Born in New York City, raised in Jersey, and having roots in the Dominican Republic, India, and Spain, Mabel Peralta doesn’t fit neatly into any one box. Except maybe “bad ass Volvo specialist.” Then again, probably not that, either, because she’s as sweet as she is smart and fiery.
Read on to learn her tips for standing up to chauvinism, finding and following your passion, going above and beyond for your customers, ruling on Facebook, and more …
1. What was it like growing up in New Jersey? What does New Jersey have to offer?
Ooh, Taylor Hams! Some people call it pork rolls. You have to try it. This kind of soggy egg and cheese on a roll. It’s the best thing ever in the morning.
In the ’80s and early ’90s, Jersey was just a fun place to grow up. Yes, there was crime, but everyone knew each other. If you were from a certain block and you went to another block, people knew where you were from and knew not to mess with you. It was culturally intense. I do sometimes think I easily could have ended up a delinquent!
I was raised in a typical, hardcore Dominican household, where on Sunday mornings, my mom would get up at the crack of dawn, put on some really loud Spanish music, and wake me up with a broom and hand it to me and say, “Start cleaning.” [laughs]
Music was a big part of my life growing up. So in America we have country music, right? In Dominican Republic, our version is called bachata, which is a slow, kind of depressing “my wife left me with the kids and a pick-up truck” kind of music, and then you have the really fast pace, which is perico ripiao. If you don’t know how to dance it, you’re gonna get sick. They spin you around so many times you feel like you’re in the tea cup ride at an amusement park. Just constantly spinning. So that’s a part of my background. I think that’s why, if I’m talking Spanish with you, I’ll just start speaking so fast that you’d be like, “Whoa, slow down!”
2. When did you know you wanted to sell cars?
Well, my mom wanted me to be a doctor, and I wanted to be either a chef or a photographer. I got my degree in photography, and I ended up doing branding and marketing, but now I’m all cars. Really, I’ve always been into cars. I’ve loved Volvos since I was 4 years old. My uncle had an amazing Volvo that was my dream car.
Smythe Volvo was where I got my start, about four years ago. I had been working a corporate job. It was cubicle city, and I was just hating life. I was also at the tail end of a really long cohabitive relationship. Things just weren’t working out for me, and I’m like, I could stay in this job I hate, making decent money; I could try to work on a relationship that I know is going nowhere … OR, I could say forget this! I’m going to do what I really want.
3. How did you find Smythe Volvo?
So around that time, I had a Volvo 240 that I needed to get fixed. I took it to Smythe Volvo and I saw how the dealership was. They were so, just … nice. But one thing I noticed was that they didn’t have any women sales people.
I ended up wanting a new car and went to several different dealerships. I wasn’t treated nearly as well. Like I went to one with my boyfriend at the time, and they’d talk to him instead of to me. I went back to Smythe. They had a car and it was nothing like what I wanted, but they treated me so well I ended up buying it!
A few months later, I quit my job and started as the marketing assistant at Smythe. I was doing a lot of social media. After five months I was promoted to marketing manager. I spent almost two years there and was recruited to Volvo Danbury in Conn. After a year there, I was top performer and top seller, but I didn’t have any support. Long story short, I quit, and now I’m with the number one Volvo dealer in the country: Volvo Cars Glen Cove in N.Y.
4. That’s awesome! What’s your position now?
I was recruited and started as a sales person, and within my first few days I realized, wow, this is an amazing store. They’re really doing things right. I’m now internet manager, but I wear many hats, along with all the other managers at the store. I wash cars, I’ll man the phones, I sell cars, do all the social media, the customer service.
If there’s an angry customer, I’m the first line of defense. One thing I learned from my first dealership, my manager Kevin Flanagan, is that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. When you have a customer who is really upset – not at you personally, but at the brand – you need to listen and really understand where they’re coming from. Once you say, “I understand. Let me see what I can do,” it really changes everything.
Most customers who come in are on their fifth Volvo or something, so it’s not as important to sell them on the brand. You just want to get to the meat and potatoes of their issue and get it resolved.
A personal touch is important, too, especially for the ones who’ve had issues. I make sure I text them, I call them, I follow up. I text my customers on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, their birthday – on Christmas I sent a picture of me with my cat!
I’ve had customers follow me from dealership to dealership to dealership. That’s a huge compliment.
5. Is that the key to your success? I know you also have a lot of love for Volvo, and they for you.
Yes! Passion for the brand makes a world of difference. You can teach sales, but do they love what they sell? Passion is what gets me up in the morning. And it’s not only for the brand, but for what I do. I have a passion for being with people and helping people.
6. What’s the most important leadership skill at a dealership?
Empathy. Knowing where your staff is coming from. We really need to try to understand where each other are coming from. You know, we all have different backgrounds and histories, and what works for one person isn’t necessarily going to work for another. You need an open mind and heart when dealing with staff.
The number one thing we can do is encourage each other.
7. You have a strong personal brand and Facebook presence. Got any tips?
Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. I remember a while ago when my entire feed was “walking the lot” videos. You’re not selling a car – you’re selling a relationship. A relationship between the customer and you, the customer and the dealership, and the customer and the brand.
If you’re using your social media to push yourself as a sales person, you need to have a human aspect. It’s important to be a curator of your social media, meaning, you need to edit what you post. If I post a picture of a meal with my family, it’s like, “Oh look! She has a family too. She’s keeping it real. Maybe I should buy a car from her.”
The “walk on the lot” can work great, but for some people it doesn’t work at all.
8. Anybody you recommend who’s doing it right, in their own way?
Glenn Lundy does it different. He’s great. Shawn Hays does a good job. Mike Davenport. My all-time favorite is Lisa Copeland. To me, she’s like Wonder Woman.
They all do different things that I love.
9. Blending your personal social with your business social, how do you filter out guys who might be interested in dating you from guys who want to buy a car? And does that weigh on your mind when you’re posting things?
Again, it comes down to editing. Am I going to post a full-body photo of me in a bathing suit? No. If I do get comments on how I look, I’m just polite: “Thank you.” But once they cross that line where it’s even a little uncomfortable, I let them know right away: “I’m not here for XYZ. I’m here because yes, I do like taking photos with me in them, I love cars, and I’m not looking for anything other than that. So if you want to talk to me about cars, or my cat, all good.”
I do occasionally get very inappropriate photos sent to me. I just find a similar picture on the internet and send it back to them, saying, “Wow, you’re almost as big as me!” [laughs]
10. What about the old saying “sex sells”? Do you think that applies?
Yes, for sure. I lost a lot of weight – I was 100 pounds overweight at one point. If I were still 100 pounds overweight I wouldn’t be posting half of the things I post now, because you get all the people calling you Shamu, or whatever. My grandmother taught me it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. My first pair of shoes were high heels! I do feel comfortable with my sexuality, and I do feel better in heels. And it’s true, when I post a photo of my leg next to a car it gets more attention than, say, a photo of me with rollers.
But that’s just what I put out there, you know. Meanwhile, I’m the biggest homebody you’ll ever meet. Most of the expensive clothes and shoes I own are at least 10 years old. I still make a lot of my own clothes, and I’ll shop thrift stores. If I have $700, it’s going to rent, not to new clothes! I’m practical – it’s how I was raised.