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Tracy Frank, Published September 10 2007

No longer only a man’s world

When Kari Naatz, sales manager at Ward Muscatell Kia in Moorhead, told her dad she was going to sell cars, he was less than thrilled.

“He said no daughter of mine is going to sell cars,” Naatz said.

She did it anyway and after selling cars for 13 months, Naatz was promoted to sales manager.

“I’m one of those people who wants to do different things and it was almost more motivation to prove him wrong,” Naatz said. “Now he couldn’t be more proud.”

Naatz has been in the automotive industry for 10 years. She launched a Web site in February to empower women in the automotive marketplace with advice on purchasing vehicles, car care, car safety and other automotive concerns.

She takes service and purchasing questions by e-mail and e-mails the answers back.

More women are buying vehicles, Naatz said, but a large majority of them still feel uncomfortable or even intimidated purchasing one and dealing with service issues.

Q: How did you get into the automotive industry?

A: I went back to school to get a second major in finance and a friend of my husband’s said I should look into the automotive industry.

I drove by the Subaru dealership every day back and forth to school, so I went in and talked with Ward and he sold me on selling cars because he didn’t have a position open at the time for finance.

How did you like sales?

It was very, very challenging and I think the reason I did it was I wanted to do something that wasn’t expected of me, something off the wall.

I always like a good challenge and of course something to succeed in a “man’s world,” I guess.

There aren’t a lot of women in this field. Why do you think that is?

It’s probably more intimidating for them because it is a male-dominated industry and I think women feel they have to know something about cars, mechanically.

I would like to have more female salespeople. I have one and she does a fantastic job.

How would the industry benefit from more female sales representatives?

There are more women that have purchasing power today. Eighty percent of women make the purchasing decisions when buying a car and over 50 percent of car sales are to women.

Do you think women feel more comfortable dealing with a female sales representative?

I think they do. We do have requests. Women will come in and ask for a female salesperson. But my guys here are great with women. That’s what I expect out of them. They know that’s their biggest market-share right now, so we have a very female-friendly dealership.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Being able to have thick skin and not taking things personally. Being a female, sometimes you’ll get male customers that don’t want to work with you or don’t take you seriously because you are a female and you can’t take it personally.

And then just being accepted in my position. When I was first given the sales management position, the most challenging thing was getting the guys to accept me as their boss.

How did you get them to accept you?

I just had to prove that I could do my job well and I treated them with respect because that’s what I wanted back.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of this job is truly loving what I do, being able to come to work and love the job that I have and being able to do well at it, and the people that I work with, I feel good about what I’m doing.

What inspired you to start askkari.com?

It was actually Dan Anderson, our general manager at Muscatell. It was his idea.

What did you think when he proposed the idea?

I’m open. I thought it was a good idea. I’m not a computer person, but anything to help women feel comfortable with any kind of automotive concern, whether it be service or sales.

We haven’t really pushed this Web site, so I haven’t been doing much with it. I haven’t gotten a lot of responses from it.

Why do you think many women don’t feel comfortable when it comes to automotive issues?

I just think we’ve felt that it’s a man’s world and that’s the way it always has been and I don’t think women like to deal and negotiate. They’re not comfortable doing it.

It is changing, I’ve been doing this for 10½ years and it’s changing quite a bit.

What changes have you seen in that time?

More women coming in, purchasing, doing the actual negotiating, buying on their own.

There’s a lot more information out there for people so when they do come in they’re more informed.

What types of questions do people ask you?

They’re all different types of questions. When my tires are low, do I need to get all new tires or they’ve been to a garage already and have had something looked at and an estimate done and they ask if (the garage is) being honest.

If they’re looking at other makes and models that we don’t sell here, I’m just there to help them make an informed decision. I don’t sway them either way.

All I can do is give them the information. That’s what I’m here for.

It’s not that I know everything. I have a great group of people that I work with. Our service department’s awesome, so when there’s a service question, I’ll have an idea of what the answer is, but I’ll go back there and make sure I have it.

Do men use the site, too?

I’ve had a couple men use it.

What do people really need to know about buying cars?

People really need to sit down and figure out what their wants and needs are, what’s important to them, their budget.

People come in here and they pick out cars and they fall in love with a car they can’t afford. I think if they can be more informed and prepared when they come to a dealership, it would be a lot more helpful for them as well as for us.

What do people need to know about service?

People just need to take care of their vehicles. Do the required, scheduled maintenance.

You take care of yourself, you feed yourself, you brush your teeth every day. You should take care of your car.

People shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions about cars. I learn something new every day.

Online

- Kari Naatz can be contacted at ww.askkari.com

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526