“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 can inspire women who wish to pursue 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 hard for women in automotive. According to Automotive News and Deloitte research, 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 female family members and friends to pursue an automotive career. Meanwhile, 74 percent of female respondents said they have different performance standards versus their male colleagues.
“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. “When I first entered the car business in 2016, everybody thought I would know so much about it because I had grown up in it. In reality, I didn’t know much 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 different world for Stumpe. Her learning curve comprised 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 to learn.”
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 is 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 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, and my kids sometimes eat chicken nuggets for dinner, but I am doing my best. People resonated with that, women especially. So I set out to share more about my entrepreneurial journey, but that 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. Stumpe was pregnant with her daughter Hattie at the time 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.”
Stumpe hit the ground running with The Car Mom, which has logged over 400,000 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 a working mom herself, Stumpe puts her focus and energy into real-world reviews and car-buying tips. Her YouTube channel features comprehensive overviews of the latest vehicles, including EVs, hybrids, and three-row SUVs. Stumpe also has videos that cover extended service contracts and the latest in-vehicle tech features. We also 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.”
The Carpool Podcast
In addition to her Instagram page and YouTube channel, Stumpe hosts The Carpool Podcast alongside her business partner and sister, Lizz Suntrup. Behind the microphones, the duo goes beyond the idea of a standard automotive podcast to offer a brain break for working mothers. “In every episode, we will talk a little bit about the auto industry, but we mostly take listeners along as we navigate marriage, motherhood, and life as sisters, entrepreneurs, and best friends,” Stumpe said.
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 proves her distinctive style and signature are greatly needed. Historically, automotive has been a male-driven business not readily accessible to women, but that is changing today. More women now occupy executive roles, and manufacturers better understand 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. 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 to bring that to the rest of the automotive world,” Stumpe said. “That’s a goal I have now, and 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.