Dinosaurs and Dealers
Over the years when ATV Wholesale Outlet Inc was hiring new employees, we would get a few women who filled out our rather extensive application. Call me a dinosaur, as my mother did when I refused to call any women in for interviews. Here’s how my argument went: women do not know about motorcycles, they rarely ride motorcycles, they do not know about motorcycle parts, or how to write service. Women are not strong enough to lift heavy motorcycle parts, and they will probably be hassled by male customers. I thought those were all reasonable points. Yes it’s called discrimination. It’s also called stereotyping…and dumb.
A couple of years ago my son Isaac brought his girlfriend, Bailey, into work with him. She is a wonderfully pleasant young woman and pitched right in to help Isaac. These are high school kids. Bailey came back again and seemed intuitively to “get” the motorsport business. Isaac asked if we could hire Bailey to do a few odd jobs at the company. That was a hard one for me – we could use the help, and I knew she was a good worker, but you know how I feel about hiring women. I considered the idea and gave the OK, thinking she can clean bathrooms, vacuum floors, and do other behind-the scenes jobs. I’m embarrassed to tell you this.
Fast forward two years. Look at the recent pictures I have included with this article. You will see Bailey, and also Brady. My untested opinion of two years ago has been completely upended. Hiring these women was one of the best decisions I have made for this company.
Bailey kind of backed into the job, sneaking past my wall of bias. But she just kept inching into our company culture, taking over the front desk answering phones and customer questions, walking customers around the showroom giving informed responses as they shopped, and then: there she is in back helping out with assembly. Flawlessly. Every bolt in place and properly tightened.
Impressive? Oh yeah. It didn’t take long for our crew to completely accept Bailey as a co-worker who pulled her weight and added important qualities to the whole company environment. So when Brady walked in with her application for employment, I was happy to talk to her. Ten minutes into the interview, I hired her, “When can you start?”
With Brady my enthusiasm was based on not just a “gut feeling,” which was there, but also hearing that her background was similar to our Rock Star, Bailey. Both have fond childhood memories of riding quads with their Dads. They were around custom cars, wrenches, tools, and “typical guy stuff.”
Our women have earned the respect of all their co-workers, just as the male employees had to do when they first arrived. Both Bailey and Brady caught on to every aspect of the company in light speed time. These young ladies know all about the engines, parts, how the engines and carburetors work, how to fix, and clean them, electrical issues, trouble shooting, they are great at sales, running the cash register, helping customers, answering phones…you get the picture.
I’ve learned there are no ATVs or motorcycles that are made for the “girls market.” It comes down to fit and lifestyle. Ducati had been marketing to women a decade ago, but pulled back when Audi acquired the company. They have had to catch up, and now are playing to “free-spirited” women.
See how Honda now extends an enthusiastic welcome mat to female customers.
Harley has been ahead in this game all along. They long ago recognized that women as well as men have varied interests and abilities. Claudia Garber, director of women’s outreach marketing for Harley, has been quoted:
“You pick the one that appeals to you, and our dealers will work with you to make sure it fits properly.”
This is my advice to dealers: don’t be afraid of the market that has changed while you weren’t watching. Sure we remember the days of an all-male macho industry. In those days if women were in the business, they probably stayed in the office, doing filing and typing. That’s not going to happen again. Look forward to the wider market of today and the future. Take down the offensive “girlie” posters. Understand that women are riders and buyers. Speak to every customer according to their unique needs and knowledge, to their skills and interests. Bring women in as service writers, parts and vehicle salespeople, and mechanics. You neglect this powerful market at your peril. Gender stereotypes are losing you business.
Ads for events and manufacturers are moving away from pitches to testosterone. We are seeing stronger appeals to women, men, and children. At ATV Wholesale Outlet Inc we get a lot of customers who enjoy family outings. It’s wholesome good fun, and really important to have salespeople who are knowledgeable and sensitive to fitting all sizes and ages.
There is a cable show, on Velocity TV, called “All Girls Garage.” It stars three attractive and talented ladies who happen to be skilled mechanics. This is an educational show, where the women repair, rebuild, modify vehicles and teach us how to repair cars, trucks and motorcycles. It’s been a huge success since 2012.
To review my original objections to hiring women at a motorcycle dealership:
- Women don’t know anything about motorcycles. Like any other unfounded prejudice it just means you haven’t looked around. Get used to seeing more and more women on their bikes and in service departments and assisting you in the showroom. They know what they’re doing.
- Women rarely ride motorcycles. Not only can I introduce you to two women who have been riding since they were little kids, look at the statistics on American riders. At least 12% of the country’s motorcycle owners are women, and as reported in 2012, 25% of the riders are women. Women are the fastest growing segment of new riders.
- Women don’t know how a motorcycle is put together and won’t be able talk to customers. I invite you visit ATV Wholesale Outlet Inc and walk through our assembly bay and service department. I’ve included a few pictures of our staff in case you can’t make the trip. Bailey and Brady are familiar with every part in our 50 foot glass display cases, can tell you about transmission parts, riding gear, anything you want to know to get yourself on a bike.
- Women can’t write up service orders. See above.
- Women don’t have the physical strength for this business. Generally speaking, men do have more muscular upper bodies, but the women are clever in figuring out how to get things done. Harley-Davidson has worked hard to overcome stereotypes that have kept women out of motorcycling, including the notion that a petite female can’t handle a big, powerful bike. It’s more about technique, skill and confidence than physical strength.
- Female salespeople will be hassled by male customers. This one, unfortunately, is sometimes true. The motorcycle business is still viewed by many as a man’s territory. People are still surprised to be greeted by a woman in our showroom, especially one with experience and knowledge. Our good-humored ladies manage to deflect the occasional inappropriate remarks and laugh with appreciation when complimented by men amazed that women know this business: “You really know what you’re talking about, that’s awesome!”
Yes we’ve heard “sex sells.” But smarter than that cute old cliché is the fact that good business demands opening your doors to all potential customers, recognizing and appreciating all who want your products and service.
Manufacturers and racing organizations who continue to cater to a world that has passed them by are losing out. They are looking more and more ridiculous (and losing the respect of buyers) as glossy publications show young women spilling out of tiny outfits, sprawled on a vehicle they probably cannot even operate. The sexism that represents women as little more than a decoration is damaging the companies and motorcycling.
Here are some of the very real advantages of bringing women into your dealership
- Women have tremendous spending power. They determine 80% of all purchasing decisions according to recent research.
- Women racers bring fans out to games.
- Women are three times as likely to refer friends and recommend good services and products.
- Families and women customers are often more comfortable with female salespeople. They like having a woman help the kids try on helmets, gloves, and riding gear.
- Manufacturers and dealers who develop products and services that reach out to women have shown greater success than those stuck in macho mode.
- Having female mechanics in your service department – if you hurry, before it becomes common-place, sets you apart, gets special attention and respect. Be a forward thinking business, not a dinosaur.
- We at ATV Wholesale Outlet Inc are extremely fortunate to have a wonderful team that includes both men and women. In my years of business I truly cannot recall a better staff than I have right now. Always there have been devoted, skilled individuals who have contributed to the success of our company. My point today is that the mix of personalities who pitch in, understand teamwork, and are present every moment strengthen the business and the experience for your customers.
Doug Stabler & Mom Judy Kendall Stabler
“What do you mean I can’t have a motorcycle?!”