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Dealer Leader Karmala Sutton: “We Are Here to Stay” 



Auto retail is full of women making a difference – selling cars, fixing trucks, stocking parts, and running stores. This Women’s History Month we are highlighting a few of these industry leaders – including Karmala Sutton, dealer manager of Honda of Kenosha and Vice President of Sutton Ford.

Sutton, the daughter of a dealer family, started her career journey in hotel management and hospitality. She did not join the auto retail world until 2012 as a buyer for CarMax. After a few years there, she joined her family business in Bristol, Wisc. She shared her story with NADA:

How did you get started in the automotive retail industry? 

I feel like I always had something to do with automotive. It followed me in every part of my life. My first job was working in my dad’s dealership organizing deal bags in the office. My job in high school was working as a cashier and receptionist. I went to Northwood University for college and co-chaired the Northwood Auto Show of the Palm Beaches my senior year. Later, I got a job at CarMax as a buyer and have been working at our family store since 2014.

What is your definition of success and to what or who do you contribute to that success? 

Hitting your personal goals wrapped in happiness is my definition of success. I credit my father for being successful and allowing my sister Karen and me to follow in his footsteps. We bought the Ford store from our dad in 2021 and we have goals to continue growing our family business.

As a woman in an industry historically dominated by white men, have you experienced any barriers? If so, how did you overcome?

As a woman, I am aware of rooms that have one or no women around. I think my job at CarMax going to auctions and bidding in the lane where there were no female buyers got me prepared for working in automotive. You have a job to do, and you cannot sit back and miss your opportunity. You do get looks the first time you speak up, but if you keep talking, they will get used to it and understand that we are here to stay.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the industry? 

Not to be afraid of it! Our industry changes lives! If you are a hard worker, you can make very good money that can support your family. It is not uncommon for positions to make $100k+ in our industry. It has a bad rap, but I am seeing 20-year-olds buying their first house and people putting kids through college and going on dream vacations in this industry.

What are your thoughts on how to increase the number of female owners in the automotive retail space? 

I would say to use resources like NADA, Women of Color Automotive Network (WOCAN) and National Association of Minority Dealers (NAMAD). These organizations want to celebrate woman and minorities and connect you with the right people. There is a process in store ownership, like getting experience, going to the NADA Academy and capital.

What advice would you give to your 10-year-old self? 

You do not need validation from anyone to do what you want to do. I think saying to follow your dreams is not detailed enough. Women do not need validation! I think if I understood this earlier, I would have achieved even more now. My message to young women is: If you want to travel solo, do it! If you want to start selling cars to be a general manager one day, do it! If you love technology and want to be a master technician, DO IT! No one can stop you because, you don’t need their validation.

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