Steph Savill set up FOXY Lady Drivers Club in 2004 as a response to the bad experience her daughter had at a garage. Determined to help other women avoid the same experience, she set up the club which is now funded by a network of female friendly garages and car dealers that meet FOXY standards. Since then she’s won major awards from the IMI [Institute of the Motor Industry], Theo Paphitis, the Tyresafe charity and was named Online Business Woman of the Year in 2013 amongst other accolades.
“…The industry is crying out for talented females and it needs sorting out in so many areas… Interested females don’t have to be petrol heads as it’s an industry as much about people as cars. They’ll be amazed at the salaries they can earn selling cars, being a paint sprayer or a specialist in engine diagnostics for the right employer…”
Steph, please can you tell us a bit about FOXY Lady Drivers Club and what made you want to set it up?
I worked in the travel and leisure industry at the time and was horrified to discover that garages weren’t regulated and the likes of mechanics didn’t have to be licensed to repair our cars. That was a big safety wake-up call.
As I’ve grown into my topic I keep finding other areas of the industry that I’m unhappy with but I just add them to the list – to make a difference for women, to up the ante for men too and to earn out of this of course. The club helps women get a better motoring deal, wisely, because this is an industry where cheap can equal shoddy services and compromise our personal safety when it comes to car and garage shopping. Members pay a low cost annual subscription – that’s less than a coffee house latte a month.
What was the reaction like from the industry?
The good guys got the concept straight away. I was amazed at how many knew women that had been ripped off by bad garages and unscrupulous car dealers. A few got the wrong idea entirely about FOXY Lady (we’re shrewd and canny, not scantily clad) and had to be revived by a photo of me.
There are still those who think equality means treating men and women the same despite the fact that women influence approximately 80% of new car sales, are increasingly doing the lion’s share of the family garage shopping and are clearly looking for higher standards in these areas.
What is the feedback like from the women who are your members?
Very favourable – especially from women who have saved a lot as a result of our club’s insurance scheme for women drivers. Because club members can only be females we don’t have to pay for expensive boy racer accidents which make a big difference to premiums. And the ones we’ve helped sort out tricky problems are impressed with the outcome as well.
Few motoring businesses are prepared to be blacklisted / or red carded by us knowing we’ll share the gruesome facts with local ladies from within the club!
What criteria do you use to rate dealers and garages?
We look for all evidence of measurable quality, not just a garage that says it’s ‘good’ or ‘approved’. And because we don’t run a quality scheme ourselves we are totally independent and can promote all quality standards be this a listing on the IMI’s [Institute of the Motor Industry’s] Professional Register, membership of a Trading Standards Approved scheme (garages, new cars, warranty products), British Standards, customer awards and so on. No other scheme does this.
Dealers and garages have to sign the FOXY Lady Promise to ‘never overcharge, patronise or sell women anything they don’t need’ and we require a minimum dose of female feedback each year. In reality club members and women drivers police our standards for us but we also visit subscribers once every two years to do a thorough mystery compliance check, just in case.
Is the industry improving and why is affecting positive change so important to you?
I say the motor industry is the last male bastion but women are finally starting to challenge this at last. The business case is compelling yet progress is so slow. Very soon there will be more women than male drivers on our roads, we influence the majority of car shopping decisions and our different and best interests deserve representing in the boardroom.
This is where the change is needed most, not just female non-executive directors to tick the diversity box, but female executive directors from within who know the culture, can influence change and grow the internal female talent pipeline.
There are still too few women selling cars or making test drives fun. Yes the industry is improving and I was so proud to get my Outstanding Contribution to the Motor Industry Award earlier this year on behalf of women drivers but there’s still a very long way to go before the industry is good enough for ANY motorist, female or male!
Is there any danger of alienating men or patronising women?
Gender issues will always raise some hackles and you have to have a thick skin on occasion. I’m not saying this is the right way to handle it but when men overstep the mark here I have been known to tell them that the motor industry has been run by men for men since the year dot, it’s still dysfunctional, so why not let women have a crack at sorting it out for them as well as us?
When it comes to women thinking we’re patronising other women, they often don’t understand our empowering meaning of the word FOXY and don’t hear the stories we do. They all seem to want to save money on insurance though, so hopefully they can then start to feel our culture and see what we do for all women no matter their age, car, motoring needs or geography – to get them a better motoring deal.
How can retailers and garages recruit more women and why is this beneficial to their businesses?
I visit garages and car dealers as part of my job. I say I can feel the genuinely female friendly ones when I walk through the door. They are usually ones with female staff and whilst I’m not suggesting a correlation, their reception areas and customer loos are usually cleaner than many with an entirely male workforce. Women customers notice this sort of thing.
We encourage garages and dealers with female staff to promote female staff at their website to overcome the image that the industry doesn’t represent or understand women. The female staff I speak to, including female mechanics, say that women customers feel reassured to see them there and like to talk to them, given a choice.
There is plenty of evidence confirming that a diverse workforce is a happier and more balanced one. Overall, the female business case is compelling and I am convinced this will become a source of competitive advantage soon.
What advice would you give women and girls who are looking to get into the automotive sector?
Interested females don’t have to be petrol heads as it’s an industry as much about people as cars. They’ll be amazed at the salaries they can earn selling cars, being a paint sprayer or a specialist in engine diagnostics for the right employer.
I recommend motor industry careers for females considering an apprenticeship where they can earn and learn at the same time and there are some incredible opportunities for female graduates to join the likes of motor manufacturers, motor sports companies and highly profitable local car dealership businesses in many different disciplines. They need to find a genuinely female friendly employer for starters – a FOXY Lady Approved one would be a safe bet.