How The Role of Women in the OPE Industry is Evolving

It’s no secret that women have been underrepresented in the outdoor power equipment industry. However, over the past few years, we’ve been seeing that women are becoming more involved in purchasing decisions, are landing leaderships roles at dealerships and manufacturers, and are seeing more opportunities for professional development.

To get a better understanding of this shift in dealerships, we sat down with Sara Hey, Vice President of Bob Clements International and asked her some questions about her experience in the industry.

 

Have you noticed any changes or trends in the OPE industry this year?

Sara: I think dealers are up against things they’ve never been up against before this year. There is this huge transition happening inside of businesses. A lot of owners who have been very successful over the last two years are going to start moving on and will need to evaluate how they should handle the transition. Should someone take over the existing business, or should the business be sold? Is their business actually worth what they think it’s worth? Over the next 18 months, thinking about the future of their business is going to be top of mind for most owners. As the inventory situation continues into Q3 and Q4, dealers are getting increasingly worn down and tired from fighting over the past two years. And so what we’re seeing is dealers at a place of burnout. They’re sitting here going, man, do we have the fight left in us at its core?

There is also this continued adoption of technology that’s happening in outdoor power equipment dealerships. It’s been something that’s taken a little bit longer in OPE than some of the other industries to really like to take and run with. But as this next generation is coming up into the business, they’re more open to ideas of integrating technology into the business and creating more of an ‘Amazon-esk’ experience. When somebody is ready to purchase, it’s really easy for them to to make that purchase. This improved experience is happening through texting, by maximizing marketing inside of the dealership, and by finding the right employees. And I think as we go through this, it’s continuing to refine dealers even in the midst of a really challenging last few years.

Do you expect to see more women taking on leadership roles in dealerships? Or do you see women joining different positions than usual?

Sara: Yeah, I think so. Right now, I could tell you the names of almost all of them. There’s so many next generation situations right now where women are taking over their dad’s business, who took the business from his father, and so on. And because of this, women are continuing to find space for themselves in their family dealerships. In all honesty, there’s still this weird tension that is out there in the OPE industry, but it’s continuing to happen and more and more where I’m seeing that turn. Women are also becoming more primary purchaser in these decisions more often. So not only is it opening the door for the next generation of women to come and run businesses in the OPE industry, but it’s also becoming a pretty incredible place for the new generation of customers who see themselves represented in dealerships and feel more welcome entering.

Overall, it’s one of those things where I think because more women are seeing other women in dealerships, they’re going “this is fantastic, there’s a place for me, and I can do this”. By refining this experience, it not only brings more women in, but brings the overall customer experience up as well.

Do you think the customer persona is changing a little bit then?

Sara: I think if you were to take a hard look at it, women are becoming more and more a part of this and as they do, the industry needs to recognize that buyers are changing too. I know women who just love to go out and mow. There’s this growing group of single, professional women who instead of hiring a landscaping company, are comfortable investing in more expensive equipment because they genuinely enjoy the process. A good friend of mine loves to sit out on her deck with a glass of wine and watch her mower do the work for her! For dealerships, this means they need to be willing to change that customer persona and say, how do we set this up to bring in this whole new group of customers?

What do you think are the biggest technology opportunities in the industry for the next year?

Sara: I think that a huge thing for dealers right now is not only finding new employees, but retaining people. Right now, everyone who wants a technical or parts job has one. And so dealers have to be more strategic on how they’re hiring and retaining people, and making sure they’re paying them in a way that makes them want to stay. I saw an article on LinkedIn the other day that said if you were to quit your job right now and find a new one, you would automatically get a 20% pay raise just because of the labor shortage. Making sure that dealers are bridging that gap is a huge challenge right now.

What do you think are the biggest technology opportunities in the industry for the next year?

Sara: In the past year, I think digital technology became very important. I think communication via website’s is going to continue to be huge. I think text messaging is as well, but if dealers aren’t using it already then they’re behind the curve, since it saves so much time and frustration. Also, having the ability to chat with somebody on your website and make purchasing decisions, and being able to make purchasing decisions from outside the store is important to customers. And with that, comes the challenge of making sure your website is set up to properly to support your payments and the needs of your service and parts departments.

One of the things I’m seeing with the parts side is dealers are starting to utilize the Amazon style lockers, where they can store the parts and then the customers can come outside standard hours, on their way home from work or the grocery store, and grab their parts and go. There’s a new demographic of customers who don’t want a relationship with their equipment, they just want it to work when they need it to work. Preparing for this new consumer is going to be a huge part of the future.

That’s so interesting, since dealers have been so focused on relationship selling in the past. It will be a huge change in the industry for dealers to adapt to these changes.

Sara: Recently, I needed to make a return and I had missed my return window, so you know what I did? I got on the chat and talked to their representative, and after like 3 seconds, they said “no problem, we’ve got you taken care of”. And that was it! It was fantastic. It’s that convenience aspect as we look to the future that people are wanting to pay for. We’re always on this pendulum of save me money vs save me time, and normally we’re somewhere in the middle. Right now, I think the outdoor power equipment consumer is in to save me time, not necessarily save me money. And I think that mental shift has to happen at dealerships, so dealers can start leveraging the technology that makes this easier.

What is one piece of advice you’d like to give to other women in the OPE industry?

Sara: I would just say, you know what you’re doing. Don’t let anyone make you question yourself in this industry. There are people who will walk into your dealership and say “I want to talk to another man about this”, but don’t let that deter you from the fact that you know what you’re doing and what you’re talking about. And you’re confident in that.

In the grind of working in a dealership, running a dealership and then dealing with customers who challenge you, it can feel exhausting. But as a women, you bring so much to the table on so many levels. So, don’t let that be undermined someone coming into your dealership and treating you like you are worth less.

Confidence seems to be a consistent theme for women in the OPE industry! Finding a way to build confidence is almost the most important thing right now.

Sara: I have been so blessed in my career in this industry on so many things. There are men who have given me a seat at the table as a women who didn’t know anything about the industry when I started, and I should never have had a seat at the table. There are men in this industry who really want to see strong women succeed. And I think that’s worth mentioning here too, they’re out in the industry, championing strong women and saying “you might not belong at this industry yet, but I’m going to give you the seat anyways”.

These opportunities have been so core to where I am now in my understanding of the industry. And then I also think of these other women in the industry with me, and I think to myself “oh my gosh, you’re killing it!”. Even on days where I have someone challenge me, I think about all the women and men who are pushing the industry forward together, moving the bar together. And if I can be that for another woman in the industry by saying we’re going to show up, we’re going do the thing, and we’re going to move on, then that in my mind is a huge win.

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