Roach is among only a “handful” of women dealer principals in the country, said John White, president of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association of Canada, which represents 3,200 of 3,400 new-vehicle dealers.
He estimated that women make up no more than five per cent of dealer principals, adding that men account for 78 per cent of the overall workforce at retail outlets, although that figure was about 10 per cent higher a decade ago. “Historically, it has been a male-dominated industry,” he said.
As well as serving as a role model, Roach wants to create a welcoming and respectful environment for women customers, she said. “I’ve heard all the horror stories from women who were ignored when they walked into a dealership. That will absolutely not happen in my store.”
BEGINNINGS AS A BOOKKEEPER
Roach’s career began in a Charlottetown used-car dealership where she worked as a bookkeeper and receptionist.
When the owner bought the local Volkswagen dealership five years later, Roach, who held a business diploma in accounting, was hired as the comptroller.
“When the dealership was first purchased, it only had eight employees,” said Roach, a P.E.I. native.
“As we grew, more management was needed, and I was offered the fixed-manager operation. That was probably the hardest job I had done, because I built it from scratch.
“From there, I was offered the general-manager position.”
The dealer principal was mostly hands-off, and Roach ran the store for five years.
Her skills caught the attention of a Volkswagen Canada representative, and when he moved to Mitsubishi, he recruited Roach to steer the automaker’s new dealership on P.E.I.
“We’re renovating a store that was an old Toyota dealership 10 years ago. It’s an empty store, and we’re adding 2,600 square feet [240 square metres]. I didn’t want to build a new dealership and take that big of a leap, so we found this perfect location.”
Roach’s experience has taught her the importance of a hands-on approach to business.
“Mitsubishi said they’re happy for me to do it because it’s my only dealership, and I’ll put my heart and soul into it.
“The biggest hurdle was finding the capital, because I’m going into this alone. My husband was the used-car manager at the Volkswagen store, and he’s my rock, and he’ll be helping to run the new- and used-car departments.
“But I’m the 100 per cent owner.”
MAKING MITSUBISHI MATTER
All the other mainstream auto brands are represented on P.E.I., which has 21 new vehicle dealerships, and Roach is working to raise awareness for Mitsubishi.
Customers currently have to go to Nova Scotia or New Brunswick to find a dealer.
“Right now, I’m driving around in an Outlander that’s all lettered up,” she said. “We’ve had calls from people seeing the phone number and people are excited.
“So far, a lot of it is reputation. They know what I do when I run a dealership. I treat people right, and that’s the No. 1 thing that’s important in business.”
Roach set up a booth at Charlottetown’s Biz2Biz Expo, a home-show-style event put on by the Chamber of Commerce in October. She also is a member of the PEI Business Women’s Association.
The new store, to be called Charlottetown Mitsubishi, will have about 8,000 square feet (740 square metres), five service bays, and employ eight people, including Roach and her husband.
Before agreeing to join Mitsubishi, Roach did her homework, researching the brand, customer financing options and the automaker-dealer relationship.
“I heard nothing but good things about the corporation, the way they treated dealers and ensured product availability,” she said. “I test-drove a bunch of models, and was really impressed.”
For Roach, advancing into a dealer-principal role, is a natural progression and an opportunity to show women they can succeed in a male-dominated industry.
“Women have to put themselves out there. You have to speak up and speak out and try to find those people who will mentor and support you.
“This is one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done, but what a great opportunity,” she said.
Grace Macaluso contributed to this report.