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Keys to Success

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Fort Mill car-buying business helps women ‘take back their power’

Most people would rather get a root canal than shop for a car, says LeeAnn Shattuck.

But the latter doesn’t have to be a painful, which is the idea behind Fort Mill-based Women’s Automotive Solutions, owned by Michelle Lundy and Shattuck.

Lundy and Shattuck call themselves the “Car Chicks,” and hundreds of people nationwide happily outsource the stressful, time-consuming process to the pair.

“There are so many mistakes people make, and it costs them thousands of dollars,” says Shattuck.

Lundy, who formerly ran a car dealership, founded Women’s Automotive Solutions in 2004 to use her expertise to help women navigate the world of car-buying.

Shattuck, a lifetime car enthusiast and performance driver, left management consulting to join her in 2006.

Their business venture has drawn accolades. Shattuck was recently named a finalist for the 2013 Woman Business Owner of the Year award by the Charlotte chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, for her leadership in the business community. The winner will be announced later this month.

On average, women negotiate less, pay more and waste more time when buying a car, Shattuck says. Here’s how the Car Chicks remedy the situation: For $500 to $1,000 (depending on the level of help you want), they’ll help you determine and find the car you want within your budget. Then they do the dealership visits, price haggling, trade-in negotiating and paperwork scrutiny.

All you do is test-drive the vehicle, sign papers and take the keys. They even have the car delivered. On the Car Chick website, business coach Pamela Bruner of Hendersonville, offers her testimonial:

“The whole process took me about 73 minutes, from the time I started talking to LeeAnn ... (to seeing) the beautiful car sitting in my driveway that she had found under my budget, with better features than I had asked for,” Bruner says.

Time is money: Lundy and Shattuck originally saw their mission as a cost-saving service but soon realized what they offered was possibly even more valuable: time saved.

Now, even men take advantage of the experts at Women’s Automotive Solutions, who make up about 50 percent of their clientele. And Shattuck says they now have clients in nearly every state.

International exposure: Part of that heightened demand is due to Shattuck’s exposure. She hosts the internationally syndicated “America’s Garage” radio show, which airs locally at 7:30 a.m. Sundays on ESPN Radio. And because of her background in racing, she and her Mini Cooper “Maggie” are scheduled to be featured on an episode of the Charlotte-based Speed channel’s reality show “Are You Faster Than a Redneck?” this spring.

‘Take back their power’: Shattuck said she and Lundy have a bigger goal, too: empowerment. One of her first clients was a single mom buried in a lease on a car that no longer worked for her family. She was in trouble financially and had driven more than the allotted annual mileage, which would result in several thousand dollars in penalties.

The Car Chicks worked out a deal: Rather than force the woman to pay the penalty in cash, the dealership added that debt to the price of a different used car. Then Shattuck negotiated such a good price on the new car that the price tag offset what her client owed.

“When I handed her the keys to the car after 30 minutes of signing paperwork, she said, ‘That’s it?’ and broke down in tears and hugged me,” Shattuck recalls. “That’s when I realized it wasn’t about cars, it was about empowering women, about how they can take back their power in the negotiating process.”

Keys to Success draws on insights from small business people on building a successful enterprise. Contact reporter Caroline McMillan at 704-358-6045 or cmcmillan@charlotteobserver.com
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