Sarah Vantine graduated from the College of Charleston with a double degree in art history and studio art, hoping for a career in the museum world. And then the U.S. economy tanked. Her college career center pointed out that job openings had become so scarce that people with doctorate degrees were forced to take internships. “They advised me to maybe continue my education, work at part-time jobs and hope that things improved over time,” Vantine says. Believing that an expensive graduate degree wasn’t an option, and feeling a bit defeated, Vantine mustered her resolve and made a decision. “I can be incredibly stubborn, and told myself I was going to find a job, something I was going to be really good at,” she says.
With resumé in hand, she dropped into a Dodge store in a Charleston auto mall and told the receptionist she’d love to interview for a sales job—on the spot. “The sales manager interviewed me. I remember he looked at my resumé, flipped it over, and asked, ‘Why would I hire you?’” Vantine says. “I told him, ‘If you don’t hire me, my intent is to go next door and get hired. And I’ll sell circles around you.’ He decided to hire me.”
Today, nearly a decade later, Vantine is the director of a service business development center she helped build from scratch for Scott Clark Auto Group’s three dealerships in the Charlotte, N.C., area. She supervises a staff of 22, including 11 women, who both handle inbound service calls —a one-stop approach of booking appointments, providing pricing and answering other parts and service questions for customers—and also proactively reach out to customers with service and recall notifications as well as things like lease renewals or exchanges.
Despite her success—in 2018 she was named to Automotive News’ list of 40 Under 40 dealership stars—she admits her auto career initially was challenging. She worked with several veteran salesmen, she says, “who made no secret of the fact that they didn’t think I’d last two weeks. They tried to razz me, and derail me.” She describes one day when she got up from her desk to get the keys for a test drive, and a senior salesman swooped in and told the customer, “I’ll take it from here.”
“But within three months, I was one of the top three sales reps with the company,” she says, and moved on to become internet sales manager and BDC manager.
Four years ago she joined Scott Clark, which was struggling with its service department. Vantine says the key was putting the focus on the customer. “At the end of the day, we’re in the people business when it comes to service. We just happen to also be in the car business,” she says. “The customer wants to communicate with someone and have their problem fixed. I think women have that ability to collaborate and communicate, to understand and have perspective, that customers appreciate. Approaching service that way has been an asset for our business.”
She credits two women, the controller and director of communications at her former Hendrick employer, for helping her “navigate some of the difficulties women in auto can face. With their mentorship, they showed me it was ok to think differently. They demonstrated it daily themselves; they never were combative or confrontational, but they were sure of themselves,” she says. “It taught me that if you have a great idea, don’t back down because it’s different. And if the first idea isn’t successful, learn from that and figure out a better way to do that.”
Her advice to women entering the auto industry is to be open to opportunities. “Women in the industry tend to get driven into the office, into very specific roles,” she says. “If you have the opportunity to be challenged in a different way, don’t be afraid to take that step, even if no one has done it before. You never know where it can take you. And you can really make a difference.”