The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.
BUILDING A BRAND ACCORDING TO PLAN
According to Infinti Canada’s manager, chief marketing management, his is the only team that touches every department at the brand.
“We look after marketing and communication, [set] the MSRPs every year and [analyze] the forecast for sales volume,” said Neel Surve.
“On a daily basis, we might be planning for a future model or monitoring current monthly sales. I have to keep an eye on regions, see if there’s an opportunity to communicate to make the dealerships better, such as with a webinar.”
Surve, 36, studied computer science in his native Mumbai in India, but he was always a “car guy,” hiding car magazines in his computer books when his parents thought he was studying. “Right out of college, I joined a MercedesBenz dealership as a salesperson.”
Before moving to this country in 2014 to begin studying at the Automotive Business School of Canada in Barrie, Ont., Surve worked at Audi’s head office in India in product planning and training.
After internships with Nissan, he joined the company in 2016 as a pricing analyst. He moved into his current role with Infiniti in 2018.
Always with an eye on the competition, Surve realized Infiniti didn’t have a sporty subbrand.
“We used our accessories department and came up with a special edition [model], which became the I-Line. We debuted it in 2019.”
The I-Line is Canada-only and Surve creates one or two new models each year by combining accessories on an existing vehicle.
“I want to be the voice of the customer, and I learned that through front-line sales. I know what customers want, and that’s how we plan our future cars.”
PLUGGING A CORPORATION INTO PUBLIC SAFETY
When customers call General Motors’ OnStar concierge subscription service with an emergency, first responders are dispatched. That partnership is facilitated by Charlene Poranganel, the global emergency services outreach manager at OnStar’s headquarters in Oshawa, Ont.
OnStar was launched in 1996 as a GM subsidiary that offers navigation and emergency services, crash-response and stolen-vehicle assistance.
“My role is with the public safety community, including police, fire, EMS and 911 dispatchers, on how we help our customers. I educate them on the data we share from vehicle crashes, how we assist in crisis events.
“First responders learn the type of information we can provide to them, and they’re more aware of how we can work in tandem with the 911 dispatcher with real-time updates,” said Poranganel, 46.
She was a teacher in adult education and joined Onstar in 2008 because she wanted to work closer to her young family.
At OnStar, she implemented the company’s training courses at its call centre, managing them for five years. She then moved into managing the emergency services operations.
When her current role opened up, “I put my hand up and said I wanted to do this, and started in 2017.”
Her biggest challenge was “just getting your foot in the door with [first responders]. As you can imagine, that’s a tight industry to get into. They thought we were trying to sell something.
“We participated in and sponsored conferences that were targeting the 911 industry. We had booths and talked to people, and from there, createed relationships with key people, and that started to open the doors.”
OnStar operators can face the same stress as 911 operators, and Poranganel is involved in that, too.
“I’ve partnered with a peer-support volunteers’ group that supports first responders, and I introduced a program for our call-takers back in 2019.”
ONE-STOP SHOPPING FOR BRICKS-AND-MORTAR STORES
A well-designed dealership floorplan improves employee and customer interaction.
As CEO and designer at The Showroom Guy Inc., Paul Reed uses his background in sales and service to help dealers implement the optimal layout for their stores.
“I’m the company, working with partners in construction management, shop suppliers, parts storage, signage, furniture, everything you need,” said Reed, 60.
“If you show me a piece of land, a couple of years down the road, we’ll give you a set of keys to your property.”
Reed is based in Montreal and moves between his offices in Toronto and Calgary as required by clients. He handles everything from minor renovations to new builds.
In high school, Reed focused on art and drafting. He intended to go to art school, “but I got caught by the car bug. I took a course on custom paint and did airbrushing on cars and motorcycles.”
He got a job in a body shop at a Pontiac-Buick dealer, and then, at age 21, became a GM service manager. He moved to Toronto and worked in several service departments before moving into fleet sales, where he sold Sprinters.
He returned to Quebec and began his company in 2011. “When I worked at one [dealership], I had a wall display where I cut apart our muffler and [an aftermarket one] to show why ours was pricier but better. I know where to put the hoists and the desks. I know how service needs to flow. I understand the industry, and I started looking for the right partners to do the work.”
His main challenge is getting dealers to see everything as a showroom.
“The service drive-through should not just be a weather shelter. It should be a service showroom displaying tires, accessories, a digital menu screen that’s regularly updated by a marketing team. That will get you the upsell.”