Women at the Wheel: OpenRoad Infiniti General Manager Sharon Rupal

Dealership GM gained her skill set in the retail world

By Russell Purcell (www.driving.ca)

VANCOUVER — OpenRoad Infiniti general manager Sharon Rupal was born and raised in Quesnel, but spent some time in the Okanagan before moving to the Fraser Valley.

The 40-year-old executive is the single mother of a soon-to-be 15-year old son who is highly anticipating getting his driver’s licence.

“When this opportunity presented itself, one of the reasons that I was drawn to it was the fact that it involved automobiles,” reflected Rupal with a smile. “My son and I both share an interest in them and when he was younger he would point out all the different makes and models as we drove around. That was something we enjoyed doing together.”

Rupal’s skill set was developed in the retail world.

“I worked at the Hudson’s Bay Company for 17 years, starting with their Zellers property when I was 15. I am so grateful for the experience I garnered while working for them, as I was able to move from banner to banner and gain a lot of valuable experience.”

“When I was approached about possibly making the move to OpenRoad, it did seem like a wonderful opportunity as I had heard some really great things about the company. That made the decision much easier and I didn’t hesitate.”

Sharon came on board as the director of human resources at OpenRoad’s head office, which allowed her to learn about the entire company and become involved in operations as well.

“Whenever it was time to make big decisions on things like which systems to introduce or which projects to develop, I got to be a part of that process. This experience made my transition to the general manager position a lot easier.”

Rupal has been with OpenRoad for almost eight years and took over the role of general manager at OpenRoad Infiniti almost a year ago.

“The industry is changing, and I have always felt that OpenRoad is a very progressive organization,” offered the busy executive after some reflection.

“Christian Chia, the CEO and president, is a true visionary, and he is always looking for best practices rather than just doing what has proven to work for the auto industry. In fact, he travels the world looking for ways to improve on how we do business.”

As the automotive industry has evolved, Rupal is convinced the dynamics of the general manager’s role have become much more interactive.

“You have to talk to your employees to know what your customers want, as they are the ones dealing with our guests every day.”

She is also a big believer in diversity.

“The conversation around the boardroom table gets better when you have a diverse mix of people to engage. We have males and females in key positions and a wide variety of different age groups are represented, which all adds up to the conversation being much richer due to the many perspectives they bring.”

One advantage the Open Road Group holds over its competition is the fact that the sheer size of the company affords the opportunity for managers to bounce things off each other.

“When we come together as general managers and brainstorm about what is working and what hasn’t worked so well, we emerge as a much stronger company. As a result, we do this often.”

Customer retention is the key to success in the automotive industry. “We want to ensure that we service our customers properly after they purchase their car. To help accomplish this we created Club Open Road, a loyalty program which allows customers to earn points through servicing with us which they will eventually be able to redeem for a discount on a future vehicle purchase at any of our dealerships.

“Purchasing a vehicle is a significant event in someone’s life and we understand that an individual’s needs change over time, so Open Road wants to be there to help meet your transportation needs for many years to come. We have the brands that allow us to accomplish this.”

Infiniti is a growing brand and is still fairly new, and Rupal is quick to recognize that there is still some work to do when it comes to branding.

“We have a multi-tiered way of marketing, but getting out to festivals and being a part of more grassroots events has helped us develop more brand awareness. For example, Open Road has a community giving program — Open Road Cares — which holds charitable events throughout the year to allow us to provide our support to bodies like the Make-a-Wish Foundation; and it is a nice way for us to connect with people in the community.”

“It is a really exciting time for the Infiniti brand,” said Rupal, “as we are introducing a couple of new entry level models — Q30 and QX30- next year that are going to attract a different segment to the dealership. It will allow us to broaden our influence in the marketplace and reach a wider range of customers.”

“It is about finding our own niche in the luxury market, a market that is growing significantly in Canada. The reality is that luxury is more attainable now, as there are more entry-level luxury vehicles available. This means you can afford to get into a luxury vehicle much sooner than in the past.”

Open Road Infiniti is a boutique retail centre housed in a smaller building that perfectly suits the company’s needs, but it also allows the staff to get to know their customers often by name.

“We opened three years ago and are proud of the fact that we have created such a friendly and comfortable environment for our guests.”

“When we have guests come in, they are not shopping for what kind of vehicle they want to purchase — as they have done their research and know exactly what they are after — but rather they are shopping to see who they want to do business with.”

Rupal believes that Infiniti appeals to people who are really into technology. “Our vehicles have a very unique look to them which makes them stand out, but they also feature everything you could ever want in a vehicle when it comes to technology and safety, so they represent a logical choice for the consumer.”

While Sharon will not admit to being a workaholic, she is happy to admit that she enjoys her job.

“I am very fortunate to work with the people I do and it makes it a pleasure to come to work each day.”