The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.
STEERING DEALERS THROUGH FINANCIAL PLANNING
As president of Lewicki Automotive Consulting Limited in Toronto, Michael Lewicki is perhaps even more focused on dealership numbers than the dealerships he serves.
“I provide financial-related services to new-vehicle dealerships and stand-alone vehicle-leasing companies,” he said. “A large one is mergers and acquisition assistance, helping dealership A buy dealership B, or helping B sell to A.
A lot of that is due to my technical background as a chartered accountant.
“I also provide consulting on dealer succession, corporate matters like shareholder agreements, and internal controls that protect the assets. I run a boutique consulting firm that’s just me, and given what I do, that’s all it needs to be.”
Lewicki was a partner in two large accounting firms from 1995 to 2014. “Having been a partner for almost 20 years, I decided to do something on my own that was more than simply accounting related,” he said. Cars were always a passion, and focusing on them was far more fun and rewarding.
His services also include planning and analyzing.
“By far and away, the largest challenge of a new dealership today is the amount of capital money invested in the facility,” he said. “The [automakers] are requiring their retail operations to be all buffed up and gorgeous inside, and unfortunately there’s no way around it. It’s driving more groups to acquire more stores because they have greater access to capital. That’s not to say the one-man dealer principal can’t operate today, but it’s more of a challenge.”
Still, Lewicki thinks there will always be a place for dealers.
“It’s easy for a consumer to click to buy books or shoes, but to buy a $40,000 car, the probability is greatly reduced. Most people want to relate to the purchase.”
AUTO PRESENTATION IS ALL IN THE DETAILS
There’s a lot of work involved when automobiles go to displays or events, and that’s Ashlee Royal’s territory. As managing director of Royal Automotive Agency in Toronto, she ensures that cars and people get top treatment.
“I do everything from booking hotels, restaurants, flights and vehicle logistics, right down to the development of the drive program,” she said. “I book media into press cars in Toronto and Vancouver, and make sure when they pick it up, everything is good to go and in top condition.”
Royal studied business administration for automotive marketing at Georgian College in Barrie, Ont. For her first co-op student term in 2002, she worked at LA Detail, which her brother Corey bought and renamed 10 years later.
“In the beginning I did automotive detailing,” she said. “The guys taught me how to do it; I was getting press cars ready and working on events.
I liked it so much I went back for my third co-op term. I started working part time when I was in school, and then when I graduated I went there fulltime. Since college, it’s the only job I’ve had.”
Fifteen people work at the company, including representatives in Vancouver and Montreal. Part of planning a vehicle launch, where media travel to a destination for their first experience with a new model, requires Royal to set up the drive routes. She starts with a map, “and then you have to physically go out and do it beforehand,” she said. “You could go on a road and it’s covered in potholes, and you have to change the route.”
Travelling can be a grind for some, but Royal enjoys it. “You see places you’ve never seen.”
REPAIRING, NOT REPLACING, IS KEY TO HIS BUSINESS
Water or wind leaks are annoying, and fixing them properly is Mike Tedesco’s specialty. He owns three LeakPro franchises covering much of southern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area.
“Anybody can put a hose on a car [to check for leaks], but isolating the area and identifying the improper component is difficult,” Tedesco said. “It could be a bad body seam, grommets or the windshield seal. The sunroof could have a bad drain-pan seal. If the mechanic doesn’t know how to fix it and just puts in a new part, that’s thousands of dollars when it could have been fixed.”
Tedesco followed in his father’s footsteps and studied mechanics, but instead he began in a dealership’s parts department before becoming a service advisor. The shop used LeakPro and when Tedesco’s car developed a leak, franchise President John Allen showed him how to fix it.
“I asked if he was hiring, and I did the training program and became a subcontractor,” Tedesco said. “I worked for him for about a year and then in 2014 I bought my first franchise, and then one in 2015 and in 2016.”
It’s a mobile service, and Tedesco supplies his subcontractors with training, vans, and tools, and dispatches them to jobs. “They might visit four to seven dealerships a day,” he said. “I’m picking up about one dealership a month and I’m not looking for them, they’re looking for us.”
He’s on the road repairing leaks and credits his and his subcontractors’ experience for the company’s success. Last year, his franchise took first and second place in the Hamilton Spectator newspaper’s Reader’s Choice Awards for best windshield installer and automotive service.
“We have good relationships with dealers,” he says. “Everybody makes money that way.”