by LETITIA ROWLANDS
As the mother of an energetic three-year-old and a yet to sleep through the night six-month-old, there are times when the ability to make myself invisible would be quite a helpful skill. Little did I know all I needed to do to in order to master this seemingly impossible feat was walk into a car dealership with my husband and two young sons in tow.
Abracadabra! Just like that, I disappeared from sight. Well, as far as several car salesmen were concerned, anyway.
I am a late 30-something woman, have always earned my own money and taken a keen interest in how it is spent. Believe it or not, I have even mastered the skill of speech and polite conversation.
But those technicalities mattered little to the salesmen we met when shopping for a new family car last week. Or they at least paled into comparison to the fact my husband was, well, a man. Nevermind that the car we were trading in was registered in my name, and it was my bank account the funds for the new purchase would come from.
One salesman (we’ll call him Sam) did walk up and speak to me once – only to ask my husband’s name. As I waited naively for Sam to also ask my name, he turned around, wrote my husband’s name on the paperwork attached to his clipboard and walked away.
He then approached the man of the house, showed him a figure which he was willing to give us for our trade-in and said “So, is that what you are happy to get for your car sir?”. Um, hi, that would be my car Sam.
Fortunately my husband, like most men I know, has a lot more respect for women than the car salesmen we encountered. So he was kind enough to share the information Sam had given him, and we made a decision as a couple.
At the next dealership we visited, things only got worse. All the questions and answers were aimed at my husband. Then, after we had decided on a car and were negotiating the price, the salesman managed to be even more offensive.
He and my husband were $500 apart when it came to what they thought a fair price for the vehicle was. For the first time during the entire car buying process, the salesman looked at me. ”Maybe the lady can help me out,” he said.
Firstly, how does he know I’m a lady? And secondly, while thankful that I no longer appeared to be invisible, I was now being treated like a stupid ditz who was going to talk her husband into paying more for a car because the chauvinistic salesman wanted him to.
Now I haven’t been living under a rock, and I did know that car salesmen had a reputation for being less than politically correct. In last year’s Readers Digest list of most trusted professions they came third last, ranking above only politicians and tele-marketers.
But it’s 2012 people! I thought their attitude toward the fairer sex might have changed just a little since women were allowed out of the kitchen and into the workforce. It appears I was wrong and, after talking to friends, I now realise my experience is not an isolated one.
One mum-of-two told how, at eight months pregnant and with one little girl already in her arms, she and her husband went car shopping earlier this year. Without knowing anything about the family’s finances, the salesman made it clear that he did not believe they could afford the car they were enquiring about.
The next day her husband returned to dealership alone and the same salesman, who did not even recognise him from the previous day, almost fell over himself to serve the “new” customer, who now didn’t have his wife and daughter cramping his style.
Another friend went car shopping with her mother only to be told repeatedly “tell your husband what I said, he’ll know what it means.” Needless to say the women walked out. According to Australian motoring website autochic.com.au, women purchase over 60 per cent of all new cars and make the final decisions in 85 per cent of all new car purchases.
However 89 per cent of female car buyers still report a negative experience in their dealings in the car industry. Until salesmen start acknowledging not only a woman’s existence, but also her intelligence and buying power, things are not going to get much better.
Letitia Rowlands is a Sydney-based freelance journalist who combines writing with bringing up her two young sons Hugo, 3, and Jasper, 6 months. Most recently she was The Daily Telegraph’s Family Reporter, where she wrote news and opinion pieces on issues facing all types of modern-day families.
Have a salesperson ever made you feel invisible? Do you think gender plays into how salespeople treat you?