Heart and Soul

December 27, 2023

In every small and large town across Canada, where there’s a need, you’ll find a dealer making a difference.

Whether it’s providing financial assistance, volunteer support or assistance to a charity, organization or association, Canadian dealers are always willing to give back to their communities.

In fact, according to The Bridgespan Group, a global non-profit, 90 per cent of car dealerships keep their donations in the local community to support services and organizations, and more than 65 percent organize staff volunteer opportunities.

Giving to charities is a big part of the ethos of the Myers Automotive Group, the biggest automotive group in Ottawa.

Brothers Harry and Rob Mews were recently asked to pledge $2.5 million towards the construction of the new Ottawa Hospital Civic Hospital and the purchase of equipment.

The brothers had already made $1 million donations twice in the past few years towards local hospitals. The first happened in 2015 for the Acute Care of the Elderly Unit of The Queensway Carleton Hospital Foundation.

The Mews’ parents had volunteered their services there over the years and their father, Hank, made numerous private donations. The second donation was made to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in 2022 following a successful heart procedure their father underwent in 2017.

“It’s a local business that really depends on the local community and reputation is everything,” said Harry in an interview with Canadian auto dealer. “Some don’t give back as much as others, but for the most part dealers are aligned that way.

Generally speaking the people that work for us are driven locally. That’s the immediate touchpoint for our staff, so it makes sense they feel good about us when we support their local interests.

There’s not too many businesses our size that can do what we do and are still local at the same time.”

One of the big functions of the Kelowna Auto Dealers Association is to give back to the community through fundraisers. From August 1 to September 30, dealers raised $230,000 for B.C.-Cancer Kelowna for a new state-of-the-art systemic cancer therapy suite.

“We do a lot individually to give back to the community and we thought it would be a good opportunity with this need for systemic treatment facility upgrade to come together and do something bigger to really give some decent assistance to get this going,” said KADA President Aaron Fanslau. “This was something we’d never done before of this scale. I thought it was really important to get the group together. There was no minimum donation. We just really wanted to see if we could get together and get some momentum. We were thrilled to overachieve (the original financial target).

“The Kelowna B.C. Cancer Facility treats 20 percent of B.C. residents in all of the Okanagan, so it’s grown quite large and it’s very important. It was built 25 years ago. They are able to administer the treatments, but with very tight conditions. There’s no room for you to bring a support person to you. Once they finish this renovation it will be a first-class experience with individual pods and room to bring people. It’s really going to improve the experience dramatically for people who are going to need it.”

Fanslau, General Manager of Turner Volkswagen, said all of the dealerships in Kelowna are locally-owned and locally-operated, and there is a deep tie-in between Dealer Principals and GMs to the community.

“At the end of the day the least we can do is to give back,” said Fanslau.

Earlier this year, Ryan Finch of the Finch Auto Group in London, personally donated $5 million to St. Joseph’s Health Care. The donation was the largest to support mental health care research in Southwestern Ontario.

“If you’ve got mental health issues you should be able to receive the same treatments as someone who was bleeding badly and needed stitches…and yet mental health still has the stigma around it,” said Finch. “I kind of wanted to stay on the right side of that issue and I want to help the community.”

His company donates to various charities, one of which is the London and Middlesex Humane Society.

“It’s a great cause, one we’re certainly proud to be associated with,” said Finch. “We’ve got all these animals in London that don’t have people to care for them and support and services, so how could you not support such a wonderful cause?”

Jay McKeen, Managing Partner of Jack Carter Auto Group, which has a total of 12 stores collectively in Alberta, B.C. and California, said giving back to charities is something he and his employees embrace.

“The way that I was taught when first starting out in the industry is we’re in the community, we represent the community, our business comes from the community, therefore we need to give back to the community,” said McKeen. “It’s really that simple. We can’t just take by doing business, we have to give back, too. I think it’s just something a lot of us feel is just really important.

“It’s not unique to our dealership group, I know of lots of groups that are heavily involved, and I think that’s great. That real tie to the community is because our business is centred around a specific area.”

Following the Alberta Wildlife fires earlier this year, McKeen decided to donate the proceeds of the sale of four classic cars that were trade-ins, to the Canadian Red Cross. He anticipated $30,000-$40,000 would be raised, which the Red Cross has agreed to split between the Kelowna, Shuswap and Yellowknife fire relief.

“I’d love to brag and tell you that was my idea, but that was an employee-driven idea,” said McKeen. “There were lots of ideas that we bounced around. There weren’t a lot of boots on the ground things we could do, but we could try and raise some money.”

A few years ago following the Humboldt Broncos’ bus tragedy in which 16 people were killed and 13 injured, McKeen devised the idea of donating money for every stick dropped off at the company’s dealerships and anticipated it would amount to a budget of $5,000-$10,000. Through a social media blitz, about 2,000 sticks were collected and the final donation was $55,000. The sticks were donated to The Hockey Foundation for overseas countries promoting hockey and KidSport Society of Calgary for families facing financial barriers.

While McKeen does not have any dealerships in Humboldt or Saskatchewan, he said the tragedy resonated because there’s a lot of people from that province living in Alberta and hockey is popular throughout Canada. He also said many people who have played the sport have travelled to games and tournaments in a bus.

“I think (the tragedy) touched people because they could see it could have been them or their family, so they could really feel the pain those families would have felt,” said McKeen.

These are only a handful of snapshots of dealers who care, but there are thousands of similar stories from Canadian dealers. Canadian auto dealer applauds all of you for the work you do to keep our communities strong.

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