BROOKFIELD, Wis. — A family Ford dealership here is owned by a "nice guy" who just gave birth to her third child.
As the fourth-generation owner of Soerens Ford, Stephanie Soerens-Borkowski holds a spot in a growing demographic in the U.S. new vehicle business. She is a woman who is the dealer principal, also known as the boss.
Soerens-Borkowski has taken over leadership of Soerens Ford, a nearly 100-year-old dealership known to generations of Milwaukeeans by the tagline in its advertisements, the "Home of the Nice Guys."
She took over for her dad, Bob Soerens, who is now a consultant to the dealership. ("Every once in a while, I still get consulted," he said.)
"Even though he's retired, we're still learning this business together," Soerens-Borkowski said. "It's changing all the time."
Bob Soerens says he is content in retirement. This is Soerens-Borkowski's Ford store now.
She wouldn't want it any other way.
The fourth of four kids, Soerens-Borkowski said none of her siblings expressed an interest in taking over the dealership, which was established in Milwaukee in 1917.
She, however, never had any doubt she wanted to be a part of the business. She started coming to work with her dad on Saturdays almost as soon as she was old enough to walk.
"I loved this business. I loved the camaraderie. I loved running around here," she said, adding that she has done just about everything at the store from office work to washing cars to cleaning parts bins. "The only thing I haven't done is major mechanical," she said.
Her time in the car business also included work selling cars — Buick, Pontiac, GMC and Toyota — in Denver. "She had to go out and get her own job," Bob Soerens said.
Time spent selling cars in another city helped prepare her to run the Soerens Brookfield dealership, which has a single brand — Ford — in a landscape where multibrand mega-dealers are the order of the day.
Single-point dealers need to set themselves apart in the marketplace, said Kerri Wise, senior director ofdealer training at car-buying site Edmunds.com.
"You think about the single-point dealerships, they are typically family owned, they've been in business for years, they are kind of ingrained within the community," Wise said. "You hope these dealerships thrive because they are so tied to the community."
Soerens-Borkowski sees the dealership's position in the marketplace as an advantage.
"We're not a big conglomerate," Soerens-Borkowski said. "That makes us stand apart.
"I'm a working mom with three kids."
That also is an advantage in today's automotive business.
"I see that as a huge benefit, not only for the culture of the dealership but also for the customer," Wise said. "A business always has an advantage when their employee base represents and/or understands the customer base.
"It's not just about having a woman in charge, but it brings a different perspective to the industry, which really has been male dominated since the beginning of time."
Fewer than 8 percent of all car dealerships nationwide have female owners, according to Edmunds.
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