The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.
PUTTING VALUE INTO VEHICLE EVALUATIONS
When dealers connect with customers, they need online tools specific to their needs. As product manager for Kelley Blue Book Canada in Mississauga, Ont., George Bidzios takes feedback from clients and works with the development team to create new tools or improve existing ones.
Kelley Blue Book’s website connects consumers looking for cars with dealers who post their vehicles on the site, or offer online quotes.
“It starts with understanding what the market needs, and then how we make a [digital] tool. I’m working with [our teams] on all product initiatives within Canada.”
Bidzios, 28, earned a business-administration degree but it was difficult to find a job when he graduated in 2014. When friends mentioned an online ad for an internship, he applied. It was for analyzing website performance data for the online travel provider Trivago and required him to move to Germany for his eight-month placement.
Afterward, “I had to determine whether to live abroad. I took an inward turn to see what I wanted to do, so I made the decision to come back to my friends and family in Canada and start from scratch. I had been a gearhead since I was 16 and I loved BMW and I applied there. I worked at head office on the product-planning team and moved up to be an analyst on product planning.”
Cox Automotive was launching Kelley Blue Book in Canada for 2019 and recruited Bidzios.
“I started as an evaluation analyst, making sure we could develop relevant vehicle values. Then I saw an opportunity to go to product development. In BMW I had physical products, and now I was on digital products. It’s about organization, communication and keeping everyone concentrated on the goal.”
DEALER SUPPLIER IS A FAMILY AFFAIR
It takes a lot of hard work to earn an engineering degree in Mexico. Roberto Carrasco credits the discipline he learned at university as the basis for his success as director and co-founder of Autocap North America. Headquartered in Burnaby, B.C., Autocap makes service-department supplies for dealerships.
The main product is fabric bags for customers to store locking wheel nuts, printed with the dealer’s name.
“We’re now making reusable masks with the client’s logo,” said Carrasco. “We’ll go back to our other main line, reusable protection [such as] steering-wheel covers, floormat covers and fender covers. It’s not recommended to use reusable [during COVID-19], so we have to wait a bit.”
Carrasco, 56, is from Guanajuato, Mexico, about 400 kilometres northwest of Mexico City. He and twin brother Agustin both became engineers, but while in school they began making covers for video cassette recorders and washing machines.
“We did our first vehicle covers in 1986, just before we graduated, and dealerships started ordering. Then we started supplying assembly plants like Nissan in Mexico, and realized we were not going to look for jobs as engineers.”
The twins and another brother founded the Autocap factory in Mexico.
“In 1995, Mexico changed presidents, and every time we do there’s a crisis. I thought I’d try somewhere else and applied to Canada. We survived the crisis and were almost the only supplier left in the industry and we landed a contract with Home Depot in the U.S. for all their uniforms.”
Carrasco eventually moved to Canada and spent a few years working in tourism.
In 1997, Agustin joined him in Canada, where both handle the products from their Mexico factory.
“[Agustin] deals with the manufacturing, and I do all the sales and promotion across North America. It’s all family-owned, and we are grateful to be running our business here in Canada.”
SALES FLOOR BUILT MARKETING FOUNDATION
Once customers have decided on a car, the next step includes products for financing, warranty and appearance.
As market manager for Volvo Car Financial Services, Paul Andreana is the link to the companies supplying these services.
Andreana is based at Volvo’s headquarters in Richmond Hill, Ont., supporting dealers in Central and Western Canada.
“My job is making sure there’s no breakdown in the relationship between the partner, the store and the manufacturer. If there’s a new program, I get it out to the dealers. Because we’re smaller [than other automakers], I get to play an active role in creating that program. I take feedback from our retailers and make sure that’s heard before things are brought to market.”
Andreana, 33, got an afterschool job washing cars at a Lexus dealership.
“I loved it, and if it paid better, I might still be doing it.”
After studying human resources in college, he took a job at TD Canada Trust, starting as a bank teller.
“I found a love for credit and ended up as a lending specialist in deal structuring, which is any loan outside the norm. That lasted about 10 years, but I had a calling to follow my passion, which was automotive.”
He was hired by a BMW store in Toronto and sold cars and was then recruited by a fleet-management company to sell fleet packages. Six months later, he got a call from Volvo.
“They were starting a program with these new [financial, warranty and appearance] products, but didn’t have a customer-experience program to match them.”
A little over a year after joining Volvo in April 2019, he was promoted to manager.
“My time selling cars was so valuable, because I understand [customer] stresses and recognize when a retailer needs a solution. We don’t just assign these products, but listen to our retailers to make sure we’re dynamic in the marketplace.”