Whether it’s conquering a 600-mile bike ride with customers or finding creative ways to connect with others, Pierre Zupancic relishes a challenge.
“[The tire industry] isn’t something I ever thought of making career out of, honestly, but I fell in love with it because it’s a challenging business,” he admits.
Pierre’s first job in the automotive aftermarket came at Sears Auto Center, where he worked during summers off from university. After finding his first job in the aftermarket in sales with a battery manufacturer, Pierre then took his skills to Yokohama Tire, working under the direction of Eric Dedoyard, then regional sales manager and Pierre’s boss and now president of Yokohama Tire Canada. It was at Yokohama where he learned the ropes of the business and started to form relationships across the industry.
“What’s unique about our business, especially in Eastern Canada, is it’s always moving. You never have quiet times. You’re busy 12 months out of the year,” Pierre says. “We sell summer tires and winter tires, so you’re booking programs. Then, you move into the product presentations. Then, into bookings again. It’s nonstop.”
Pierre thrived on the industry’s fast pace, and his thirst to learn catapulted him to take over Dedoyard’s role as Yokohama’s regional sales manager for eastern Canada. Then, in 2005, Pierre received a call from a headhunter for Nokian Tyres. After taking the job, his directive was clear: expand Nokian’s distribution footprint across eastern Canada.
“Nokian was not as well known in Quebec at the time,” Pierre recalls. But he rose to the occasion.
Over the years, he signed on distributors not only in Quebec but also in the Maritime provinces of Eastern Canada, which include Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Currently, he manages a staff of two sales professionals that cover eastern Canadian provinces.
“The phone rings off the hook almost every day,” Pierre says excitingly about his work. “You never have a boring day. And me, I like to move, so this industry keeps me striving. It’s always a challenge because you have the competition that’s trying to get your business, so you have to be on your toes and find new ways of doing business. You have to be close to your customers.”
This has held particularly true over the past year, Pierre says. When COVID-19 shutdowns began in Canada last March, Pierre and his team found themselves at a standstill, unable to see customers under strict lockdown restrictions from the government. His boss, Tommi Heinonen, vice president of sales for North America for Nokian Tyres, tasked his team with finding ways to connect with customers despite the circumstances.
For Pierre, this presented an opportunity to get creative. While other tire manufacturers connected with customers through online product seminars, Pierre and his team got to work planning Nokian’s first-ever drive-in product presentation.
The plan? Have distributors, dealers and their families come to a drive-in movie theater for a night of fun, while learning about Nokian’s products. Nokian would hand out masks and gifts at the entrance. Then, guests would be treated to a family movie night complete with food trucks and a firework display to top it off.
“COVID really hit us bad in eastern Canada, and I wanted them to spend a nice evening with us and with their families,” Pierre says, noting that the five separate drive-in presentations attracted 1,500 people. “It was a great success, and our customers were so happy.”
For customers on the outskirts of the province, a territory manager on Pierre’s team rented an RV and drove to Nokian customers to give the product presentation live from their own parking lots. He brought camping chairs for customers to sit on during the presentation, which became their gift to keep.
“When you get to the outskirts, not too many people visit these garages,” Pierre adds. “These were a great success, and we were the only ones doing it. Everyone else was still in webinars.”
The team’s ingenuity continued as they looked toward spring product presentations, which take place in February. This past year, Nokian debuted the Nokian One, its premiere all-season tire built for North American consumers. Temperatures were too cold to organize another outdoor event, Pierre said, so they decided to go live.
Hosted earlier this year, the Nokian Tyres One Gala was a live event that featured Pierre and Quebec-born actress Anouk Meunier as the hosts. The two introduced snippets on the Nokian One’s product attributes (complete with celebrity appearances) which were interspersed with performances from a local band, a comedian and other entertainment. At the end, the pair gave away prizes to select dealers in the audience of 3,000-plus.
While Pierre and his team are busy concocting a plan for their upcoming fall product presentation, he reflected on what he feels is the industry’s biggest challenge: recruiting and retaining talent.
“To me, the challenge is going to be, how do you attract good people to the tire business? How do you keep them? How do you challenge them? You’ve got to show them a way they’ll be challenged and able to grow in the company and move up,” he says.
This segues to his advice for professionals across the industry: “Make sure your key employees are treated well. Every place I visit—from distributors to small mom and pops—there’s always key people who make those places run. Make sure they’re rewarded, happy and find ways to promote them from within.”