Hard Lessons at the Start
Van Bortel's front-yard car lot was not her first job in the business. She got her start as a car salesperson in a dealership, where the owner worried that simply having a woman employed as a salesperson might cause the rest of the sales team to quit. So before formally hiring Van Bortel, the owner arranged for her to meet the all-male sales team. After meeting Van Bortel, the salesmen voted to hire her.
Van Bortel also worked for a few local dealerships while in college and continued in the business after graduation. She eventually moved up to the position of sales manager. This was no small accomplishment; when she was hired as a salesperson at her first dealership in 1975, no woman had sold cars in the Rochester, New York, area before.
In 1985, she was fired from her job as a sales manager at a German luxury car dealership, being told that the store "really wanted to hire a team of men." Although she was devastated by the loss of her high-paying job, it was a turning point in her career. Van Bortel decided she didn't want to work for somebody else anymore and began her career working for herself.
Transparency and No-Haggling Price
It wasn't always easy to build her own company, and a lack of funds early on nearly derailed her. But with the help of friends and a determination to succeed, she overcame financial hurdles and kept her business afloat.
"First of all, I had a relentless desire to prove I could make it. I refused to even think about failure," Van Bortel told the Rochester Business Journal.
Van Bortel made a name for herself not just because she is a woman in a male-dominated industry, but because of the business she has built and some of the unique attributes found in her dealerships. The Subaru, Ford and Chevy stores, for example, offer customers up-front, no-haggle pricing that lists both the MSRP of the vehicle and the Van Bortel price, clearly showing the amount of profit being made on the sale.
The salespeople at her dealerships are not paid commission, but instead are paid a fixed amount per car sold. Taking the vehicle negotiations out of the equation in this way helps make the process easier, and customers know that they are paying the same price as any other buyer.
The Van Bortel Group used-car buyer program allows buyers extra peace of mind when making a purchase. For 20 days or 2,000 miles, a buyer of a used car who is not satisfied with the purchase has the option of returning the car for another vehicle or a 102 percent refund. If a customer wants to take one of the Van Bortel pre-owned vehicles to an outside mechanic for inspection, Van Bortel will pay for that.