Female entrepreneur Juliet Potter was well ahead of the pack in launching a world first in a female-only car website autochic.com.au in 2000.
This was a time when the automotive industry was focused on the male auto consumer, rev-head and car enthusiast; the internet was emerging and the idea of a chick car site considered a novelty. The golden-rule was never try to sell a car directly to a woman as it would be a perceived as a girl’s car and you’d be cutting out the main consumer, i.e. men.
Fast forward to 2015 and how times have changed. As Juliet steadfastly predicted, within the last few years not only are car companies accepting – embracing and directly targeting the female auto consumer – women are now buying more new cars than their male counterparts and are deciding in 85% of all new car purchases and are researching and buying online. Gone are the days of word-of-mouth recommendation from boyfriends, husbands or fathers, thanks to the internet the fairer gender are firmly behind the wheel in deciding which car they want.
Vindicated and in poll position as the only site servicing women in their own language and on their own terms, Juliet’s AutoChic.com.au website provides everything from car reviews (by women, for women, less the acronyms and grunt) along with advice on everything from finance, insurance, tyres and servicing.
We had a chat with Juliet Potter about the challenges of disrupting a traditionally male-dominated industry, the barriers she smashed, and her fresh approach to marketing.
Robelen Bajar: Why a women-only website?
Juliet Potter: When I launched AutoChic it was primarily out of the recognition that women felt discriminated against when buying or selling a car and weren’t up to speed in most things car related. I recognised and accepted the differences between gender when it came to cars, how we related to them. Women generally don’t have the same kind of interest in motor vehicles that men do and certainly there are major differences within the researching and buying process. These differences have been noted in many other industries, to their benefit. Think DIY or even the surfing industry which were once male dominated. The golden rule was never to target a car to a woman or it would be seen as a girls car and men wouldn’t buy it. But a car is the second biggest purchase in a woman’s lifetime – to think the statistics showed she didn’t have a good experience when buying a car was outrageous to me. I learned women weren’t overly interested in cars until she needed to buy one, that the industry talked to men and car enthusiasts. But the stats are clear; women are buying more cars than men (70% of all new cars) and deciding in 85% of all new purchases. Women now more time poor than ever before, especially mums, and instead of asking the man in her life for advice, she’s now heading to the internet to research, decide and to arm her with the tools to haggle.
Car sites are tailored for men. Ours is created by women, for women. It allows women to talk about cars in our own language and on our own terms. We actually state in our car reviews how many cup holders the car has, where the anchor points are for the baby car seat (and how difficult they are to locate and use), and how many doors the car actually has. Our reviews are less grunt, less acronyms and more lifestyle with lots of helpful advice. We also throw in a bit of celebrity, fashion and gossip.
Robelen Bajar: What were some of the biggest barriers when you launched in 2000.
Juliet Potter: My biggest barriers have been working in a very male dominated industry. It’s been difficult to have the automotive sector see women as anything other than a niche market. We sometimes don’t get invited to car launches; some car companies refuse to allow us test-drives (if you don’t see the brand on the site, this is why), or when we do we get the cars months after the larger male dominated car websites. This of course affects our Google ranking in a very aggressive online marketplace. Luckily, we are still found by women who are using search terms men simply don’t use. Ironically this is another difference between the sexes in automotive. Finding investment in the site was hard, most investors are men. Further, I have found it hard to work and be a Mum. Like many women, I juggling work, kids and home life and I struggle to find a balance.
Robelen Bajar: What traction have you had in the market?
Juliet Potter: The site was set up initially to help women in a male dominated industry. Automotive has always been seen as a male domain. Given women are now accepted as being a dominant consumer, the AutoChic site is now no longer seen as a novelty or a joke. We are really hitting our straps in reaching women and in helping them buy and own a car.
Robelen Bajar: What marketing strategies worked for you?
Social media has been enormously helpful for gender equality and esp in the automotive industry that love statistics, giving women a voice. PR and social media has always been our strength especially when we had no advertising budget. In fact, I started a PR company www.GirlPR.com.au
due to the fact the car industry was only advertising to women, yet didn’t utilise PR or engage with editorial content in order to build trust and loyalty. Social media is just another layer on top of this. PR in automotive is still well under-utilised and car brands have only recently started engaging lifestyle PR agencies. Our agency has consulted to everyone from MyPlates to Kmart Tyre and Automotive. This has been extremely rewarding for me.
Robelen Bajar: I love the pamper packs you offer for test drives and purchases. How effective are they in attracting female customers?
Juliet Potter: I actually cannot believe dealerships and car brands don’t do more cross-promotions, co-branding or add-ons for women when they buy a new car. Also, this is a great PR tool! Men get the bomber jacket, the cap, the key ring. Women love fries with that. We buy the dress, the hat, the bag, the shoes, the earrings. We invented this stuff. This is the second biggest purchase in our lifetime. Give us the storage baskets, the funky umbrella, the picnic basket and cool kids tent! I want it all! The pamper packs and the big pink ribbon on top are our way of making the car buying experience a little more fun.
Robelen Bajar: What about your competitors. How have they responded to the way you run autochic?
Juliet Potter: We really don’t have any direct competition, in fact we have consulted to many over the years. My advise has always remained the same – separate the sexes in automotive. Let the boys be boys and the girls be girls. There was a huge 25 page car special in ELLE magazine last month. You know how many of the men I’ve spoken to in the industry saw it? Not one. Zip. They are focused on Wheels and CarAdvice. We don’t have lots of tyre kickers at AutoChic as women don’t go there to check out the latest model that superseded the last and talk all things greasy and grunt; but what we do have is women who are genuinely in the market for a new car and are researching everything from what car they should buy to tyres, finance, insurance and green slips. We help them make their decisions. I have been excited to see this concept duplicated everywhere from the USA, to Canada, South Africa and Ireland.
Robelen Bajar: Looking back since the launch in 2000, how would you do things differently?
Juliet Potter: I think the site was well before its time. In business, timing is everything. So perhaps I would say that I wouldn’t do things differently, as everything has taught me a lesson but I would have advised myself to wait 10 years or so to allow for the internet to take off.
Robelen Bajar: What’s your advice to others who are disrupting a male-dominated industry?
Juliet Potter: Have a thick skin. Don’t take things personally. Stand strong in your convictions. Listen to your gut. Surround yourself with good people and never, ever give up!