Kristin Dillard was meeting with a new consultant at one of her company’s dealerships. “As we talked about the business, he kept asking me: What’s your metric on that? What’s the number? I finally had to say, ‘I don’t know.’ I was so embarrassed,” Dillard says. “But it was a real turning point for me and for our company. Once we started paying attention to the numbers, to our data, to our [key performance indicators], it changed my entire outlook on automotive, and changed the whole world for us.”
Dillard used the lesson to go all in on data and digital marketing at Team Automotive Group, where she serves as dealer principal and president. “That moment put us on a data-driven path.” Today, she says, “Everyone at our stores knows their numbers. They know where they’re at for the day, the month, the year. We know how many cars we’re going to sell today, because we know we have this many appointments. When we order and source cars, it’s based on our history—not just a gut feeling. Everything follows from the metrics.”
It’s no surprise that Dillard has embraced data and digital at her dealerships. When asked about how to succeed in the auto industry, she points to the importance of hard work and deep knowledge. “It’s always going to go back to knowing the business, knowing your numbers,” she says. “Some people have a poker face and pretend they know the answer, know the number or have experience they don’t have. I always want to be the person who keeps my head down and gets the job done. People will respect you because you know what you’re talking about; that you know what the numbers are, that you’re producing and hitting them.”
Similarly, Dillard says she maintains a spreadsheet of dealerships in her state and keeps tabs on how stores are doing. When she recently spied what looked like an acquisition opportunity, she called the dealer and asked if they were interested in selling. The dealer immediately said yes, and in mid-May Team Automotive closed on the deal, adding a fourth Chevrolet Buick GMC dealership to its portfolio of General Motors stores in North Carolina.
Dillard’s father started the family’s first dealership when his daughter was 10. “I grew up in the industry,” she says. “I hung out at the dealership when I was little, then started working there as a receptionist and detailer.” By 18, she had graduated to selling cars, and, she says, “I learned that the dealership is a fun and exciting place to be.”
Automotive always felt like the right career. “I’m a problem solver, and in the auto industry, there’s something new to fix every day,” she says. She started at College of Charleston, thinking she’d explore other businesses, but a year into it, she says, “I really really really knew I wanted to do automotive.” Dillard then finished her schooling at Northwood University, and returned to the dealership. She was named to the Automotive News’ 40 Under 40 class of 2017, and has been a next-generation dealer leader in her state.
She says the auto industry “is difficult, period—whether you’re a female or not.” But she says social media has helped her make friends in the business. “The world became smaller with social; we can connect easier, and know each other better,” she says. She also never hesitates to reach out for help. When Team Automotive recently wanted to improve and consolidate its BDCs, Dillard turned to an acquaintance in town who runs large call centers, and asked for his help. “I seek out mentors from different industries, automotive and non-automotive,” she says. “You can learn so much from different people if you let them share their journey with you.”
She says she’d like to see more women in the industry, particularly in fixed ops at dealerships. “Most of the customers bringing in a car for service are women, and here we are, greeting them with a whole bunch of dudes,” she says. “We try to actively staff our service department with women. I think customers need to see people who look like them, people they’re able to connect with. And if you’re a female tech, you are going to get rock star status in our business.”
Women, she says, “bring a different side to the industry.” A mother of two herself, she says, “I bring the mothering side, kinder and gentler. We can step back and see a situation differently than a group of guys will. I think that diverse mix of perspectives is so important.”
But at the same time, she says, “Don’t lower the bar for us. We can compete at the same level as the guys. Whatever that number is, whatever that bar is—we can hit it.”