Trend: Women drive sales in the marketplace

Today's American woman is buying more than just sugar and spice. She's buying everything nice and then some, as combined female earnings top one trillion dollars annually. As spending rises, more companies in northern Michigan and beyond are focusing their marketing efforts on these seemingly bottomless purses full of dough.

Studies show that women make 80 percent of home improvement purchases, two-thirds of computer buys, and more than half of new car and investment purchases.

And the June Smith-Cleaver of today is demanding, too. She won't settle for less than top quality surround sound stereo equipment for her workout music and demands that 8-10 bags of groceries fit into the trunk of a fuel efficient, sporty and safe vehicle with air bags.

"Women are smart and business savvy. They know what they want," says Marilyn Taylor, star of Traverse Motors' television commercials. "They don't want to be told or sold. They want a real buying experience."

Car dealerships like Traverse Motors have certainly tuned in to this marketing trend. You might have seen Taylor's TV spots, as she walks amongst shiny new vehicles in the lot, or talks with girlfriends in the grocery store about great auto deals. People who've met Taylor refer to her as very real, attractive and down to earth.

"She's not some hot Hollywood babe who turns women off," said Charlie McCain, owner of McCain Media Associated, the fuel for the advertising initiative. "What you see with Marilyn is what you get. She's from here and she's the real deal. People can connect with her. Men and women."

Whether it's shopping malls, catalogues, via the web, or on the phone, women do not want to be bombarded by sales people when they hit the door or talk on the phone. The same goes for television and radio.

"The days of the screaming car guys are numbered," said McCain. "Consumers aren't as easily fooled as they used to be by that approach." With so many choices out there, companies have to be creative in competition, and with the female-factor involved that means toning it down.

Mary Rogers, owner of Marigold, a local women's networking organization and host of the "Mary in the Morning" radio show, says auto dealers are catching on.

"Auto manufacturers have been on top of this trend for years, and now local car dealers are more attuned to the female car buyer."

Rogers recently worked with a local auto dealer, assembling a group of successful women business owners to meet the dealership owner over lunch to preview TV commercials and give their impressions.

"It was fascinating. This dealer now has an edge over other sellers by taking the time to ask the questions. He also won points with this group of women by showing them he valued their opinions," said Rogers.

Bill Marsh, owner of several local dealerships, believes his organization has been ahead of the female buying curve with its "negotiation free" sales approach.

"The entire corporate culture of the Bill Marsh Auto Group has been impacted by the growing influence of women in the marketplace. Ten years ago Bill Marsh shifted from a traditional "negotiating" car dealership to a "negotiation-free, one-price" car dealership. The shift was made to a large extent because national research indicated that women felt discriminated against by the traditional negotiating process-they felt they would not get as fair a deal as men," said Marsh.

Women are intrigued not only by comfortable, strong, reliable products, but also by companies that are hip to the marketing trend making the purchasing process extremely easy and affordable, too. According to Lisa Johnson and Andrea Learned, who penned "Don't Think Pink," a book about what really makes women buy, companies need to focus on developing long-lasting relationships with their big spending female clients and offer them extra perks as well.

"And, remember, how you serve her now should also convince her that she'll need your brand in the future…furthermore she's usually seeking a bit of 'value-add' beyond the purchase," say the marketing veterans. They also emphasize extra education or helping women gain more confidence in making purchases in a new industry. The service product of the particular brand will then be enhanced in their mind.

Seventy percent of women will be solely responsible for their finances and purchases at some point in their adult life. Contributing factors are high divorce rate, women choosing not to marry and women's longer life expectancy. Is the female focus a newfound key to successful business? You betcha.

Long walks to the marketplace for milk and eggs have transformed into power-shopping excursions to the giant grocery store, the mall and now, like Marilyn and her posse, the car lot. The marketplace is ever-changing and evolving toward the American woman and her tastes. Don't underestimate female shoppers or you and your business will be left behind.