The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.
40 YEARS IN SERVICE HELPS DEALERS WITH THEIR SERVICE
After a career spent helping dealers reach their goals, why not do it all over again? After retiring from FCA Canada’s head office, the next step for Al Coulas was founding Coulas Automotive Service Solutions, based in Mississauga, Ont.
“I’m involved in analyzing, providing training, and I have assisted with development of new dealer departments, in personnel plus bricks and mortar. I’m not in the sales end, because lots of people do that, but there’s nobody doing this in service.”
Coulas, 61, began as an auto mechanic. It took eight years, but he worked his way up to fixed-operations manager at Cooksville Dodge in Mississauga, overseeing parts and service. He took a oneyear contract as a professor at Toronto’s Centennial College, which included writing a textbook for automotive students in the Far North with limited access to trade school. Then Chrysler hired him.
“My first 15 years [with Chrysler] was managing parts, service, service contracts and warranty expense at the dealer level in Ontario.”
He won Chrysler’s Excellence Award, the highest level of management skill, for eight consecutive years.
“I then moved to fleet, where I managed sales to police agencies across the country, and the pool stock, which is heavy-duty trucks that non-franchised dealers stock to upfit for end users. From there, they made me the national service manager for fleet, until I decided it was time to retire.
“My phone starting ringing before I retired, because you’re at the prime of your intellectual life where you know the most and have the most to offer.”
Coulas’s business hinges on the concept that “dealers don’t know what they don’t know,” and he said it’s because most come from the sales side rather than service.
“Essentially it’s vehicle flow, designing the shop so that space and equipment are used effectively. I’m a good communicator and can convert what I see and think into a plan for dealers to get their problems corrected.”
IT’S ‘NO DEAL’ FOR A DEALER UNTIL THE PAPERWORK IS DONE
Dealerships aren’t just built of bricks and mortar, but a lot of paper, and that’s what being the manager of retail agreements for Nissan and Infiniti involves.
“I’m responsible for the creation and management of all dealer documentation,” Michele Kloesel said. “That includes onboarding new dealers, managing the process of selling and buying new dealerships and terminating them.”
Always interested in business, Kloesel studied commerce at the University of Toronto. One summer she took a temporary position at Nissan Canada.
“I went to Nissan and I never left.”
She spent 10 years in discounting, which lends money to dealers in exchange for their lease and loan contracts, and became the department’s manager. After working as a financial-services manager, she transitioned into sales operations and dealer networking.
“I don’t have a typical day. We have internal meetings, and we meet with the regional managers within our department. About 70 per cent of it is getting the paperwork done.”
This can involve everything from a dealership that’s starting from scratch, to amending records if something changes at a store, such as a new manager. Kloesel has to follow up if a store is built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) environmental standards to be sure all conditions have been met, while dealers who handle electric vehicles have to satisfy requirements and fill out a separate addendum issued by Kloesel’s department.
The automaker is rolling out a retail design strategy, and when dealers sign up for the program, Kloesel checks that the documentation is complete and that the store is progressing on the timelines set out.
“I’ve been in this position for more than four years [and] our dealer network has grown by over 12 per cent. It takes a lot to make it happen smoothly behind the scenes.”
CARS ON SALE NOW NEED VALUES FOR THE FUTURE
The auto industry would no doubt love to have a crystal ball, but he might be the next-best thing.
As vice-president of research and analytics at Canadian Black Book, Brian Murphy is responsible for setting current wholesale value on vehicles, as well as forecasting up to five years from now.
“We touch almost every vehicle transaction at some point, whether it’s new, used or written off, because we also have insurance companies as clients,” said Murphy, 51. “And dealers can use us as a resource at auction, to give a idea of how much to bid.”
Murphy combined his business education and MBA wit a love of cars he had since childhood and believes that someone who’s a “car person will be happier and more successful in the industry.”
That’s why, after initially working in marketing and product management at communications companies Nortel and Bell Mobility, “I realized it wasn’t the car business, so I went to work for Subaru as the manager of product planning for pricing and market research.”
From there he took a similar position at Nissan before moving to J.D. Power, where he worked with Canadian data and then on global automaker quality. He joined Canadian Black Book four years ago an now heads a team of nine people.
“Forecasting is a lot of analytics and deductive reasoning, plus looking at how an automaker’s vehicles normally age, and what the segment usually does. We get a lot of data directly from manufacturers, and we have survey of who visit the auctions. The big difficulty is making sure you have the best available data for wholesale values.
“I love every aspect of it, and how it’s an integral part of our economy. As the economy goes up and down, so doe the car business.”