Tag Archives: Mary Portas

Mary Portas makes over female friendly used car dealer

mary portas comingBack in October I was invited to be part of the Mary Portas Secret Shopper series because we now identify, vet and approve used car dealers, not just garages, with women in mind.

And tonight (Tuesday 17 March, Channel Four, Secret Shopper, 8pm) we’ll see what Mary makes of all this, including behind the scene events I haven’t seen but that will likely make compelling TV for women drivers and not entirely comfortable viewing for many used car dealers in the motor industry.

The first filming session I got involved in was at Silverstone when I met up with three lovely female driving instructors (more about them in my next blog) who had similarly strident views about what women want. And as you might expect, women telling men what to do doesn’t always go down well although whether that bit will be filmed, we’ll have to wait and see…

The second bit was at the car dealer itself, Gatehouse Cars in Aylesbury, where Mary had done her magic to spruce up the car sales setting. On what was a cold and grey day in an industrial looking environment…

I’ll be interested to see how this all comes together.

My main delight was to hear Mary saying what I’ve been saying for years now ie that this dealer (and many others like them in the motor industry) needs to up their customer service levels to get them right for demanding women because women expect MORE than those men who have got used to the way motoring things are in overly masculine garages and car dealers. And of course, higher standards benefit men too.

mary nails certificateAnd because, with a bit of luck, she’ll be pinning one of our FOXY Lady Approved certificates on the Gatehouse Cars wall so women can see that they have a female friendly car shopping choice if they use one of our dealers.

And that we welcome all feedback from females about their car shopping experiences afterwards. To keep them on their toes and so we are happy to promote them to members of FOXY Lady Drivers Club.

Then along come three buses…

three-london-busesYou know the transport analogy about famine and feast in that you can wait for ages for a bus then three trundle into eyesight together…

Such seems to be the case for FOXY this month. After months of typically spasmodic PR, March is to bring us three potentially big events (as in buses…) that all look likely to land at about the same time…

Here’s what I am talking about.

1 ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Motor Industry’ Award

The first of these was my receiving the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Motor Industry’ on 12 March which was presented at the IMI Annual Dinner in London.

This matters because it has been awarded by The (industry) Professionals – the body of individuals who support the case for licensing, invest in training and collect qualifications to demonstrate their commitment for ongoing improvement. Those industry luminaries that perhaps didn’t know of my work in the past are likely to want to know more about me and what I do.

This makes me feel very proud and of course it endorses my work and is likely to get me in through doors that might previously have been closed to me. Which will be good for the industry, says she!

I received this award on account of of my work to raise awareness of measurable quality standards to do with garages, repairers and car dealers among women drivers – this means they can enjoy better services than they might on their own. We do this from within the Club’s membership of 12,000+, by identifying and promoting genuinely female friendly businesses/services and ultimately by encouraging more women to consider a motoring career.

And after years of being a lone campaigning female voice in these areas I feel encouraged, supported and revitalised…

2 The Mary Portas Secret Shopper TV series

Back in October I was invited to appear on the Mary Portas Secret Shopper Channel 4 TV series which will air on 17 March at 8pm. This features a used car dealership in Aylesbury and whilst the episode has yet to appear I understand that this business was a long way short of being female friendly at the outset.

I was then involved in a wacky car park setting at Silverstone where, together with three equally foxy female driving instructors, we told the car dealer team what we all knew women wanted when they went new car shopping. But was the business getting service levels right for us? We weren’t convinced at this stage.

Forward three weeks and we then met at the used car dealer for the big female friendly reveal… Then time to forget all about this afterwards because it has taken nearly six months to reach our TV screens.

You’ll have to see what it looked like on the night and make your own mind up. Did the dealer do enough to get the FOXY Lady Approved female friendly sign of approval – and certificate on the wall? I can’t possibly say.

3 Come In Japan…

The third (bus) came out of the blue when I was invited for an interview by The Yomiuri Shimbun. No I didn’t know it was Japan’s largest and most influential daily broadsheet newspaper either. Or that it had a circulation of more than 10 million making it the biggest newspaper in the world!

Interview mission accomplished in the FOXY Lady Approved London Morgan car showroom in Kensington last month, we now await publication on 24 March of what was a very comprehensive review of the FOXY business, Club, garages and insurance, as well as our ethos and ambition.

Who knows what further opportunities this might bring other than a clear impression to anyone interested that what we are doing is something the paper thinks their female readers will be interested in and might want a similar model made available there perhaps?

So that’s what’s happening behind the scenes for us this month. The opportunity to advance the FOXY cause in the UK for starters then who knows! Bring it on for summer I say…


Let’s not confuse gender equality with customer service

mary portasIn my experience of the UK motor industry, the gender of the customer has everything to do with customer service yet many businesses are still proud to tell me ‘We treat men and women the same here…’ as if that’s a good thing.

And all the time, women are increasingly the gender spenders with their own needs and expectations. Too few businesses are getting service levels right for us, for fear of being seen as sexist in any way perhaps?

When Mary Portas was appointed to save shops in town centres not one of her 28 solutions recognised that women do the majority of shopping and have different needs from men.

Even the British Retail Consortium preferred to focus on the costs of doing business rather than on ways to improve the shopping experience for women.

Research into gender shopping habits


Professor Gloria Moss, reader in management and marketing at Buckinghamshire New University, wants High Streets need to recognise that women are responsible for 83 per cent of all shopping purchases, and their facilities need to acknowledge this.

Much of her research applies equally to the male dominated motor industry including garages and car showrooms where an increasing number of customers are female…

Prof Moss, who has been researching gender habits for more than 18 years, says her work shows that many shops are designed by men who don’t give enough thought to women and ignore the fact that they hold the lion’s share of buying power.

According to her research, women buy 93 per cent of all groceries, 92 per cent of holidays, 96 per cent of beauty products, 60 per cent of all new cars and 55 per cent of home computers.

“Mary Portas was brought in to recommend business solutions and she produced a longlist of 28.” she said. “Not one of these refers to one of the most obvious facts about town shopping: the bulk of it is done by women.”

Prof Moss adds that women’s shopping preferences are often poles apart from those of men, who tend to dictate retail and local and national government policy.

Based on her data, she conducted experiments on how high-street shops could use this information to their advantage.

“In experiment after experiment, my studies have shown that women prefer graphic online and retail interiors designed by women, with distinguishing features being the use of circular lines, colour, decorative surfaces and informality, while men prefer the spare, dark, straight-sided and modernist look.”

Prof Moss believes many shops are designed by men and the interiors reflect male aesthetics.

“In terms of the shops themselves, many retailers could benefit from an understanding of male and female design aesthetics. A new science uncovering major differences in male and female perception, hardwired since hunter-gatherer days, shows ‘he’ likes straight lines, few colours and little detail; and ‘she’ likes rounded shapes, lots of details and colours. If high-street shops can crack this one, they would have an enormous edge over anonymous out-of-town shops.”

Patrick Ballin, a management consultant and lecturer in international retail management at Brighton Business School, agrees with Dr Moss: “Fifteen years of working at the Body Shop gave me a very clear sense of just how much retail involves women serving other women. Much of retail is a very female business and this is true all over the world. Understanding the fundamental preferences of female shoppers, using the insights of researchers, seems mostly neglected.”

Yes, Yes, Yes. This is all so blisteringly true in the motor industry and yet it can so easily be addressed…


Why not contact the Steph Savill website if you’d like to know more about these issues.

PS: How frustrating that most businesses in the motor industry, garages and car showrooms in particular, appear to neglect this gender insight. That gender equality rights should not be confused with customer service. Whoever imagines that men and women shop in the same way? We each have different needs and we don’t expect to be treated the same. The sooner garages and car showrooms start to understand this, the sooner our industry will start to get a more female friendly image across to the many women who still dread visiting what they perceive to be male-dominated businesses. And if that’s their perceived reality, that’s how it is in their minds guys.

You can read what the Independent had to say about this here.

More female friendly banks for women please

There are times when a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do…in this case move bank to a female friendly one.

I live in a Sussex town called Steyning, mid way between Worthing and Brighton. We had all the usual bank suspects until recently when my bank, the Halifax, closed its branch here last month leaving their coalition colleague Lloyds across the road.

In between a raft of banks we have a vibrant High Street full of more than the average share of shops that are clearly vying for the female purse. Multiple fashion shops, beauty salons, lingerie, hair, children’s clothing, jewellery shops are dotted among the likes of local butchers, bakers and rural candlestick makers. And whilst this isn’t a scientific calculation I’d lay money on the fact that there seem to be more small businesses in Steyning owned or run by women than men. So they will probably have more than one bank account like me – for personal and/or business in addition to influencing where any children open savings accounts of course.

The point is that Steyning is a place where women (including Mums with children at our biggest business, Steyning Grammar School)  undoubtedly represent the lionshare of High Street shoppers; by and large we’re independent souls, relatively wealthy and choosing to stay in Steyning and support the local economy which should be encouraged.

We should therefore figure large when it comes to marketing financial services to women but I’m not convinced we are being looked after as well as we could be in this instance.

When my bank the Halifax wrote a round-robin letter to me in December to say they were closing my Halifax branch of 20+ years, they didn’t see this from my point of view.  I expected some sort of reciprocal arrangement with Lloyds across the road, at least to pay in cheques which my parents often send me at birthdays and to pay for things I organise for them. A perfectly reasonable assumption and what I would have arranged if I had been in charge ;-).

But I was wrong. I can’t pay in a cheque across the road but I can use my expensive time to be interviewed by the Lloyds Bank manager to open a new account with them. I was surprised to find this sibling rivalry when

1   I didn’t want to move banking brands and
2   This doesn’t make things easy for Halifax customers in Steyning.

And if I want to pay in a cheque now, which is what I went to do remember, I can do this via the Post Office.  Excellent. But this will add a 4 day handling period to their normal clearing period, I need a specially designed paying in book (why?), it will take  28 days to send these to me (what??) AND they need my address (I’m speechless…) after I have banked with them for so long.

On reflection, if I have to set up a new bank account with all the time and inconvenience involved (for me) I don’t feel inclined to stay with a banking group that hasn’t troubled to think through its financial service levels for me. They should have agreed a more customer friendly handover service plan I’d say.

Now, where should I move my account to? Then my husband’s and my son’s before he heads off to University. And if my Mum moves her bank account from Halifax, and her savings account too, to one that’s in Steyning that’d be easier for me and should complete the suite of bank accounts I can influence in my private life. And then there’s the Club of course.

That’s the point of being seen as a female friendly business of course. Women are more demanding, we have this shopping influence (think Mary Portas) and, despite our understandable reluctance to move banks because of the hassle barriers, there are times like this when we will take our considerable business elsewhere to make a female point.

Were it not for the hassle factor of course. This is why the banks often get away with similar service level faux pas. Perhaps they do see things from a female point of view.