Putting your brand first


Company name: Pfaff Automotive Partners
Headquarters: Vaughan, ON
Employees: 325
Market: Canada
Industry: Automotive retail

The Challenge: Pfaff Automotive Partners excels at selling Porsches. And Audis.  And Volkswagens. And Toyotas. And more recently, McLarens. In fact, over the last 47 years, Pfaff has grown into a leading Ontario-based automotive dealer with 12 locations that include its services group: Pfaff Leasing, Pfaff Autoworks and Pfaff Tuning. But auto dealers face a dilemma when it comes to branding and marketing.

“The manufacturers have strong co-op programs that encourage you to advertise and they reimburse you as long as you follow their advertising guidelines,” says Christopher Pfaff, the company’s president and CEO. “Their intent is obviously to make sure the integrity of the advertising is good for their brand, which I understand, but it ends up with you being very vanilla and it doesn’t allow you to present your own strong brand. Our challenge is to try to stand out as an Audi dealer or a Porsche dealer and what makes us a little bit different from the rest.”

The approach:  While still participating in the car manufacturers’ co-op programs and promoting the various brands it sells, Pfaff Automotive invests in building strong awareness of the Pfaff brand in the communities it serves. “We want people to think of Pfaff first as opposed to thinking of the brand we’re selling first. That way, we can build longer term relationships with them. At the same time, we don’t forget that a part of our responsibility is building the automobile brands we represent. We’re selling two brands — the care and service you receive from Pfaff as well as the car brand. The Pfaff brand is making your Porsche or Audi even better.”

Implementation: Through its creative advertising, Pfaff focuses on its commitment to helping customers “find their drive,” which is the company’s tagline. It highlights that regardless of which band a customer purchases, the Pfaff brand is behind it, with its service, trustworthiness and long-term relationships. Additionally, the company has invested a lot of time and effort into building those relationships not just with customers but also with potential customers. This approach started with H.J. Pfaff, the company’s founder—and Mr. Pfaff’s father—who was an avid equestrian. “He really built relationships with the equestrian community and that worked out very well, and then the mid-1980s, we started with the racing community.  That went far for us.”

In fact, events marketing has been key for the company, which is always looking for new ways to reach out to people and groups who could potentially be attracted to their products.  Last September, for example, Pfaff hosted a special ladies-only track day.

“We invited women who had an affiliation with Holt Renfrew and introduced them to driving these high-performing cars on a race track with an instructor,” says Mr. Pfaff. “That helped us let them know a little about who we are.”

The payoff:  Having a strong brand and a reputation for excellence has helped Pfaff continue to grow year after year with a loyal following of customers. Even though Pfaff’s dealerships are all in Ontario, it attracts customers from as far away as PEI. But having a strong brand has also opened up new opportunities. About a year ago, when McLaren Automotive, the high-performance sports car company renowned for its Formula One technology, decided to expand from its tiny niche market into a wider international one, it looked for crème de la crème dealerships across the globe. Only 35 dealers made the cut and only one of them was in Canada. And that dealer was Pfaff.

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