Friday, May 1, 2009
WRITER: CLINT COOPER     PHOTOGRAPHER: MARK GILLILAND
Through sheer commitment and their willingness to go the extra mile, Nancy Jeffries and Isabel Ober are thriving in the largely man’s world of automobile sales. The two client advisors for BMW of Chattanooga are not the first women in their field, or even the first with their company, but both boast resumes with Salesperson of the Year or Salesperson of the Month beside their names.
“It’s still a man’s world you’re thrown into,” says Jeffries, a native of Greene County who has been in car sales for 11 years and with BMW of Chattanooga for two and a half years. “Very few women last six months or a year,” adds Ober, who hails from the Boston area. Ober has been in the field for around four years and with BMW for a year and a half.
Neither woman sought a career in automobile sales. Jeffries, who managed a computer store in Florida, says she suspected real estate or car sales might be a good fit for her. “Are you crazy?” she recalls her husband asking when she considered an opening at a Clearwater, Fla., BMW dealership. Nevertheless, she applied and has never looked back. “I’ve loved it ever since,” she says. Ober was working as a recruiter for her husband’s consulting firm but “needed a change,” she says. She was accepted immediately upon applying for a position with a Chattanooga Mercedes dealership, and found the job to be a good fit.
Both women had mentors who helped smooth the transition. Jeffries grew up with a father and brother who loved cars, and recalls waxing her father’s beloved Fords and Chevrolets. “He could tell you about every model, every year,” she says.
Her husband, who had joined a dealership after graduating from college, also gave her good advice despite his initial skepticism, she says. Ober, who describes herself as a “city gal,” says she liked cars and the many variations in their looks and styles. Though she did not have experts in her family, her husband was “encouraging and supportive” of her career change.
What gives them an edge over other women in their field, they say, is their ability to withstand 11-hour days and the occasional weeks during which they may not have a day off . “A lot of women try it,” says Jeffries, a graduate of East Tennessee State University. But, adds Ober, who holds a master’s degree from Wellesley College, “the turnover rate is high. You have to like the product and the company.”
Both women drive the products they sell, Jeffries having leased the brand since 1999. She currently drives a 335, while Ober has a more sporty Z4. When a salesperson knows her product, cares about her client and is comfortable with herself, says Jeffries, that comes across. Many clients seem to feel more comfortable and less guarded with women, who tend to be more open and intuitive, adds Ober. “I think we’re pre-set that way.”
The two women don’t mind the calling and follow-ups necessary to recruit and maintain customers. “You have to be driven,” Jeffries says. “We’re used to juggling.” Both women say they feel fortunate to sell the German-engineered BMWs, which enjoy a wide reputation for quality and workmanship. “We work for a good company with a fine product,” says Jeffries, who with the rest of the staff is kept abreast of new products and services at regular training sessions across the country. “I love the way they treat us.” ◆