When Brenna Stansberry got out of high school she could have joined the family used-car business, Park Marina Motors.
But she joined the Navy.
“The car business was stressful, and I saw that in my parents,” said Stansberry, who later had a family, joined the business and is now the owner of the Redding, Calif., independent used-car dealership. “It takes a lot of energy, and it takes a lot of your family time. When I was young, I didn’t want to have anything to do with it.
“Now that I’m older, and all my kids are grown, I have all the time in the world to spend at the dealership.”
Stansberry is also the president of the Independent Auto Dealers Association of California, and she loves the used-car business.
She also loves that it provides entry to involvement in her local community. Near and dear to her heart is an annual golf tournament to support local military veterans.
“We go out, set up a tent and hand out water,” Stansberry said. “I was in the Navy for five years, and my boys were in the military — one in the Marines and one in the Air Force — so we do everything we can to support our veterans.
“My goal is to be more involved. To me, that’s the most rewarding part of this whole business.”
Finding a work-life balance while raising families is just one of the challenges some women face when pursuing careers in retail automotive, said women dealers and dealership managers.
Seeing no or few other women working in dealerships is another turn-off that keep many women on the sidelines of retail automotive, said Lisa Copeland, former managing partner at Fiat of Austin, turned author, consultant and motivational speaker.
Women dealers and managers often contend with preconceived notions that “we don’t have the credentials or the chops to do the job,” Copeland added.
Mary Jo Wheeler-Schueller, dealer principal of Wheeler’s Family Auto Group in north-central Wisconsin, said that happened to her mom, Ann Wheeler, in the 1980s.
Wheeler-Schueller said her mother spoke of bankers who doubted her mother’s ability to run the family business after her father’s health began to fail, and in the 1980s, Wheeler was denied entry into dealer meetings because of her gender.
But with Wheeler at the helm, and aided by Wheeler-Schueller and Wheeler’s son, Daniel, the family grew the business from one Chevrolet store to five locations that sell Chevrolet, Buick and GMC vehicles.
Wheeler became the family business’ dealer in 1987 and passed away in 2017.
“My dad has been gone for 16 years now, and if he could have seen the growth that mom was able to do and what my brother and I were able to do as a team, he would have said, ‘Oh, there was a method to the madness,” said Wheeler-Schueller.
Nurture, mentor, advance
Christy Roman is the founder of Women in Automotive, an organization created to nurture, mentor and advance women in the automotive industry.
Though women who own and manage independent and franchise dealerships share the dilemma of long hours-versus-family, Roman said some pressures are more unique to women who work in franchised dealerships or large used-car operations, such as meeting specific sales targets. Some women wash out of the industry because of inadequate training, she added.
“There’s just not much training, and most of the training is in sales, but I’m a big proponent of people development,” Roman said. “I think that’s more valuable long-term, not just to the dealer, but to the people themselves. It helps them become the best people they can be.”
As regional vice president and general manager of CarMax’s Sacramento region, Rosey Sanders’ job is to find and develop talented employees, along with driving sales and providing leadership for 16 CarMax stores.
Finding those people can be difficult at times, she said. But she does find them and seeing people who started in entry level jobs with CarMax who are now in management positions is the most rewarding part of her job, she said.
“I can go store to store, and I see people who at one point or another I’ve worked with and had the ability to help them in their careers to meet their goals,” Sanders said.
“To think that someone who came in as an entry level sales consultant or technician for us, who is now running a store and it’s completely changed their lifestyle. It feels really, really good.”
From franchise to independent
What makes Sandra Moss feel good is that her family and its Moss Motor Co., in Dillwyn, Va., are “well-thought of” in their community. “We’ve never had a complaint that we didn’t handle; we take care of our customers,” she said.
But there have been bumps along the way, Moss said.
She and her husband, Bill, who is Moss Motors president and a former franchised dealer who sold seven domestic brands under one roof, gave up the new-car business 34 years ago in favor of becoming independent used-car dealers.
“It was a stressful, especially in the 1980s when things got bad (during the recession),” said Moss who was a mail carrier at that time. “When our children grew up we decided we’d become independent dealers.”
That’s when she joined the family business. “It wasn’t an option,” she said, laughing. “Somebody needed to help manage things. It wasn’t ‘do you want to?’ It was ‘let’s do this.’”
Debby Chesterman, owner of World Auto Sales in Nebraska City, Neb., said operating a used-car store “is a tough business,” but that takes a back seat to knowing that her customers are satisfied with their vehicle purchase.
“They appreciate everything you do for them — you show them how to set their clock, how to pair their telephone to their car; you call them a few days later to see how they like the car,” Chesterman said.
“You’re going to have one who’s not happy every once in a while, but we’re lucky in that we have 99-percent satisfaction. They tell other people, and it’s rewarding to see those referrals.”