Erin Baker looks at how the car industry engages with women

Erin Baker looks at how the car industry engages with women
How does the car industry engage women? How does it sell them cars, treat them as customers, retain their loyalty and how, above all, how does it steer clear of patronising them?

No car manufacturer has come close, or is close, to the answers for any of those questions, but last week I discovered a small local business, running on a trading estate in Woking, Surrey, which has, very simply and quietly, solved all those problems in one simply manoeuvre.

It’s called The Fields Car Centre. It’s a family-run garage that has been in operation for 35 years, and once a month they run a free Ladies Night, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm.

We’ll ignore the use of the terrible word “ladies”, when “women” would do just fine, because these nights are a stroke of genius.

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Forty-five women turn up for each one, and it’s so popular that there’s a waiting list.

The friendly, open, honest mechanics who work there each take a bay with a car in it, and the group is split into smaller pockets of six or seven women, who then rotate round each station in turn for 10 minutes at a time, learning the basics.

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So, for example, we had Gary manning the “awkward lights on the dashboard” station, Sal on changing a wheel, Keith with a car on a ramp pointing out MoT failures, Steve showing how to check the oil, coolant and water levels, another Gary on how to change a headlamp bulb and Chris, taking questions on anything and everything.

The women assembled were a mix of those in their sixties down to mums who’d brought along teenage daughters that hadn’t yet passed their driving tests. Bose supplied raffle prizes and little gift bags at the end of the evening with tyre tread gauges and sponges.

It was a wonderful, heart-warming, comforting evening. No question was too stupid for the mechanics, right down to, “Where’s the bonnet release catch?”. 

In fact, Ricard Fields, owner of the garage, told me that the idea for the evening came about after one woman accidentally put water in her brake fluid.

It’s just a brilliantly conceived idea and one that should be replicated by major dealerships across the country. Because, of course, it’s not just an act of charity: it makes sound business sense.

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Richard Fields has now ensured that he has a steady flow of business through the garage week in, week out, from all the local women who happily spread the word about the friendly garage that you can trust not to rip you off.

The concept should be adopted by plumbers and electricians; a happy customer means more business, simple. And if this story seems merely an advert for the Fields Car Centre, so be it - they fully deserve the publicity.

“I wonder if they’ll invite men next”, one of the women asked me at the end of the evening, a twinkle in her eye. They should, of course, because there’s no reason men should or would know more than women about cars. But we all agreed Chris wouldn’t have anything to do: he's the one that takes silly questions from the audience.