“I was very nervous when my dad decided to put me at our BMW store,” recalled Kelly Suntrup Stumpe, aka The Car Mom. “I was 22 years old; I had never sold a car, and yet I’m now selling $80,000 5 Series cars to people two or three times my age.”
An Uphill Battle
Stumpe, the St. Louis native and founder of The Car Mom, stands at a critical intersection between the automotive business and women. Today, there is a significant cultural movement to recognize women in automotive (and many other industries) for their contributions. Likewise, there is more acknowledgment today that females are the top auto-buying demographic. On the industry side, Stumpe is an inspiration for women who have aspirations of an automotive career. On the consumer side, her skills and personality lower the reservations people have, especially women, about setting foot in a dealership.
From an industry perspective, the road is still undeniably (and often unfairly) hard for women in the automotive. According to research from Automotive News and Deloitte, women account for only 27 percent of the U.S. auto manufacturing workforce. In a survey conducted by both organizations in October 2018 called Women at the Wheel, just one percent said automotive was the best industry for females. Only 14 percent said they would encourage their female family members and friends to pursue an automotive career. Beyond that, 74 percent of female respondents said there are different performance standards for them versus men.
“Being a woman, being young, and being the owner’s daughter meant having all of these added expectations on me when I started selling cars,” Stumpe said. “I felt like I got tested a lot, especially early on.”
The added expectations and increased pressure came as Stumpe is now the third generation of the Suntrup Automotive Group family, based in St. Louis, Missouri. “My Grandpa and his brother started it in 1957, and then my dad and his brother really grew it into a multi-franchise organization,” she explained. “And when I first entered the car business in 2016, everybody thought I was going to know so much about it because I had grown up in it. But in reality, I didn’t know a lot about car buying because I had never seen the process actually happen.”
Walking The Walk
After graduating from William Woods University with a degree in Equestrian Sciences, she returned to the family business and the BMW franchise in particular. Although it may not have seemed like it to outsiders, the dealership was a very different world for Stumpe. Her learning curved consisted of two uniquely different but equally important (and challenging) areas. One was learning the dealership’s day-to-day operations and inner workings, from sales and service to parts and accessories. The second was getting acclimated to the BMW product line, a difficult task for any automotive professional, let alone somebody new to the business.
Luxury brands like BMW differ in that they have extensive lineups, many intricate tech features, and some of the most advanced engineering with regard to vehicle platforms and powertrains. BMW’s terminology can be particularly overwhelming, especially when seeing it for the first time. Phrases and descriptors like “TwinPower turbocharging technology,” “VALVETRONIC fully variable valve timing,” and “double-VANOS variable camshaft timing” are all common BMW lingo. Add to that BMW’s M lineup where there are numerous options and packages, and it presents another challenge entirely. In short, BMW is not an easy product lineup to learn.
“People would come in very well researched, some with their leases even calculated by hand. I learned quickly that BMW buyers are experienced buyers,” Stumpe recalled. “So I pushed myself to learn everything about BMWs and then everything about the car buying process. I took every opportunity I could, I learned everything I could, and I absolutely love selling cars today.”
Car Deals & Chicken Nuggets
As Stumpe found her footing, she began making a note of the shortcomings in the sales process. One of the most significant being how frustrating car buying can be, especially for women. While Stumpe was indeed a welcome face for car buyers at home in St. Louis, she began to think about ways to expand on what she saw to a larger audience. Stumpe wanted to bridge the gap between dealerships and consumers while also retaining her identity as a real person with kids and a family.
“The more I was talking about cars, the more I was sharing my family life,” Stumpe said. “I am very realistic; my house is messy, my kids will sometimes eat chicken nuggets for dinner, but I am doing the best I can. And people resonated with that, women especially. I had a lot of women connect with being a working mother and being a woman who works in a male-dominated industry. So I set out with the intention of sharing more about my entrepreneurial journey, but that entrepreneurial journey also involves my family.”
The Car Mom
The culmination of all this inspired Stumpe to launch The Car Mom platform in early 2020, just as COVID-19 lockdowns were starting to be implemented nationwide. At the time, Stumpe was pregnant with her daughter Hattie while her son George was just nine months.
“I didn’t even feel comfortable taking my nine-month-old baby to the grocery store; how are women supposed to take their toddler to car dealerships,” Stumpe continued. “These poor women, or these poor families, are forced to take their kids to a dealership in a pandemic, give some sales guy their license, meet the manager, get pressured into a lease, all to find out their strollers and car seats really don’t fit in that SUV the way they thought.”
It’s here that Stumpe has hit the ground running with The Car Mom platform, which has logged nearly 100,000 followers on Instagram as of this writing. “I thought what if I could just give moms a first look at a new vehicle, and what if I could save them four or five hours at the dealership,” she said. “That’s something I would want to do.”
As The Car Mom, Stumpe puts her focus and energy into real-world reviews and car buying tips. Her YouTube channel features reviews of popular vehicles like a 2021 Audi Q7, a 2021 Cadillac Escalade, and a sleek new Kia Stinger. Those videos complement others about how to pick the best used car and best vehicles for families. At the same time, we see Stumpe’s humor and grace in videos like A Day in the Life of The Car Mom, where she reveals her love for coffee, chocolate, and Diet Coke (fountain Diet Coke that is).
“As I give these first looks at different vehicles, I always want to keep women and families entertained and just speak their language,” Stumpe said. “I am very passionate about the family aspect, and in many ways, I strive to be the average person’s car reviewer.”
Car Shopping Workbook
In addition to her Instagram page and YouTube channel, Stumpe offers other helpful resources, like her Car Shopping Workbook, which is available as a PDF download. The book features helpful prompts for families to fill out before, during, and after a test drive. The Car Shopping Workbook includes budgeting tips and even a common tool that dealerships use when negotiating. “This will help you avoid sticker shock,” Stumpe said. “It will give you an idea of what the numbers are going to be ahead of time.”
Lasting Impact of The Car Mom
As an automotive platform, The Car Mom is relatively new, but Stumpe’s rapid growth in fans and followers is proof that her distinctive style and signature are greatly needed. As we covered initially, the automotive industry has been a male-driven business historically and one not readily accessible to women. But that is changing today as women now occupy more executive roles and manufacturers have a better understanding of how influential women are in the car-buying process.
As The Car Mom, Stumpe is uniquely (if not remarkably) positioned to serve both sides of this critical equation. Those of us in the industry can listen as she speaks to the female car buyers who look to her for advice. Stumpe is good for both the industry and the everyday consumer. More like her are needed. And that is why I admire her work.
“Moms resonate with me, they see what I am doing, and I hope I can bring that to the rest of the automotive world,” Stumpe said. “That’s a goal I have now. I would like to continue to get the attention of the automotive world.”
Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and the Society of Automotive Historians. He serves on the board of directors for the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation, is a past president of Detroit Working Writers, and a loyal Detroit Lions fan.