With the acquisition of McNaught Pontiac Buick Chevrolet, Pat Priestner's Edmonton-based AutoCanada are now the owners of four Winnipeg auto dealers - all acquired over the past 15 months.
Priestner had already added family-owned St. James Volkswagen Audi and Eastern Chrysler, as well as leading independent dealer Mid-Town Ford, before taking over McNaught on April 1. The AutoCanada family now numbers 33 dealerships in six provinces and is Canada's largest multi-location dealer.
Priestner, who grew up in Winnipeg, has been in the industry for 40 years, starting as a lot kid in Calgary. He founded AutoCanada 20 years ago and took the company public seven years ago.
Negotiations between the McNaught family and Priestner's team took about six months, Priestner said.
"We like the McNaught family. Gord Senior (the store's founder), Gord Junior and Andrew are really good car guys and will be staying on to manage the business."
McNaught is located right across the road from earlier acquisition Mid-Town Ford at the Waverley Auto Mall. Priestner said he and his team like the Winnipeg market and are looking to add still more stores to their banner.
"We view Winnipeg much as we view Calgary and Edmonton. We are looking forward to continued growth in our stores in all three cities," he said.
Frontier Toyota fetes women customers
About 150 satisfied Frontier Toyota customers showed up at the Regent Avenue store for the dealership's first annual "Women at the Wheel" evening on April 2.
The by-invitation, women-only event featured decadent desserts and edible fruit arrangements wine, tables displaying Givenchy perfumes from The Bay and products from Epicure Selections, gift bags and raffles, a presentation on healthy living by Barb Herda Cajas and an opportunity to view the new Corolla, Highlander and RAV4.
The event was an effort by management to show its high regard for its female customers and staff.
"It was a suggestion by one of our staff," said Lynn Ritchot, Frontier Toyota's longtime controller, who served as MC for the event. "We thought it was a great idea. It was an opportunity to give something back to the women who have supported us over the years."
Ritchot noted that Frontier Toyota's founder, the late Marcel Thompson, had a vision about hiring and training women to work in the industry at a time when that was rare other than as receptionists and secretaries).
"Marcel felt that women were good listeners, good at multitasking and had good organizational skills," Ritchot said "Other dealer principals thought he was crazy, but it worked out very well hiring women in all areas of the store."
Ritchot introduced Margaret Morton and Shayna Kemel, the store's two female sales reps, financial services managers Kristie Wisheranko and Jocelyn McKee, body shop manager Julie Johner, service technicians Amanda Nagel, Danielle Bradet and Stacey Cook and Cheryl Dubeck from the Parts department.
Ritchot also introduced Katheryn Ruhland, Toyota Canada zone manager for this region, who described her own climb up the corporate ladder. Ruhland has realized a number of firsts for Toyota Canada -- the first female marketing manager, public relations manager, sales manager in a zone and zone manager.
Ruhland noted that she grew up a tomboy and learned to fix cars at an early age from her father, a civil engineer. After studying marketing at university, she worked in Japan for three years. Her return to Canada coincided with the launch of the luxury Lexus line and she was hired by Toyota Canada.
"I was lucky that I was given a chance to combine my love of cars with my experience working in Japan," she said. "I figured that I would stay with Toyota for five years. That was 16 years ago."
"I'm proud to be working for a company that spans so many regions in Canada and a company that consistently puts its customers first."
She noted that Toyota Canada is celebrating its 50th anniversary this fall.
"People believe in our product. Our stores have built strong relationships with our customers. I'm happy to see that this Women at the Wheel evening has been so well attended. I hope that one day we will no longer be counting firsts for women in the industry."