The Road Taken: Four women shift gears to achieve success in car sales

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

— Robert Frost (excerpt from The Road Not Taken)

Each of the four women we recently spoke to for this article are the most successful in the field of car sales at their respective dealership. Yet, this path in the automotive arena was not part of their original career plan. In fact, each overcame personal obstacles and pursued other professional endeavors that eventually led them to their new- found professional success in the automotive arena. Selling cars used to mean long hours, being on one’s feet all day and haggling with customers. While these four car saleswomen have certainly put in their time, the nature of the business has changed. With the rise of Internet sales, many people do their shopping online, allowing paperwork to be done before the customer even walks through the door. Behind the desk or on the floor, these women share in common their love and knowledge for sales, personal service and working in a people-oriented field. They not only know how to make a sale, but each woman seems driven to do so for the right reason. They work hard to earn the trust of their customers, with the understanding that they want repeat sales, loyalty and referrals. Kim Patterson and Riki Butler both had fathers in the Air Force, and this upbringing has shaped each of them in ways that have been helpful to their careers. Rhonda Locke spent a large part of her career honing her expertise in sales at Mary Kay, but when she switched to car sales, she discovered that all of her skills applied to that business as well. Stephanie Shoels sharpened her competitive spirit growing up with two older brothers. She continues to learn more about the business with the hopes of rising up to a management position. All of them have expressed gratitude that their workplaces treat them like family.

Rhonda Locke – North Park Lexus
Spend five minutes with Rhonda Locke, and you’ll understand why much of her business is through repeats and referrals. “I listen and I get to be friends with my customers,” says Locke, who balances her professional demeanor with an open friendliness. We are sitting at her desk located in the front of North Park Lexus, where she has worked for almost four years. She is surrounded by walls of clear polished glass, with crystal-clear views of a parking lot filled with a shining array of new Lexus models. This premium spot is a perk for her success in selling 226 cars last year. For 25 years, she worked from home. “I never intended to do anything other than Mary Kay,” says Locke, who managed in the company for years, teaching and training women to meet their goals. Mary Kay allowed her the flexibility to work while raising her two children. But when the economy declined and she and her husband found themselves without insurance benefits, she decided to search for employment that would provide it. She found out about a receptionist job at North Park Lexus through one of her Mary Kay customers. The general sales manager happened to meet her when she was dropping off her application, and he interviewed her on the spot.

“He asked, ‘Are you filling out an application to come work with us?’ Not for us, but with us.’ I will never forget that,” says Locke. “I told him I had really good people skills and would take care of his customers. He started laughing and said, ‘Why do you want to be sitting behind the desk? You need to be out front, selling.’” Locke started as a sales assistant and quickly moved up to sales. “I knew how to sell, and I knew how to take care of people,” she says. “In that sense, there’s not a big difference between a lipstick and a Lexus. The object is to learn the product.”

“I’ve always been very disciplined,” says Locke, who has never missed a day of work for being sick. “I’m an employee here at North Park Lexus, but you have to take ownership. ‘If it is to be, it’s up to me.’ That’s a phrase that Mary Kay said, and I’ve always clung to it.” She feels surrounded by like-minded people at Lexus, all with an incredible work ethic. “I’m a big goal-setter, I track myself all the time,” she says. When her husband was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Locke’s co-workers treated her like family. When she took her husband to chemo on her days off, her co-workers’ encouragement and assistance allowed her flexibility to make it possible. “My family is tops,” says Locke, who has one grandson and another on the way. She and her husband dedicate their time to family and their strong involvement with Madison Hills Baptist Church. “Being a woman, I’m definitely in the minority,” says Locke. “For many years, the car world was a man’s world, but now some people come through the door asking for a woman salesperson.” They find a certain comfort level with women, she observes, adding that many people feel anxious when buying a car. She builds their trust through listening: “I want to find out, what do they need? And go from there.”

Riki Butler – Toyota of Boerne

WIB-RikiButler“Everything that I’ve done prior to this has led me to be successful in what I’m doing now,” says Riki Butler. Since September of 2012, she has worked as a sales consultant at Toyota of Boerne. By merging her multiple skills acquired in banking, management and selling time-shares, she has built a successful business. “It’s bits and pieces from each of those other companies” that have helped Butler become an award-winning car saleswoman. Butler’s work ethic all started at the bowling alley. She began bowling around the age of 9 and did so for over 20 years. Her father was in the Air Force and was stationed in San Antonio twice during his career. As a military brat, Butler explains, “When you live overseas, there’s not a lot of things to do … it’s something basically to keep you out of trouble.” Working at the bowling alley as a young girl, she was around 300 to 400 people seven days a week.

Being in car sales, Butler no longer has time to bowl, but her connections from years of bowling continue to help her gain business. She explains, “The best person to get a customer from is always a referral, because they already know who you are, how you are; they know your personality and how you treat people, so they know that you’re going to take care of their friends and family as well.” Butler’s people skills also came from managing, but the most basic aspect of sales, she explains, is “just being able to listen to what the customers’ wants and needs are. Making a friend is the key to anything in sales, regardless of what you’re selling; being able to treat someone like they’re your family and not just another person coming in to get another vehicle.” Butler recently received the inaugural Vic Vaughan RHINO Award this past January, named after the owner of this family-owned business. The award is given to “the sales associate who displays a lasting commitment and follow-through for personal goals, who takes exceptional care of customers, and shows enthusiasm for department responsibilities by adhering to measurable processes and expectations.” The idea is taken from Scott Alexander’s Rhinoceros Success — as someone who puts their all into everything they do, “charging forth massively,” all day, every day.

As a single mother, Butler has learned how to balance her life. Now that her two children are ages 16 and 19, she’s able to commit to the many hours this business requires. She has to make time for her customers, and her days can vary from eight to 14 hours. “People — they have their own lives; they work. Not everyone can come in during the daytime, so you work around their schedules,” she says. Butler works in Internet sales, and despite the many different opportunities that she has been offered, she is happy where she is, because at Toyota of Boerne, “they treat you as family, they want you be successful. I love what I do. I enjoy making sure that you’re getting exactly what you want and leaving here happy.”

Stephanie Shoels – Cavender Cadillac


One morning in 1999, Stephanie Shoels was reading the paper when she came across an ad for a job that offered “training, no experience required, $2500 guaranteed.” Shoels was then a stay-at-home mom in Port Arthur, where her ex-husband was stationed as an Army recruiter. “I’ve been doing it ever since,” she says. Shoels has a strong and powerful presence. She is calm and collected when telling her story, which is full of obstacles that she has overcome along the way. After returning home to San Antonio in 2002, she was hit by a drunk driver. It took a year and a half for her to recover from a broken pelvis and broken femur. She eventually got back into car sales, and today she is at the top of her field. She has been a sales representative at Cavender Cadillac for two years. “I chose to work for Cavender because I believe in A1 customer service, and Cavender’s reputation for 75 years proves that.” The dealership opened its new location on Nov. 3, a showplace filled with brilliant cars and wood paneling.  As a mother of three children, Shoels appreciates Cavender’s flexible hours, which allow her to attend games and be there for her kids. This positive work environment is “what encourages me to keep moving forward, and not consider any other career — just to move up,” she says. Shoels recently started taking online courses in automotive marketing and management.

There’s another side hidden behind Shoels’ professional demeanor: “I am a professional singer. I’ve sung with professional bands here, and my favorite artist is Joe Posada, a Grammy winner. Whenever he’s playing, I’ll go out and sing a little jazz with him.  I also sing for weddings, funerals and special events — you name it.  I can sing anything for any occasion!”  Cavender hired her and Joe Posada for the Christmas party in 2013. Her co-workers had the opportunity to experience her artistic side.  She also sings gospel music on Wednesday and Friday nights at her church, Harvest Time Fellowship.  “When my co-workers came to hear me sing, they asked, ‘Why don’t you dress like that at work?’” Shoels laughs. At work, she’s well respected and feels like she’s one of the guys. She is dependable, a hard-working self-manager who doesn’t depend on anyone to do anything for her. Growing up with two older brothers has a lot to do with her independence and strength in a male-dominant field. She goes on to say, “When I meet someone for the first time, I get a stare like who are you? They may mistake me for a greeter until I introduce myself and show my professionalism. I build a rapport and sell myself first, which is an important factor in earning a client’s business. Once they tell me what they’re looking for, it’s obvious that they’re impressed with my product knowledge. You can’t be just a pretty face. Helping and guiding customers in the process of a major or first-time investment of their lives is a memorable experience that I take a lot of pride in being a part of. To earn their trust in referrals and repeat business has earned great rewards in my sales.”

Kim Patterson – Gunn Buick GMC in Schertz

WIB-Patterson“Who would have thought it, but I’ve done very well,” says Kim Patterson. She is being modest. She started at Gunn Buick GMC in October 2012, but by the end of 2013, she had already won “Salesman of the Year.” Her friends tell her that she has found her calling. Patterson came to sales with a background as an executive assistant. Her world was one of administration, event preparation and planning. During the layoffs at the Scooter Store, where she previously worked, she was forced into sales. The store eventually closed, and Patterson started looking for another job as an executive assistant. But since it had been eight or nine years since she worked in that field and the market was so competitive, she decided, after three months of looking for work, to “step out of the box. I went online, applied for the job, went for an interview and got hired on the spot. “Sales is totally different,” Patterson explains. “You have to really believe in something to sell it.” And furthermore, “I can’t lie.” If a customer asks her a question about a car detail that she can’t answer, she looks it up. “Let’s face it, I’m not a mechanic … I honestly tell them if I don’t know the answer for something and get it for them.” When she first started at Gunn, she worked on the floor, but her high numbers allowed her to move up to the Internet sales department. She spends time on the phone with people, trying to help them locate the vehicle they are seeking. She loves working for Gunn because “I like the fact that we don’t negotiate, so I don’t have to dicker over pricing. This is it, we’ve implemented all the discounts and rebates in the price, so we give you fair numbers.”

Patterson has learned that “you have to pay attention and take your time.” Instead of rushing customers in and out, she takes it slow. Also, she appreciates the benefits of quarterly training, where she learns important details about her products. There’s always something new. “It can be something as simple as the camper’s mirrors, which have LED lights. So if you get a flat tire, you can turn them on and turn them toward the flat,” she says. “I pick up these little tidbits and tell the customers,” Patterson says. “Pay attention, because that little bit of information they give you makes a difference.” When her numbers get low, she gets her managers to help her take a step back and determine how she needs improvement. “Don’t try to sell it,” Patterson says, “you present the product. “I’ve met the nicest people,” Patterson says warmly. “I think it’s easy for women because people trust women more.” When she isn’t working, she’s spending time with her parents and siblings. She loves fishing and shopping. In the future, she says, “I would like to advance to desk manager, go through finance to learn this aspect of the business, so hopefully I will learn enough and that will be my next step.”

Photography by CASEY HOWELL

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