Caroline and Simon run Simon Shield Cars based in Great Bricett near Ipswich which is a FOXY Lady Approved female friendly car dealer.
Caroline is ranked among the Top 20 Most Influential Car Dealers on Twitter having won the Car Dealer Magazine’s Most Influential Independent Dealer on Twitter 2014 and been shortlisted in their recent Used Car Dealer Awards. We wanted to know more, of course…
Tell us about your early career years
I initially trained to be a medical secretary when I left school at 16 and came out with an HND and worked for the local hospital. I soon discovered I wasn’t going to be making any impression on the NHS and ended up very quickly in the private sector working as PA’s for local companies. Taking on new roles and building them up to becoming a fully functioning member of the team, I would then look for the next challenge and move on.
How did you end up in the motor industry?
Simon Shield Cars Ltd started in 1996 with the backing of us both, but Simon was the day to day person on the ground. I carried on working full time locally to support him to get the business up and running.
I would do the book keeping at the weekends and after work. In 2001 a second person was required to help out so I packed in my job and became part of the car industry. I started off running errands, book keeping, answering the phones and helping potential customers.
My role has grown as has the business and amount of paperwork that it generates.
When did you start to see the role that social media could play for your business?
It wasn’t until 2011 that I really saw the potential of social media (and our daughter was at school by this point too) for the car industry. My first tweet was https://discover.twitter.com/first-tweet#simonshieldcars this followed with Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and now blogging.
It can be very addictive and you have to spend time on it after work hours too, that’s when most people are searching for cars.
We constantly ask people where they’ve seen us and a lot will say Facebook or Twitter and I’ve had ‘old’ customers send us tweets to say how happy they still are with their cars which is nice to know. We’ve bought cars via Facebook and sold them through that channel too.
Twitter is more about brand awareness and I’m now part of a team running #suffolkhour which is a networking hour on Twitter. This helps Suffolk businesses become aware of each other and work together.
How do you manage to switch off when this all sounds so hectic?
You have to know when to switch off and I’m really into exercising, boxing, bootcamp, pilates and yoga. Children help too!
I’ve always wanted to be a nutritionist or cook as well so you’ll often find me in the kitchen experimenting with recipes as I’m also gluten and dairy free and try to stick to a low sugar diet too.
I’m involved in a local charity link called Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline. Children from Belarus are brought to the UK for 4 weeks respite care and stay with local families. We’ve had 3 children to stay with us and recently, on my own, I organised a charity fashion show, which raised over £1,000 for this good cause.
Is the motor industry still as masculine as it used to be?
I find there are many more female faces in the car industry especially on social media. Most of the car dealer accounts online are run by women. I think initially it’s given to women as an added responsibility until men realise how important it is!
With women accounting for over 50% of new car purchases, this is the time for women to become more prominent in car dealerships. If car dealerships are looking to the future, they should be employing more women.
We have a service and repair garage next door to us and I’m the only woman on site a lot of the time. They still take the mickey out of me for asking questions, but at least I’m asking questions and learning. You can never stop learning.
I’ve always worked in male dominated industries, printing and pest control among others. You get used to it and learn the skills you need to work alongside men and be appreciated by them.
What would you say to girls who are considering a career in the motor industry?
If you want to be a mechanic, sales person, HR consultant, accountant, or marketer in the automotive industry, you’ve got to want it enough to make it happen. There isn’t any stigma at school now if a girl is interested in engineering or mechanics.
In fact the school our daughter attends is well known for its engineering skills and many girls go on to do engineering degrees at University, ending up in the manufacturing arm of the car industry.
What would be your favourite car, knowing how many must tempt you on the forecourt?
I’m very lucky to be able to drive whatever cars come in stock, recently it was a DS3 which I’ve coveted ever since going to Top Gear Live 3 years ago at the NEC. Luckily it didn’t disappoint.
I do have my own car, with the school journeys and afterschool activities, as it would take a car away from the car lot too often!!
Simon drives a company van!!
Thank you for this insight Caroline.
You can contact Caroline at Simon Shield Cars, Base Garage, Great Bricett, Ipswich IP7 7DR. Her Twitter address is @SimonShieldCars and her blog is at http://femaleusedcarexpert.blogspot.co.uk/