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Business

Sally Smeed in the Driver’s Seat at Santa Barbara’s New DCH Lexus Dealership

She says her role as general manager is a key turning point in her career, and represents a big shift underfoot in a male-dominated industry

Sally Smeed needed a car to drive, so when the Minnesota native moved to California in 1983, she decided to sell cars.

“They used to give demos to salespeople, and that’s how I kind of got into the business,” Smeed said. “But I found out I was good at it and I liked it, so I’ve been selling cars or in some facet of the car business ever since.”

Now, Smeed is general manager of the recently opened DCH Lexus of Santa Barbara. A theater major, she never dreamed she would be in the car business nearly 30 years later.

“I have really enjoyed virtually every aspect of the business,” she said. “It has afforded me an opportunity I would’ve never dreamed of.”

After more than 15 years at Lexus, DCH Auto Group gave Smeed the chance to build a store from the ground up. She said it comes down to treating customers as a welcomed guest into their home.

“It’s exciting to be able to put into place the processes and people so we can do it the way we know is right from the start,” she said.

But Smeed is somewhat unique. She said there have been many times when she has been the only woman in the room.

“I think that it’s because it’s not on a lot of professional women’s radar as a viable career choice,” she said. “The car business in the past had an unfortunate reputation even though now a lot of those things have changed. I’ve been in the business for a long time, and I remember how it used to be. It has really changed in a lot of ways.”

Now, the car industry is one of the most regulated businesses, and Smeed believes that has scared people away from the industry. But more people are starting to realize the industry’s expansive potential, she added.

“For women, college graduates and educated people, it’s absolutely a limitless career choice,” said Smeed, adding that about half of her staff is female. “I expect we will see a lot more women and young people getting into it as a result. I’m already seeing it here in Santa Barbara.”

In terms of the car industry, Smeed said she has seen sales decrease over the past several years. But while sales aren’t back up to pre-recession levels, she said it seems that customers are less hesitant, which bodes well for the entire economy.

“There’s a lot more consumer confidence, and as a result we see sales improving,” she said. “People who are coming back are looking to step up from their existing cars. Three years ago we saw the opposite and people who wanted to step down.”

The new 16,000-square-foot dealership at 350 Hitchcock Way in Santa Barbara is DCH’s 14th California location. George Yazbek, general manager of DCH Lexus of Oxnard, said the dealership is expected to be fully operational by summer.

“This has been a long-awaited addition to the DCH family of dealerships, and we feel Lexus is a great fit for Santa Barbara,” he said.

For Smeed, a means to an end led to a life-changing career choice. Running a Lexus dealership may have once been the last thing she expected, but she says Santa Barbara is an ideal place to be.

“If you went back and asked my 24-year-old self, she would’ve said no way,” Smeed said. “But life is a journey. I followed the path in front of me. While I haven’t been happy with every change, it has taken me to a better place, and I think that’s what happened here.”

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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