February 2014, Auto Dealer Today - Cover Story
Rose Cruz recently worked with Somos Partners Inc. on campaigns aimed to bring in more female car buyers.
Lexus of Massapequa (N.Y.), located less than an hour from Manhattan in an affluent area of Long Island’s South Shore, is using cupcakes and cocktails as bait to attract female buyers to the store and its lineup of luxury vehicles. But refreshments are only one facet of a larger campaign which includes special events, educational sessions and social media marketing.
Much of the credit for the campaign’s success belongs to Rose Cruz, the store’s business development manager. She joined the dealership last July after working with its parent company, Atlantic Auto Group, for about four years. She had been dreaming up ways to connect with female shoppers and was anxious to put her ideas into practice.
“I said to myself: ‘I have to find ways to engage women. For instance, the Lexus RX350, which is the most popular model we have in our line, is driven predominantly by women,” Cruz explains. According to Forbes, 60% of Lexus RX crossover buyers are female.
Cars and Cupcakes
In December, Lexus of Massapequa hosted Cars & Cupcakes, a one-night event where women were invited to partake in cupcakes, cocktails and shopping.
In December, the staff invited women to join them at the dealership for “Cars & Cupcakes,” a one-night event featuring baked goods, virgin cocktails, holiday shopping and workshops on car-related topics. “You can take Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, even smaller boutiques, and they have ladies’ nights,” Cruz says. “I thought, ‘Why not try this here?’ And that’s exactly what we did.”
After enjoying the faux champagne and virgin cosmopolitans served throughout the night, visitors were invited to sit in on sessions to learn more about the auto financing process. Cruz hoped the sessions would help change the mindset of women who may have been reluctant to buy a car on their own.
“As a woman, going into the dealership alone can be a very scary thing,” Cruz says. “They feel more comfortable bringing a guy with them — their husband, a brother, their son, an uncle. So the seminars let them know a little more about what they’re going to be hearing.”
Led by two women, a local teacher and a longtime Lexus of Massapequa sales consultant, the sessions focused on what women need to know about their family’s credit, what determines their credit score, how to improve their credit, and leasing vs. buying. One session was even dedicated to demystifying car terminology like “horsepower” and “all-wheel drive.”
“You need to know your demographic. You need to know your psychographic,” Cruz stresses, adding that she plans to switch up the topics in the future. Cars & Cupcakes was held shortly after November’s Long Island Women’s Expo, where Cruz and coworkers manned a booth for Lexus of Massapequa. Flanked by exhibitors selling leather coats and spa treatments, Cruz says the Lexus booth became a favorite destination for attendees thanks to the cupcakes her team handed out.
Booth visitors also received vouchers they could redeem for a $25 American Express gift card by visiting the dealership and taking a test drive — an incentive that resulted in “at least seven or eight” vehicle sales, Cruz says.
It’s a drop in the bucket for an operation that averages about 150 to 200 new-vehicle sales per month and 45 to 50 certified pre-owned sales, but Cruz is betting on her store’s good will spreading to other female prospects. And based on recent research, female customers may be an even bigger market than she imagined.
According to analysis from Southfield, Mich.-based Polk, 80% of car-buying decisions are made by women. Perhaps more importantly, the segment’s potential buying power is estimated to be about $5 trillion. But their influence doesn’t end there, with Polk data indicating that females also make 65% to 80% of the service and maintenance decisions, which means women are spending a good amount of time in dealership service lounges.
Lexus of Massapequa is responding to that finding by offering manicures and massages to customers in the service lounge. The services are provided by local merchants during certain hours each day. “It’s just to make them feel comfortable,” Cruz says, noting that the dealership also offers patrons a reading lounge for peace and quiet. “Not everybody can get a loaner. … I’ve gone to a doctor’s office and had to be there an hour, two hours, and it’s pretty uncomfortable when you’re just sitting there watching TV.”
Lexus of Massapequa also recently launched a monthly Technology Night, an evening of refreshments and drinks that offers an open forum for customers to ask questions about vehicle technologies. And so far, Cruz says, Technology Night has drawn a predominantly female crowd.
“Lexus is high-end, and a lot of people buy these cars, and they don’t know what they do,” Cruz says. “It’s kind of like smartphones; you’d be surprised how many people have smartphones and don’t know what they can do.”
Technology Night is a manufacturer-sponsored event, but Cruz says her store is the only one in the immediate area taking advantage of it. “You have to do things to set yourself apart,” she says. “So if nobody’s doing it, we’re going to try to do it ourselves.”
Lexus of Massapequa’s marketing team works with Long Island’s Somos Partners Inc. to chart the campaigns’ success — right down to the email blasts that show up in female customers’ inboxes. Cruz says the Technology Night invites use more feminine colors in the body of the emails, as well as images that are generally more appealing to the female audience. “I noticed that women tend to respond more to things that are pet-related. Women love their pets.”
The same rules apply to social media. Last fall, Cruz and her team launched a social media campaign where online fans could submit photos of their dogs to be the face of Lexus of Massapequa for the month of November. That’s how the store landed Baby Howard, the pup with the most “likes,” as its mascot last fall. The dog appeared in various social media photos and promotions for the dealership.
Aside from faux champagne and cupcakes, Lexus of Massapequa also held a pet contest via social media. “Baby Howard” was the winner and appeared in various promotions for the dealer during the month of November.
The attention Baby Howard attracted paid off, Cruz says, especially considering the investment for the campaign was nominal. “Little by little, we started getting more likes on our page, we started getting more followers on Twitter,” she says, adding that the owner of the dog blasted out the promotions to her page as well. “Next thing you know, you have people that are associated with her and they’re going to our page after that. Just from [the pet campaign] alone, we’ve picked up two or three extra vehicle sales.”
Moving forward, Cruz plans to continue to make the process more appealing to women. “I’m a woman myself, and I know what pushes my buttons. I know how [businesses] are going to get my attention to get me to go to a store. I told myself I am going to experiment with this, and so far, so good.
“If it doesn’t work, we won’t do it. If we see it’s working, we’re going to continue to do it,” she adds. “It’s the only way we’re going to grow.”