NY Dealer Kitty Van Bortel: Sales To Women Fueled Success

I'm not interested in selling iron or servicing iron. I'm really interested in selling to the people behind the iron, servicing the people behind the iron and having the sensitivity to how they're feeling. How they're feeling! Let's talk about feeling in the car business if we could for a minute.

I'm Kitty van Bortel and I'm Time Magazine Dealer of the Year. I'd like to see a lot more women in powerful positions and automobile dealerships. I think it would really transform the entire industry.

"2016 Time Dealer of the Year is ... Kitty van Bortel from Victor, NY."

It was truly the ultimate goal I've ever had being a car dealer. "It's about time women got recognized in this business."

There was a lot of insecurity deep down inside, you know, from all the rejection and the discrimination, so this was like, okay, nobody can touch me now. My first job selling cars, I was actually voted in by all the male salespeople. They never had a woman in Rochester selling cars and the dealer told me that if he hired me that all his male salespeople would quit.

The last job I had I thought it was like the pinnacle and I did, I think, a wonderful job, just a wonderful job. And I got fired. And the day I got fired, the general manager told me that he was bringing in a team of men to take my place. And I walked out of there that day and I thought, you know, all of this discrimination that I've been through over the last 10 years, it's all been kind of funny, interesting, and I've always risen above it. But all of a sudden it really, really wasn't funny anymore.

I made a decision then and there that I just could never work for another car dealer. If I was gonna do this then I was gonna have to do it on my own. I rented a house on a busy street and I sold cars out of my front yard. I knew the business, I loved it and was really good at it. I had a relentless desire not only to be successful but more to just prove to everyone else that I didn't need them.

Early on, the reason that I was always so visible personally is I wanted women to know that there was a car dealership where they could go and there'd be a woman at the helm that they could talk to if things didn't go well because every place, every, every car dealership, if you walked into the service department, service advisors didn't take you seriously. When you walked into the showroom, salespeople didn't take you seriously. It was really pathetic. And I hated that. It was so ridiculous, it was just insane. So I did everything I could to basically gear my business to women.

All of my employees are instructed to really just spend their time with the woman. Just ignore the man. Because truthfully, women do make eighty percent of decisions. We have flowers on all the tables. I love that! I love flowers, I love the idea of having a feminine touch in the showroom. When a customer buys a car, we have a sort of standing policy that we always give them the bouquet of flowers that are on the table.

Service advisors that I have are all handpicked by me and all have to really have a sensitivity towards women. When a woman comes into the dealership and tells you there's a noise, can I just tell you there's a noise? Women are busy. They're not making appointments, taking time out of their day, to come into this dealership to tell you they have a noise for the fun of it. There is a noise. Find it! And don't let the customer have it back until you found the noise. So those are the kind of things that we go over to just make it clear that, you know, women need to be taken very seriously in a car dealership.

It's hard to hire women if you don't understand women. The problem with our society is that if a woman fails at raising her children, there's nothing in her career that is going to supersede that, as far as her reputation is considered. I have a 17 year old daughter. If next week she got arrested for petty larceny and ended up in jail, everyone would judge me by how I raised my daughter, not how I have three of the most successful dealerships in this market.

New York Times business section did a story on me and at that point it brought to light that I only cared, frankly, about selling that to the 51 percent of the population. Somebody else could sell to the other forty-nine percent because I just felt it was such an important mission for me to be able to make a difference in women's lives. It was one thing I could do where it could be a life's work that would be just so rewarding and so important.

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