Dealing in Diversity
By David Morse
In an article on Tuesday, USA Today poses some dos and don’ts of attracting ethnic buyers to automobile dealerships. Do stock waiting rooms with magazines and newspapers
in different languages. Do make sales offices larger to accommodate big families. And do make sure the staff represents the local community.
Take the example of Longo Toyota in El Monte, California, a city about 15 miles east of Los Angeles and only 7% White. Longo’s staff speaks more than 30 languages and dialects,
helping them become the top-selling dealership, selling an average of 56 cars and trucks a day.
Longo Toyota is not alone. According to a study by CNW Marketing Research, the number of African Americans and Hispanics employed by dealerships doubled between 1990 and 2004
to about 15% of the total. The largest growth has been among Eastern Europeans, growing nearly fourfold to 8%.
It’s often, though hardly always, about language. It’s about understanding buyers’ unique financial needs. It’s about understanding cultural attitudes about negotiation. Perhaps
most importantly, it’s about bonding with a salesperson of a similar background. Said Peter See, a Longo repeat customer from the Philippines, of his salesman who is also Filipino,
“In the Philippines, you do business based on trust. I know he won’t sell me down the primrose path.”
The CNW research supports the premise that many auto buyers would prefer to buy a car or truck from someone of the same ethnicity. Middle Easterners topped the list – 65%
agreed they’d rather deal with others from the Middle East. Similar preferences were indicated by 48% of Eastern Europeans, 46% of African Americans, 38% of Hispanics. Lowest
of the ethnicities mentioned were Southeast Asians; only 19% of Southeast Asians agreed, numbers that lead me to suspect the interviews were conducted in English by White people.
Moderator’s Comment: Language aside, does staffing a store with people of the same ethnicity as the clientele have a positive impact on the bottom line?
Can it backfire?
I believe that our society has become sufficiently multicultural and tolerant so that staffing bilingual or bicultural employees always makes sense. Bilingual
/ bicultural means employees that can connect with customers of their own ethnicity as well as customers of the mainstream.
Still, moderation is always a good thing; as businesspeople we can’t afford to alienate our traditional customer base. The article cites one Alabama that
was inundated with nasty phone calls after running television ads in Spanish.
I found one aspect of the CNW research to be at the same time troubling and reassuring. 62% of “Northern Europeans” (I’m not sure what that means) agreed
they would rather buy a car from others of their ethnicity. It was troubling because this group, the American Majority, had the second highest score on this question. It was reassuring
because the percentage dropped by 10 points since 1990. –
David Morse – Moderator