The frontlines of retail automotive: what dealers are seeing — Katie Bowman Coleman | Bowman Auto Group

From mom-and-pop dealerships to larger auto groups, the changing retail automotive landscape has impacted businesses big and small. But how are dealers on the frontlines adapting to the transforming landscape? On this episode of CBT Now, host Shyann Malone is joined by Katie Bowman Coleman, president and owner of the Bowman Auto Group, to discuss her experiences in the industry and how her dealership has fared throughout the year.

Coleman began her retail automotive career after first working in fashion retail for several years after college. It only took a few months of work at her father’s dealership for her to realize that she had found her calling. Once she obtained her master’s degree in finance and went to dealer school, Coleman began rising in the industry ranks, ultimately taking leadership of the Bowman Auto Group.

For women interested in joining the retail automotive industry, Coleman urges them to start by finding flexible roles. Since many women are also caretakers, it can be challenging to manage both a family and a business. Companies that are willing to accommodate their employees’ personal lives can help relieve the stress of balancing multiple roles. Another crucial element to achieving long-term success in the dealership is finding a mentor to guide one throughout their career. Coleman notes that both of these elements were crucial to her own success and have become integral parts of her management style. “The better I can treat my employees, the better they’ll be able to treat our customers,” she notes.

Coleman notes that Bowman Auto Group has seen continued growth throughout 2023. The dealership has regularly placed among the top 20 Chevrolet storefronts and continues to see high sales in the Michigan market. Similar to other successful businesses in the retail automotive sector, Coleman has seen demand for vehicles increase, even as inventory lags behind pre-pandemic norms. “We could use more, but it’s a tough balance,” she explains. Bowman Auto Group has seen an average days’ supply of 10 to 15 days throughout 2023.

One of the biggest shifts to hit the retail automotive sector this year is the sudden rise of the electric vehicle segment. While EV purchases comprise a small minority of all car sales, the total has risen rapidly, driven by an avalanche of new models from legacy automakers and startups. Coleman notes that her dealership is fully in support of the technology. “I don’t feel it took a ton to really get ready and get our arms behind it,” she remarks. “It was just more saying yes and making sure that everyone was trained.” While most franchises only require their dealers to have one EV expert on hand, Coleman’s entire sales staff has been trained to sell battery-powered cars. Many of them have also purchased an electric vehicle for themselves since she offered to install home chargers for free.

Retail automotive is still a highly profitable sector, and as dealers look forward to a recovering economy, they can also expect to see new opportunities for growth. Bowman Auto Group expects to expand in the coming months, although Coleman notes that the business is likely to remain focused on the Michigan market. Nevertheless, she remarks: “I think I’m getting close to ready to take on a new challenge.”

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Colin Velez
Colin Velez
Colin Velez is a staff writer/reporter for CBT News. After obtaining his bachelor’s in Communication from Kennesaw State University in 2018, he kicked off his writing career by developing marketing and public relations material for various industries, including travel and fashion. Throughout the next four years, he developed a love for working with journalists and other content creators, and his passion eventually led him to his current position. Today, Colin writes news content and coordinates stories with auto-industry insiders and entrepreneurs throughout the U.S.

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