% women. So do I. Dealers should have a woman in the finance and insurance department as well. That has never been more important. This will become increasingly essential by 2014 and beyond.

Why? Because Generation Y is moving into the car market in big numbers. They are different than Traditionalists, Boomers and Generation X before them.

They are the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce. In a survey of 1,000 female Gen Yers:

  • 96% list being independent as their most important life goal.
  • 87% define success as being able to shape their own future.
  • Only 68% say becoming a mom is on their priority list.

Why is knowing this important for car dealers? Because acting on it will help profits, elevate community respect and communicate an important message. Women on the floor demonstrate commitment.

A recent survey indicates 74% of Generation Y women feel misunderstood by automotive marketers, yet they account for the purchase of 65% of all new cars and 53% of used cars. They influence 95% of all auto purchases, according to Road & Travel Magazine.

Generation Y women represent a significant number of the 80% of all women who influence spending. They are vocal about their likes and dislikes, have grown up with computers and cell phones and have huge and valuable numbers of social-media contacts.

Consider these facts:

  • 56% of U.S. women use social networking sites daily.
  • 58% of Facebook users are women.
  • 64% of Twitter users are women.
  • 82% of Pinterest users are women. (Source: Mashable, 2012)

Why do these social statistics matter? Because if understood, they should influence how dealership marketing is done in 2013 and beyond. Social-media marketing has become a must. Establishing their brand preference and store loyalty should start early. Social-media marketing is a way to do this.

Dealers who realize this will see an increase in female customer buying power, especially if they’re using social media to communicate with these women and their family, friends and neighbors in an ongoing dialogue.

Generation Y women will click on the dealer’s website, if they like the tone of the dialogue and if the other participants pass on praise.

If the dealer’s website is designed to draw these independent women with easy-to-find and understand information, they will be more apt to call the dealership for specific facts.

If the salesperson who answers the phone provides superior customer service, is thoroughly trained and knowledgeable and creates such a trusting rapport with these callers that they visit the showroom, wise dealers will ensure that these women do not see only salesmen.

Statistics show women like to buy cars from women. They trust them more. They speak the same language. When women customers see saleswomen in the dealership and are shown into the office of a female F&I manger, they are more likely to buy.

Times have changed. Legions of Generation Y women possess the sales skills, personality and drive to work at a dealership.

Women in sales and F&I can make a huge difference. Find them. Train them. Encourage them. It is time to change the good-old-boy dealership culture.

Rebecca Chernek is head of Chernek Consulting. She can be reached at chernekconsulting@earthlink.net.