View from the Trenches

Bogi Lateiner, of 180 Degrees Automotive, Sheds Light on How Shops Can Make Women Feel Comfortable

As a technician, shop owner and a coach to other shop owners, Sarah “Bogi” Lateiner told NOLN that the best advice for keeping female customers — and growing the business in the process — is to forge long-lasting relationships.

“Many women go to the same hair salon or dry cleaner for years,” said Lateiner, founder and owner of Phoenix-based 180 Degrees Automotive. “Once you find someone you like, there is no reason to go elsewhere. And when women find someone they can trust, they tell their friends. Women are not only very good at networking, but also very good at warning [others of] businesses to stay away from.”

Lateiner said the relationship between women and cars has also changed, and explained that it was a huge deal that she was “allowed” to take auto shop in high school — something, she added, that her mother’s generation couldn’t even think about.

Today, car repair isn’t taught as much in school, so as a result, Lateiner said, shop owners shouldn’t expect the men who come in to know more than the women.

“This can be a problem, because there can be a lot of condescension toward anyone who doesn’t understand cars,” Lateiner said.

It is also important to understand that many more women are the ones taking in the car for service, she explained, and added that today upward of 60 percent of clients can be women.

“Even if the woman isn’t the person taking it, she might be the one making more of the financial decisions at the home,” Lateiner said. “Unfortunately, the automotive industry as a whole still hasn’t completely caught up to treating women equally. Just recently, I had a new customer come into the shop, and she told me she left the last shop she had been going to because a tech actually said, ‘Do you want us to call your husband and explain what repairs your car needs?’ No one should be treated that way.”

Condescension and assumption are two words that can make shops lose customers very fast, Lateiner said.

“You can’t assume what the customer knows or doesn’t know, and this can be tricky,” she said. “If the tech talks down to the customer, that can be very insulting and condescending, but if you assume he or she understands, it can be very intimating. Either way, that doesn’t make for a happy customer.”

Instead, it is crucial that shops offer advice, ask if the customer has questions and meet the customer on his or her level. Presenting a professional atmosphere is also crucial.

“Make your shop appealing to all customers,” Lateiner suggested. “Making it friendly and inviting shows that we’re all professionals. We wear that on our sleeves at my shop.”

And finally, Lateiner said, “Take time to get to know your customers. That goes a long way toward building that relationship.”