Fool Me Once

As I flicked off the lights of the service department, a young man raced across the snowy parking lot, hands thrust in his pockets, the lights of his still running BMW shining through the glass window.

Other than being quite tall, the man was rather unremarkable. But the sub-conscious mind is nothing if not acutely perceptive. Something about the combination of his movements, frantic and hurried, and the fact he wore nothing but a fleece sweater despite the frigid January weather caused me to snap to attention.

I checked my watch and smiled when I saw it was two minutes until closing time.

I had never met this man but I knew exactly who he was and what he wanted. And he was right on time.

That’s the amazing thing about fraud, the schemes almost never change, no matter who is running them or how much time has passed.

About 20 years ago, when I was a green university student working summers at my family’s struggling tire store, I thought I had saved a slow day with a massive phone order. A client called looking for a particular size of tire. I deftly steered him to a high-end Bridgestone model that I knew we had eight of in stock. We agreed on a price and he promised to come by in the afternoon to have them installed.

The appointment time came and went with no sign of the client. Just as I had given up hope, he burst into the store, profusely apologetic for arriving just before closing.

He told us that he knew it was too late install the tires but since he was in a pinch, he would just take them loose. And not just one set, but everything we had in stock.

I clearly remember finding it odd that someone would be willing to buy tires over the counter and potentially pay somebody else to have them installed. After all, the price I quoted included installation. But I was still cutting my teeth in the car industry. When none of the other employees objected, I happily went along, convincing myself I was a prodigy in the world of radial tire sales.

I began loading the tires onto the ancient conveyor belt that ran from the upstairs storage area to the main level. In a rush to go home, the store manager yanked them off the decrepit machine and bounced the tires one-by-one down the industrial metal stairway that ran parallel to it. Another employee was waiting at the bottom, right next to an open loading door. From there, the tires were quietly and efficiently transferred into the idling vehicle of the client.

We locked up in record time and I went home satisfied with a job well done. It wasn’t until about a month later, when Visa called to inquire about a suspicious transaction, that I realized we had been scammed.

The bitter memory of that day has never left me. That stolen credit card robbed me of the first time I felt I could be a valuable contributor to the family business. Instead, I was exposed as a naïve chump, a boy who knew little about the ways of the real world.

Fast forward to present day and alarm bells clanged in my mind when our parts manager approached me with an invoice for a set of tires. It had a credit card slip stapled to it but no information in the contact section save for a mobile phone number.

Apparently, a client called earlier in the day to purchase a set of relatively expensive tires. When the tires arrived later in the afternoon, we tried to reach him but to no avail. Nobody answered the given number and the voicemail was not set up.

Although the parts department was about to close, the showroom was open for another hour. Our manager asked if I would be willing to finalize the transaction if the client happened to arrive before then.

“Who is this guy?” I asked.

“No idea,” was the immediate response.

I didn’t even bother asking where the tires were. I already knew I would never give them out.

So, at 5:58 pm on that Friday afternoon, I knew exactly who the underdressed man who rushed, faux sheepishly, into our service department was and what he was there for.

Much like the first huckster 20 years prior, he was immediately apologetic—sympathy being a key part of the ruse.

I told him I was informed he was coming but that our protocol was to view both the credit card used for the purchase and a piece of photo ID (a slight exaggeration). On the off chance he was a legitimate client, I began to explain it was to protect him against fraud but he was already halfway to his car before I could finish.

He reemerged moments later with a credit card (which was indeed the one used for the purchase) and a debit card. The trouble was that not only did the names not match, the debit card was issued to a woman.

When I pointed this out, his matter-of-fact response was:

“Yeah, because that’s not my card.”

Equally troubling was that the client clearly spoke in an Eastern European or perhaps Russian accent. However the credit card he presented me had an overtly waspish name embossed on it.

Trying to hide my disbelieving smile, I asked:

“Since the names don’t match Mr. Woodham, can you please provide me with some photo ID?”

He huffed and retreated to his vehicle, making a show of rustling through his glovebox. For a brief moment, I feared I may have misjudged the situation. Luckily, my concerns were immediately allayed when he returned a moment later.

“I don’t have anything. I forgot my wallet,” he announced, a note of exasperation in his voice.

“I’m sorry but I cannot release the tires without photo ID,” I said with a shrug.

He looked aside and bit his lower lip.

“You know, you really should tell people what they need to bring beforehand so they don’t forget it.”

Putting aside the ridiculous presumption that a person would be carrying both a debit and credit card without somehow also carrying a wallet or driver’s license, I couldn’t believe the fraudster (I feel like now is an appropriate time to change my description of him) had the gall to act wronged.

“I’m very sorry sir,” I responded with barely concealed sarcasm. “But I can see that you drove here and you really should have your driver’s license when you drive anywhere.”

He persisted that it was not fair and that we wasted his time.

Luckily, I remained calm. Although I didn’t point out his refusal to answer his phone made reminding him to do anything impossible, I did highlight the fallacy that telling him to bring his wallet would have made any difference as it is an assumed requirement every time one gets behind the wheel.

Defeated, the fraudster asked what our weekend hours are and promised to collect his tires tomorrow.

With a healthy dose of skepticism, I voided his credit card transaction before his BMW had even left our lot.

If for some reason my every professional inclination was wrong, I left instructions to apologize and re-charge the transaction should the fraudster, by some miracle, reappear with proper identification. That could have been an ugly scene but I never had to worry about it. We never saw him again.

It was a victory, but a hollow one. Sure, I stopped a would-be thief from making an expensive purchase on an assuredly stolen credit card, but only because I had witnessed the exact same scam once before. Nobody else on my staff had an inkling there was something even remotely amiss. What are the odds there would be someone like me at the next store?

Perhaps the delay allowed the credit card owner enough time to report his card lost or stolen. Also possible, but less likely, is that my stand scared the fraudster from trying the same stunt again.

But the most likely outcome is that he runs the same scam again. And why not, if history has taught me anything, it’s that it works. Just not on me, not again.

The Meet and Greet

On the eve of Ontario’s third COVID-related lockdown, I found myself slumping cautiously into a foreign barber chair.

Despite the imminent shutdown of non-essential businesses and a looming stay-at-home order, I was momentarily thrilled. After several dead ends, I had found a real barber willing to trim my shaggy locks between appointments.

It was a small shop carved out of the front room of a historic house. Although it was clean and nicely appointed, no amount of creative decorating could hide how cramped it was.

There was a large picture window overlooking Markham Main Street, easing my viral-related claustrophobia. But I didn’t truly begin to relax until the proprietor launched into standard barber chit chat (Where are you from? What do you do? and so on). The easy routine of thousands of similar conversations lulled me into a momentary sense of security.

Like always, the repartee quickly turned to my job. I noted I was the general manager of Markham Subaru without thinking, already planning my answer to the inevitable follow-up question: How has business been lately?

Instead, the barber’s partner, whose stool was within spitting distance of us, stopped mid snip.

“How long have you been the manager there,” he asked abruptly.

“It’s my family’s business,” I responded. “So, pretty much forever.”

“I actually went in there once, back in 2010,” he began, completely ignoring the young man in his chair.

“The salespeople weren’t speaking my language. I walked around for a few minutes but nobody helped me, so I left.”

My brief respite was shattered and I found myself apologizing for this sub-par experience more than a decade ago.

Sensing my discomfort, my barber quickly changed the subject.

“So what are you, Italian?”

The conversation quickly returned to its more generic pattern and even though I responded perfunctorily, I couldn’t stop thinking of the unexpected complaint.

The lack of a proper greeting is one of the most common criticisms we receive from people who don’t end up purchasing vehicles from us. These comments usually come to via angry Google reviews or scathing e-mails directed to the sales manager.

Over the years I have heard many variations, everything from a room full of salespeople being too engrossed in their cellphones to look up, to people feeling they were ignored because they were dressed too casually (as an aside, this one always makes me laugh because I don’t know many people who shop in formal attire any more).

The latest example from the barber is a perfect example of how a client’s pre-conceived notions often taint their view of the store.

The barber walked into our store and heard our Asian salespeople speaking to each other (or possibly to clients) in their native tongue. Although they also speak perfect English, he was put off.

However, if he did walk around our store for any length of time without being greeted, that is definitely on us.

Our policy is to acknowledge clients with a simple hello right away and then give them a few moments to orient themselves before offering assistance. Even then, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had customers irritatingly waive salespeople away only to audibly huff frustratingly when they do need help. It is a delicate balancing that we don’t always get right.

The fact that we have a reception desk in the middle of our showroom does not seem to mitigate any of these complaints. Our receptionist is very friendly and will gladly fetch the first available salesperson if approached, but there in lies the rub. It seems that people resent having to ask for help.

I know from my own personal shopping experiences, I don’t want help until I want it. Then I am inevitably irritated when I can’t find someone that exact moment. Having to seek somebody out only irritates me further.

The good news is that since we are all prone to a little unreasonableness, it is relatively easy to recognize the symptoms in others. If we’re extremely lucky, we can smother those symptoms before they metastasize by using the best tool available, kindness.

The view of our showroom from my office entrance

Recently, one of our managers was watching a bit of a European Championship soccer match while chatting with one of his clients in our customer lounge. I heard them collectively gasp. Being a lover of all things sport, I came out of my office to see what was going on.

My office is right behind our customer lounge and walking to it gives me a clear view of the showroom floor. As I scampered to see the replay of whatever had caused such a reaction I could clearly see there was nobody in the showroom.

I watched the highlight (a goal by Cristiano Ronaldo for anybody interested) and turned again toward the showroom. In the span of what must have been no more than a minute or two, an older couple had entered the showroom and were looking at a car.

The wife was gesturing at our small group angrily and mumbling something under her breath.

I walked over and gave them my standard greeting:

“Welcome to Markham Subaru, can I help you with anything today”

“I don’t know, can you?” She shot back irritatingly.

Before I could reply, she jerked her body away from me and feinted for the front entrance. It did not take Sherlock Holmes’ mastery of body language to understand the client felt slighted so I quickly tried to diffuse the situation.

“I’m sorry miss. We didn’t see you come in, but no worries, I can get a salesperson for you if you like.”

She turned her head just enough so that I could see her scowl.

“It’s no worry, I can just leave,”

I had to give her credit, she was definitely quick on her feet, catching one of my common expressions and throwing it back at me.

“Again miss, I am sorry but I did not see you come in…”

“You had no problem seeing that,” she said pointing toward the television. “It’s okay, I can go home.”

“Again miss, I am sorry. I am not a salesperson. Perhaps they did not see you.” Here I betrayed my better instincts and baited her ever so slightly. “I’m sure you haven’t been waiting long but again, no worries, I can get you one of our excellent salespeople to assist you immediately.”

Without waiting for another snide remark, I gestured for one of the salespeople and preemptively introduced him.

After a quick conversation, the salesperson led them onto the lot to look at vehicles and arrange a test drive.

As I watched them scuttle about, I asked the other assembled salespeople why they hadn’t assisted them sooner.

“I don’t know why she’s so upset,” one of my more earnest salespeople answered sheepishly. “They really did just walk in. We were giving them a moment to look around.”

To date, the client has not purchased a vehicle (at least not from us). From experience, I know that even if they do choose a Subaru, they will be much more likely to defect to one of our competitors.

It is extremely difficult to recover from bungled a first impression. It doesn’t matter the severity of the gaffe or even if the reaction is justified or not. If the client believes they were ignored or disrespected then they were.

The curious nature of these spurned clients is that they rarely leave immediately. Instead, they do what they came to do, all while replaying (and often recreating) the negative interaction in their minds. By the end of the test drive, they are just as likely to remember the entire sales staff scoffing loudly when they walked into the showroom as they are to buy a car.

I don’t hold these emotions against anybody because I have often felt the same. Irrationality is the God-given right of every person tasked with spending their hard earned money with a commission salesperson.

I wish I knew the answer to this riddle but I think it would require concurrent masters degrees in psychology, anthropology and sociology.

As if to prove my point, during a break from writing, I noticed a couple wandering around the showroom like lost puppies. I asked them if they needed help and they conceded a salesperson’s assistance would be appreciated.

I called one over and he promptly introduced himself.

As soon as the customer was out of earshot, he whispered to me frustratingly,

“I asked them if they needed help when they came in.”

As I said, nobody needs help until they do. And when that moment comes, woe to the salesperson that doesn’t read the signs, no matter how subtle, immediately.

Blind Man’s Bluff

As Markham entered yet another COVID-19 related lockdown, I saw something in our showroom I haven’t seen in months, a man without a mask.

Seeing the full facial features of anybody but my wife and children was jarring enough to stop me mid-stride. My head shot back so quickly to verify this visual phenomenon that I looked like the hormonal star of a cheesy rom-com seeing a beautiful new girl walking the school halls.

I’m not sure if the client noticed my uncomfortable gawking but he was certainly prepared when I inevitably approached to ask if he had a mask.

“I have a medical condition,” he answered curtly, even before I could offer him a complimentary one.

I told him that was no problem and asked if I could view his doctor’s note.

“That’s private,” he sneered.

So there I was, for the first time since the pandemic began, being forced to choose between commerce and public health.

My first reaction in most direct confrontations with clients is to stand down. After all, it’s never a good idea to create a scene. But on this day, after taking an initial step away, something stopped me. I’m not sure if it was the tone of his voice, the determined set of his jaw or the general tension in the room but I was suddenly sure that the only condition the client was suffering from was obstinance. That might be acceptable in normal times but not in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century.

Although everyone in the showroom was generally well spaced out, the notable exception was our receptionist. She was trapped behind her desk, a mere metre away, her eyes darting around uncomfortably as she fiddled with her shirt sleeve.

“I’m sorry sir,” I said, breaking the sudden silence. “I’m afraid you may be making some of my staff uncomfortable. Please wait outside and I will send someone to assist you.”

“Look, I’m just here to pick up an ownership,” he retorted.

The whole interaction took maybe two minutes. But in those two minutes, I realized I had no moral high ground. The client was not new. He had in fact, already completed his business with us. I learned later that he had already been in several times before without a mask. I had never seen him and those that did either did not want to turn him away or felt they could not.

That is the fundamental problem conducting business during a pandemic, nobody is quite sure what the right thing to do is.

These are issues that haven’t been a problem in my personal life.

I begin my mornings by binging on all things COVID-19. I am up-to-date on all public health recommendations, even those that contradict previous recommendations. I have not went to any parties, social events or outdoor spaces where crowds may congregate. I haven’t even spent a mask-less minute indoors with anyone but my wife and children in months (despite the protestations of our extended family).

And yet, when an employee called one Monday morning to inform me he may have COVID, I regret that one of my first fears was what that meant for our dealership. That’s the Sophie’s Choice that every business owner is forced to make during the pandemic. Of course you care about the health of your employees but what is the right move? Do you shut everything down and minimize further exposure or do you succumb to the financial needs of operating a business.

The irony is that any decision had to wait until the diagnosis was confirmed. Even though all signs pointed our employee contracting the virus, I knew from a previous conversation with York Region Public Health that until someone has a confirmed diagnosis, life should continue as usual. In other words, there is nothing to worry about until there is something to worry about.

I thought I would be a conscientious employer and take proactive steps to mitigate our risks. I immediately contracted a sanitization company to deep clean of all our common areas.

My next step was mapping out other potential spreaders. Luckily, the employee last worked on a Saturday and felt perfectly fine. The Saturday shift is half staff with reduced hours. A win, relatively speaking. I advised any staff who worked on Saturday to monitor for symptoms and stay home if even the mildest ones presented themselves. I also offered a paid day off if anyone wanted to take a precautionary COVID test.

To pre-emptively determine any further containment measures, I turned to every layman’s best research tool—Google. Shockingly, there was a dearth of relevant local information.

My Google search of, “what should businesses do if an employee tests positive for COVID,” brought up nothing in Markham, Stouffville or even Toronto. The closest advice I could find was a two-page info sheet from Peel Region, about 45 minutes to the west of us. It essentially recommended that sick employees go home immediately and that anyone who came in contact with that employee quarantine for two weeks. But our employee wasn’t sick yet when he was working and there was very little agreement online about when exactly somebody becomes contagious.

The employee confirmed his positive test late Wednesday afternoon. As there was nobody else with symptoms and we had all been interacting normally for nearly three days, I decided the containment measures I took were sufficient and awaited further instructions from public health.

That call never came. The surging amount of COVID in our community meant it was impossible for overworked public health employees to trace each case.

By the end of the week, I was second-guessing myself at every turn. Every person I asked had a different opinion of what we should be doing. The most common responses were shoulder shrugs and variations of, “I think we should be okay.”

The thought of trying to fight the pandemic with only a bachelor of journalism and a car sales license to rely on finally overwhelmed me. I called York Region Public Health looking for reassurance that I had done everything by the book and that my staff were as safe as they could be.

The representative dutifully noted all pertinent details and dates. Although she was very sympathetic, there was also a harried undercurrent in her voice. When I told her I already had the store sanitized, she let out an audible sigh of relief. I was less relieved. I had assumed my initiative was an above and beyond measure, not a bare minimum response.

“And is everyone who was in close contact with the employee on Saturday quarantining at home for two weeks?” she asked.

“Um…no. But nobody has any symptoms,” was my sheepish response.

“Oh no!” she blurted. “They all have to go home immediately.”

I was quietly panicking. Had I done what I swore I would never do, choose business over health and safety?

“But some of them have already tested negative,” I said hopefully.

“It doesn’t matter, they can’t be at work.”

“How about masks?” I asked. “They were all wearing masks.”

“It still doesn’t matter,” she replied patiently.

I quickly made a mental list of all the employees who worked on Saturday and who they may have interacted with since then. It was pointless. Quarantining them would mean shutting our doors for two weeks.

“Can you just clarify what you mean when you say ‘close’ contact?” I asked the rep, clearly fishing for a lifeline, both for our business and for my conscience.

She e-mailed me an illustrated guide. We were looking for people who were within two metres of the pre-symptomatic employee for more than 10 minutes combined on Saturday.

The rep thanked me for reporting our workplace but told me, in no uncertain terms, that nobody would be following up unless there was a surge of cases traced back to the dealership.

So once again, I was alone to make a decision that could effect the immediate futures of our business and our employees.

I asked everybody who worked that fateful Saturday if they had been near the infected employee for more than 10 minutes. All of them said no. Whether that was true or not, I will never know. Just like me, they were forced to make an impossible choice. If they said yes, they knew they would be sent home with only a fraction of their pay to bide them for the holiday season.

Having nothing else to go on but their word, we remained open at full staff, although quite a few people did take me up on my offer of taking a day off for a COVID test.

Perhaps the employees were truthful or perhaps we were just lucky. Either way, there were no further positive tests or sick employees. For that I am eternally grateful.

Although our doors remain open, as long as COVID is with us, there will continue to be hard choices to make.

As I write this, another employee is quarantining because a member of their household tested positive. Thankfully, their personal test came back negative. But if it wasn’t, I would be right back where I started, trying to decide whether discretion really is the better part of valor.

Post Script – On December 14, about two weeks after our employee tested positive for COVID-19 and nearly nine months to the day that Ontario declared a state of emergency, I was e-mailed a comprehensive document outlining what do in the event that an employee tests positive for COVID-19. The e-mail also contained a wealth of other useful resources such as lists of approved disinfectants and an employee screening template.

I Luva My Wife

In a swanky, downtown restaurant, a tall, grey-haired figured approaches a makeshift stage. The room, previously filled with the usual din of a dinner where drinks are complimentary, quickly goes quiet.

The speaker is the long-time senior vice president of Subaru Canada. He has an easy, affable manner but his long features also hint at a professional seriousness.

His role today is to congratulate the assembled dealer body for their achievements in the past year. It’s a role he relishes, for not only is he a shrewd businessman, he is also a born showman.

After an uptempo recitation of sales figures, he begins to work the crowd.

“What do you guys think of those numbers?” he asks to a chorus of applause.

He then scans the crowd with a hand cupped over his eyes.

“Where’s Carmen? I want to hear what Carmen thinks.”

When he finally locates his target, his face beams and he leans back happily.

“Let’s hear from Carmen Vigliatore of Scarboro and Markham Subaru…”

Here he switches from his normal, reedy voice to a very exaggerated and extremely WASPY version of an Italian accent.

“Eh, I luva my wife.”

Although surely strange to novice ears, this introduction has become a type of shtick between the pair. It plays a bit like the Odd Couple, the polished and highly educated VP and the brutally honest, heavily accented immigrant who speaks with fiery passion.

“Yes, that’s true,” my father shoots back. “I do love my wife.”

He waits a beat for the giggles to subside.

“You know why?” He asks rhetorically.

“Without her, I would never be here today.”

It may be a bit rehearsed but there is no doubt to anybody listening that my father sincerely means what he says.

My parents celebrated 41 years of marriage in January. Here they pose after visiting my wife (seen creeping in the background) and I at our cottage.

I don’t know if there is a higher rate of divorce among automotive professionals but anecdotally, I know a lot of dealers, managers and executives who are on their second or third marriage.

That should be no surprise to anybody with even a casual knowledge of the car industry. It’s just not conducive to a normal home life. Automotive retailers need to be available when their clients want them to be. Our office is open until 9:00 pm weekdays and every Saturday until 6:00 pm for the convenience of our clients.

Although all of our commissioned salespeople have regular shifts in which they theoretically work no more than 40 hours a week, the fear of losing a deal is too great to ignore. On top of their unconventional office hours, they also routinely sacrifice portions of their precious off days on the whims of their clients.

I’ve written in the past about how difficult it was to have a father trying to establish himself in the industry. The only day my family really had him to ourselves was when the store was closed on Sundays. Even then, those days were often split checking in on the dealership in the morning (while my brother and I tagged along) and then visiting extended family in the afternoon.

I don’t think my mother had any illusions about what she was getting into when she married my father. He had just started the business when they met and was already working around the clock. But it still must have been hard.

My mother is quiet and reserved (the exact opposite of my father) but is by far the strongest person I know. She raised my brother and me virtually single-handedly.

I grew up in a time of traditional gender roles. It was assumed that mothers would do the majority of the heavy lifting in their households. That was true for most of my friends, but their mothers at least had a father to call upon when needed.

I was always amazed to see these men emerge from their dens or basements like a relief pitcher from the bullpen. My mother just didn’t have that option. She was pitching a complete game whether she liked it or not.

After more than 40 years of marriage, my parents bicker with the best of them but I’ve never doubted their devotion to one another. My father in particular, is not ashamed to admit that his successes are in direct correlation to the work she did at home.

Now that my cousins and I are managing the dealerships, we’ve found that, despite all of the sociological progress around us, we are fundamentally the same as our fathers.

Enjoying a laugh with my wife on our wedding day. Thirteen years later and we’re still laughing together.

I recently celebrated 13 years of marriage to my wife. She is wonderful for a host of reasons but one of her greatest attributes is her selflessness.

When we met, I lived in Markham and she was in Brampton, nearly 60 km away.

When we married, I was already working at Markham Subaru, so there was no debate about where we would live. She knew that if she ever wanted to see me, it would be best if we lived nearby, even if it meant she had to drive 45 minutes to get to work or to see her family.

I never fully appreciated the depth of her sacrifices until COVID-19 came along.

Although the dealership never fully closed, our hours were drastically reduced. The work was never easy, but it was completed much earlier in the day.

COVID even wiped out my only regular social outing outside of work, Thursday night beer-league hockey.

Suddenly I was home every night for dinner with my family (including the inevitable cleanup afterwards).

For the first time in their lives, my children enjoyed unfettered access to me daily. I played board games, worked on elaborate puzzles and read to them every night.

We blew through classics such as The Secret Garden, The Wizard of Oz and a whole host of books by Roald Dahl. We read so much that one of my first stops when stores re-opened was to a local thrift shop to find more chapter books to read.

Even as we gradually re-opened our sales department, our business model changed. We booked appointments rather than relying on walk-in traffic. Our days looked and felt drastically different. The normal chaos of the sales floor was replaced with predictability, allowing me to adjust my schedule and experience something I never thought possible — a two-day weekend.

Before COVID, I took a day off during the week, during which I usually mowed the lawn or handled other household chores. Our weekends typically began Saturday night at about 7:30 pm and were split between visiting relatives (Italian parents are very demanding) and trying to squeeze in private family time.

A few years back, my wife and I invested in a cottage. It is a great escape and I am thankful for it but visiting it required both creative scheduling and heaps of understanding from my family.

When we visited, I would often still work my full Saturday shift. My wife would give my kids a late snack and then load both them and all of our supplies into her car. In theory, she would pick me up at the store at closing and together we’d drive up north. Of course, that almost never worked perfectly because car buyers have been conditioned to arrive at dealerships late in hopes of negotiating slightly better deals from exasperated sales staff.

If the kids weren’t too irritable or hungry by the time we reached our place, we would watch a bit of TV over a quick dinner and maybe go for a walk. The next day would consist of squeezing in a quick (but always enjoyable) day at the beach before packing everything in by sunset in preparation for yet another work day.

Now we drive up Friday night, spend a blissful Saturday doing whatever we want at whatever speed we want and leave whenever we feel like it on Sunday.

Although these changes arose from dire circumstances, they are still luxuries I never dreamed possible.

I recently asked my kids how they would feel if I returned to my pre-COVID schedule. They reacted as if I was a vilified sports figure returning to a scene of infamy. I was cascaded with boos, taunted with emphatic thumbs downs and not allowed to speak or even eat until they had calmed down.

Although my wife has joked once or twice about having to cook for me every night (I am many things but a chef is not one of them), I know she’s enjoying the reduced dealership hours as well.

If life feels easier for me, I can only imagine how different it must be for her. She who has eaten alone, changed diapers alone, helped with homework alone and goodness how much else.

I don’t think you can be married to anyone for a significant length of time without loving them for the right reasons. My wife is kind, funny, caring and supportive. She is an exceptional person and I love her for all of that.

In addition, much like my mother and aunt a generation before, she is the most important person in our business. She provides the structural support needed to keep our family afloat while simultaneously providing the emotional strength to talk me off the ledge when I rant and rave about a job that takes me away from her for so long. That is true grace.

So yes, I do love my wife. And if proclaiming it means being the butt of some cheesy jokes, so be it. I wouldn’t trade her for anything.

Breaking Quarantine

Monday is not a day I will likely forget. It is the day Markham Subaru broke out of our COVID-19 induced semi-quarantine and officially re-opened.

During the preceding weeks, when we were operating with a skeleton service staff, I spouted the same platitude as many ways as a I could to both clients and employees alike: “We’re taking it day-by-day,” “we’re learning as we go,” and my personal favourite, “these are unprecedented times.”

Now we are finally taking the next step and frankly, it’s scary.

The emergence of this pandemic and the ensuing chaos it wrought on the daily lives of nearly every person in North America is likely to be the story that defines our generation. Next to it, everything seems insignificant.

I had actually finished a rough draft for a new blog just one week before Ontario children were decreed to take an extended March break (which still has not ended) to curtail the spread of this novel coronavirus.

When the threat of rampant community infection and widespread quarantines seemed like something more akin to a cheesy science fiction movie than to real life, I was still embroiled in the minutia of running a business.

One of the nagging loose threads I was trying to tie was an application to increase the height of our street-facing pole sign. Due to the staggered nature of development on our road, our dealership was further recessed from the street front than the new buildings sprouting like tomato plants on Miracle Grow around us. With two new condos planned directly beside us and our city mandated trees growing taller and bushier by the year, I thought it would be reasonable to add a few feet to our sign.

The city, as they are want to do, disagreed. I was invited to a city planning meeting to present my case. Having never formally addressed our municipal government before, I was woefully unprepared.

The case before mine was an application for a huge development from a local, well-respected builder. They came with a team, including their lawyer, who seemed to have a cordial (nothing inappropriate, just familiar) relationship with the city’s chief planner. They also had access to the city’s A/V equipment and put on a hell of slideshow.

In contrast, for Markham Subaru, there was just me. I had no idea what the proper procedure was or even who I should be addressing. My application for a bylaw variance was quickly and summarily dismissed, but not before I was scolded for even bringing it for consideration.

The blog I wrote about this meeting (tentatively titled, Mr. Vigliatore Goes to Markham after the old Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart movie) was witty and funny and focused on how intimidating and, frankly, inaccessible, the political machine can be. It was also completely irrelevant the moment after I finished it.

That same week, NBA players in Oklahoma were abruptly rushed off the court during the warm-up because Utah Jazz star, Rudy Golbert, had tested positive for COVID-19. The next day, all sports were indefinitely suspended and Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, was announcing that all public school classes would be suspended for at least two weeks.

Businesses in the province immediately struggled with what their role should be. I fielded a few calls from fellow Subaru dealers who were hoping to co-ordinate a response.

That didn’t happen because the weekend was unusually busy, especially considering the circumstances. It seems that the initial reaction of most people faced with a growing crisis is to pretend it does not exist.

The next Monday, when I floated the idea of reducing our hours to my cousins, they said I was welcome to do so at Markham Subaru but they didn’t see the need at their stores as business was still robust.

That was a strange week. I felt as if I was standing on a steep hill of loose gravel right before a storm. The news was a constant bleat of bad news, including the Prime Minister going into self-quarantine because his wife was diagnosed with COVID-19. Rumors, half-truths and misinformation flourished among the staff and the greater population. What started as a normal business week ended with a sunny Saturday in early Spring where only a single person entered our showroom.

By the Monday, my family had decided to temporarily shutter all of our stores. We made the announcement to our staff just days before the province ordered all non-essential businesses closed.


Physical distancing in effect in our customer lounge.

It took just eleven days. In that span we went from a thriving business, a fixture of our local communities for nearly half-a-century, to one that laid off all but three employees. The day I came into our darkened offices to process our final payroll and issue records of employment was one of the hardest of my life.

The only saving grace was that our staff were generally supportive (although I’m sure not unanimously). They were tasked with making an impossible decision. If we stayed open (which as an essential service, we could have) they would be compelled to come to work and potentially risk exposure to the virus. If they refused to work (assuming we were doing everything possible to maintain their safety), they could theoretically risk losing their jobs. I’m glad we made the decision for them.

The day I announced our closing, I asked my service manager if he wanted to close immediately or work to the end of the week. He took a vote in the shop. It wasn’t even close.

The dealership was completely closed for only one week. In that short period of time, I fielded a flurry of calls and e-mails from clients worried about their regular vehicle maintenance. The biggest concern was the need to swap their winter tires for their summer set before the rising temperatures damaged them. To be honest, the volume of these calls struck me as somewhat odd because it was hardly essential, especially considering the vastly diminished driving most people were doing.

Regardless, I thought it prudent to open our service department on reduced hours to handle emergencies and essential services. I enlisted the help of one or two mechanics and one service advisor. I even decided to go back to my roots and work our parts desk (which is fodder for a future blog).

If this pandemic has taught me anything, it is that Subaru owners are both extremely loyal and extremely conscientious about their vehicles. There were very few vehicle emergencies in those first few weeks and an increasing demand for regular maintenance.

Those early days also featured a steady barrage of delivery men and tradespeople as we prepared for doing business in a COVID world. Plexiglass shields, face masks and ubiquitous bottles of ridiculously over-priced hand sanitizer became our new normal.

Even with all these measures, when I first tried to expand our operations on a paid volunteer basis, there were precious few takers. Each employee had their reasons, from homeschooling their children to worrying about an elderly relative, and I did not begrudge any of them their decision.

Although their objections were all completely legitimate, I would be lying if I said I ever envisioned a situation where I would call employees back to work and they would politely refuse, preferring to draw a fraction of their salaries on government assistance.

I suspect they weren’t mentally ready to come to work. I never really left so I didn’t need to prepare myself for the new reality. I had slowly acclimatized to it in a trickle of small but constant daily changes. They would be walking into a workplace with a vastly different look and with completely different rules. This is not an easy task for anyone so it is my firm belief that it shouldn’t be forced.


The COVID-19 prevention kit I presented to one technician upon his return to work.

Sure enough, about two weeks later, when I once again announced we hoped to open our service department more fully, there were only one or two people who asked if they could be excluded.

I am seeing the same phenomenon now with our sales staff.

We are now allowed to re-open our showrooms on an appointment only basis. Again, the landscape is completely different. Take for example the test drive, a staple of the vehicle purchase process. No longer can we simply take a client out in the car of their choosing. Due to physical distancing requirements, the salespeople must now trail the client in a separate vehicle like some low-level P.I. while maintaining a Bluetooth link to the test vehicle.

Not surprisingly, after I asked my staff who was willing to return to work, half agreed and half declined.

So that brings us up-to-date. It is hard to describe how you feel when you’re getting ready for a normal day of work that is nowhere near normal. Mostly it’s unease because you’re unsure of what comes next. All I can hope for is that the doors to our business will continue to open daily and that we will never have to shut them again.

Thicker Than Water

Across the crowded banquet hall, my father and uncle totter to the fringes of the dance floor. My mother and aunt follow close behind. As an accordion-led version of Dean Martin’s That’s Amore pipes through the speakers, my cousins and I crane our necks to watch them dance a gentle tarantella, just like they have at countless weddings before, albeit this time a touch more gingerly.

The wedding is the first formal outing for the brothers since my uncle had knee replacement surgery late last year and my father followed with a triple bypass surgery a few weeks later.

As the dance progressed, my dad’s cousin, the grandfather of the groom, circled the dance floor with his iPhone, sneaking secret photos and videos of them.

It was a touching scene but not one that would make you immediately think about selling cars. But inspiration is a fickle thing and it was at that moment I realized that my self-imposed ban from blogging was at least temporarily over.

Although my supply of dealership anecdotes remains abundant (take, for example, the client who recently complained they had never heard so much sneezing in a showroom before), I didn’t think I had anything new to say about the industry or my family’s place in it.

It took my father’s cousin, a successful businessman in his own right, circling the dance floor like a second-rate paparazzo to change my mind.

It was his earnestness, his simple joy in their presence, that did it. His show of love for my father and uncle (and by extension, my cousins and I) was completely without pretense. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at them that way before.

To me, my father and uncle were never just that. They were also a car salesman and a mechanic respectively. By virtue of how much time they spent at work, their professional titles took on at least equal importance to my familial ties to them.

Only now, while they are both on medically imposed exiles from the office, do I see them for what they really are. They are brothers first and foremost. Every success in their life, every relationship, including my own with my father, has flowed from that simple fact.

My understanding about the strength of their relationship began to deepen as my father’s bypass surgery neared. Obviously, my mother, my brother and I planned to spend the day at the hospital. What was unexpected was the impassioned plea my uncle made (on one good leg to boot) to come as well. He felt he should be there to both keep my mother company and to see my father the moment he awoke.

He was eventually dissuaded but only with the understanding that my mother call him the moment the surgery was complete.

I was next to my mother when she made that call. Even though the surgeon assured us that everything had went well, tears automatically came to her eyes as soon my uncle began talking.

“He was so agitated,” she said to me later. “He wanted to be here.”

The next day, despite our protestations that nobody need visit until my father was moved from ICU, my uncle demanded that one of his sons drive him to the hospital.

“There was nothing that was going to keep him away,” my cousin later told me.

I experienced an echo of that visit only two weeks later, on Christmas Eve. My father, still weak and only able to sleep for minutes at a time due to irritation from his freshly stitched sternum, insisted on going to his bother’s house for our traditional Christmas dinner.

“We’ve been doing this for forty years,” he told me. “I’m alive so I’m not going to stop now.”

I don’t want to make it seem that nobody else showed concern for my father. We had wonderful support from all of my extended family. But there was an urgency to my uncle’s actions that struck me as particularly poignant.

I always viewed the two of them as business partners who happened to be brothers. I thought the reason they spent so much time together (even when the store was closed) was incidental to the all-consuming needs of the dealership. I certainly didn’t make much of the fact that they never seemed to argue with one another (even though my own brother and I constantly butted heads at  home).

Maybe it was because I was always so busy worrying about my own responsibilities that I never took a moment to step back and realize what they actually had together.


(From Left to Right) Carmen, Frank and my cousin, Guy, during a company Christmas party. The brothers are true partners. Neither of them is allowed to shoulder more of the responsibility than the other.

Some of my clearest teenage memories from Scarboro Subaru are sitting with my uncle and cousins in the few loose chairs that passed as our customer lounge at the end of the day, waiting for my father to close the sales office.

My uncle never had any interest in the front end of the dealership. He preferred to stay behind the scenes, running the shop and maintaining the equipment.

Other than his obsessive desire to check (multiple times) that each door to our dealership was locked, he didn’t have any real reason to stay behind after the shop closed for the night. But my uncle always found something to tinker with for a few hours and stayed until it was only family left.

As a teen, I thought the sight of two grown men taking turns manically tugging on doors that they themselves had just locked bordered on the absurd. Now my perspective has changed. They were true partners and neither of them was going to allow the other to shoulder more of the burden than the other.

Similarly, no task in the business was ever undertaken nor any decision made without consent from both brothers. Even if I asked my father for something innocuous, like whether I could fix the tape player in my car, he always told me I had to check with my uncle first.

As far as I can remember, my uncle never said no to anything I ever asked. Most requests were met with a good-natured chuckle and a response of, “Sure, no problem,” but I had to ask all the same.

Every minute detail regarding family privileges was informally codified amongst the brothers. Whether it was company vehicle entitlement or what vehicle repair costs the business would cover, they had an agreement for everything.

When it came time to formalize a business succession plan, their biggest concern was mot minimizing taxes or how best to defer their salaries like average business owners. Rather, it was attempting to guarantee my cousins and I could continue the business as harmoniously as the two of them had for 45 years

That was always going to be a difficult task, only because it’s impossible to convert to legalese the scores of tacit agreements they formed over the years.

For example, although we are an above-board business, we do occasionally earn small amounts of cash from non-inventory items (scrap metal being the best example). It’s never a lot but my father and uncle have a long-standing agreement that everything in the business, no matter how small, is split 50/50.

If I give my father $100 from a set of used tires I sold on Kijiji, he puts $50 into his pocket. The other fifty goes through a ritualistic origami procedure where it is first folded in half and then creased sharply in one corner before being placed in his wallet.

“That way I remember this money belongs to Zio Franchino,” he says with a laugh, even though it’s probably the hundredth time he’s explained it to me.

It is a testament to the resolve of both men that their respective surgeries did nothing to dampen their personalities. My father spent his recovery time shifting furniture around the house, searching for greater living efficiencies. My uncle sifted the depths of his basement to find gadgets to fix. He was working on a spring-loaded ballpoint pen when I called him one afternoon.

It is because of these dominant personalities that their presence is still felt in every corner of our office, despite this being the longest period both of them have ever been away from work.

So, as I watched my father and uncle carefully traverse the dance floor, smiling and filled with the same hope they had for future generations of Vigliatores as when they first came to Canada, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I am.

I have been blessed to be able to work both for and with my idols, but I never quite realized it until just now.

Markham Subaru Goes Green With Bullfrog Power

At Markham Subaru, we recognize the importance of addressing our environmental impact. We are excited to announce we’re taking a big step to reduce the carbon emissions footprint of our business by choosing green natural gas for our company with Bullfrog Power.

“Markham Subaru is proud to be supporting clean, renewable energy with Bullfrog Power,” said Carlo Vigliatore, general manager of Markham Subaru. “By bullfrogpowering our dealership with green natural gas, Markham Subaru is helping transition Canada to a renewably powered future.”

Bullfrog Power’s producers put renewable green natural gas onto the grid and pipeline to match the amount of conventional natural gas used annually by our dealership. Bullfrog’s green natural gas is sourced from methane-capture projects situated at various Canadian landfills, waste water treatment facilities and anaerobic digestion sites.  Through innovative technology, biogas is captured, cleaned up, and injected onto the national natural gas pipeline.

We are proud to be choosing green energy with Bullfrog Power! To learn more about Bullfrog Power, visit their website at

Goodbye…For Now

Saying goodbye is never easy.

Over the past three years, I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun writing about my family, our business and the car industry.

I am immensely proud of what my father and uncle were able to achieve with virtually no education and only a tenuous initial grasp of the English language. Their story has always been an inspiration to me and it was an honour to be able to share that.

I also enjoyed pulling the curtain back so that you could meet the people you probably only saw briefly when you either purchased or serviced your vehicle.

We tend to view retail experiences (especially ones where negotiating is involved) as combative affairs. By telling you a bit about myself and the people I work with, I hope that you got a better sense of what goes into the (sometimes infuriating I’m sure) decisions we make.

When I first started writing this blog, I had a vast library of anecdotes to share. Most illustrated the best part of the automotive world, the people. Each day in our industry is different because each client is vastly different from the one we served a moment before. There is a type of magic in that revelation.

In my earliest posts, I felt that magic was on full display. I had many years to consider some of the peaks and valleys of our industry and to put them into a proper perspective. But as time went on, that store of anecdotes eventually dried up. Increasingly, I had to rely on things that were happening in real time to meet my self-imposed monthly deadline.

Last month, I sat down to write a new blog. A former GM at another Subaru store told me something that I found extremely prescient. He believed that you could Google any part for any car and find someone online complaining that it was a problem.

Sure enough, I had recently had a few run-ins with clients who had done their own online research and were sure that our service department was either lying to them or misrepresenting the true problem with their vehicle.

Since almost everyone has had an experience of Googling some health-related symptom and jumping to the conclusion that they have six months to live, I thought this would be an interesting topic to explore from the automotive side.

I wrote the blog and was generally satisfied with the end result. Luckily, I have the best editor a self-published blogger can ask for, my wife. I gave her my new 1,500 word masterpiece and she was noticeably unenthused.

“It’s not one of your best,” she told me matter-of-factly. “It sounds like you’re complaining about your customers.”

She was right. I always knew I was putting a dealer-centric spin on my writing, but without the benefit of time to help me separate myself from my topic, my writing was becoming too frustrated and (dare I say it) condescending.

This obviously wouldn’t benefit anybody but me, who would get some short-term relief by airing my grievances. That’s the one thing I promised myself at the outset that I would not let this blog devolve into. As soon as my wife called me out on it, I knew my time was up.

As a result, I have decided to temporarily pause my blog. Ideally this break won’t be too long, just long enough to get a better perspective on what I’ve done over the last year or so. There is already too much negativity in the world. The next time you hear from me, it will be to say something great about the truly wonderful people I get the pleasure to deal with day in and day out.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Carlo Vigliatore

Trolls – A Practical Guide

As an eight-year-old, I was an avid reader of Spider-Man comics.

One day, I picked up a particularly dark-looking book with three skeletons rising from their graves on the front cover.

In the story (which is much too convoluted to explain) a member of the undead terrorizes a supporting character over nine gruelling panels by tapping relentlessly at a locked bedroom door.

As a child, I could almost hear the incessant tapping reverberating through the page.

I would probably have had trouble sleeping under the best of circumstances but my terror was made infinitely worse when a dull but intense tapping sound began to waft up through the vents in my room late that night.

The next day I told my parents about my nightmarish evening and they laughed. Inexplicably, my father had picked that exact evening to fiddle with something on the furnace.


Spectacular Spider-Man #148, “Night of the Living Ned!” from 1989. I had trouble sleeping for a few nights after reading this issue.

My mother reassured me there was no such thing as ghosts or goblins.

Now, as an adult, I realize that she was only partially right.

Although I have never crossed paths with any phantoms or apparitions, I have met my fair share of trolls and they are out for blood.

These are not the trolls of fairy tales such as Rumpelstiltskin or the greedy monster under the billy goat’s bridge. Modern trolls have “handles” such as Rocket Puppy, who gave us a one-star Google review with the simple description, “bad dealer.”

Then there is the DealerRater review signed by “potential customer,” which states:

“Come here if you wish to get ignored. They are excellent at it.”

I am not writing anything revolutionary when I say the anonymity of the Internet empowers people to say things they never would to someone’s face.

Just check the comments section of any internet article (if the provider even allows comments anymore) and you’ll understand immediately what I mean.

There is a subset of people who seem to get their kicks by writing outlandish things just to see if anybody will take their bait and react.

If you are foolish enough to engage you will quickly find yourself sucked into a vortex of ugliness so vile it often threatens to corrupt your entire outlook of humanity.

Trolls have no definitive characteristics. They span generations, sexes, income levels and all other forms of classification.

Take, for example, the case of a Facebook promotion I ran a few months back. It promised 500 Airmiles with the purchase of any Subaru Outback.

I thought it was a decent incentive but Jenny Jones, a 50ish realtor from Stouffville whom I’ve never met, disagreed. She commented:

“Whoop de doo, what an inticement (sic) !?!? They need to get real. It is rubbish. Makes Subaru look real cheap.”


A Facebook ad I ran last year. The text promised 500 Airmiles to anybody who purchased a Subaru Outback. The ad was criticized by two random people.

This comment was utterly bizarre. I would never think of publicly shaming Mrs. Jones for her selling tactics, which, if history is any guide, probably consists of mailers or bus shelter ads promising quick sales at top dollar for low commissions.

To be clear, I have no problem with people who thoughtfully review services and products online. I even accept that we will receive bad reviews from time to time. After all, nobody’s perfect. That said, I think the rhetoric and conjecture needs to be toned down.

I have lost count of how many negative reviews describe our services as the “worst ever,” or “a joke” and our employees as “not caring about customers at all.”

How can anyone make such blanket statements on the basis of one interaction, sometimes not even in person.

I reach out to every negative reviewer in the naïve hope of perhaps rectifying their concerns. It seldom works.

On the rare occasions I get a response, the results are unexpected to say the least.

One client recently complained that she bought a vehicle at a different dealership because she felt more comfortable with their sales people. She believed they had more “passion for their job” and “always try their best to get the deal done.”

She signed off with:

“I believe there is a lot to be improved in your store as I am in customer service area for many years (sic).”

I was startled by the sharp rebuke but even more curious by the vagueness of her complaints.

I e-mailed back, thanking her for her response, apologizing for not meeting her needs and asking if she could please provide suggestions on how we can improve.

Instead of sincere feedback, I received a ransom request.

Her response, only slightly edited for length, was as follows:

“Honestly, it is really not my interest to further share the experience with your company…However, your team just let an eager buyer fly away so easily. I can imagine how many deals you have missed so far.

“I am wondering if you are willing to trade a one-time oil change service for me if I tell you exactly the area your team needs to improve…It is not difficult for me to get you this useful information.”

It’s responses such as these that make me question why I bother taking any initiatives.

Why spend any money on a promotion if it is going to be mocked publicly by non-customers?

Why reach out to potential clients if they’re only going to respond with the equivalent of a drive-by flogging?

My wife, a former psychology major, tells me this is a normal defence mechanism.

Humans are programmed to hone in and remember negative interactions above positive ones so that similar stimulus can be avoided in the future.

If only it were so easy.

My job precludes me from ignoring potentially troublesome people, especially when it is nearly impossible to discern legitimate concerns from petty ones.

As a coping mechanism, I have adopted the philosophy of killing with kindness.

That’s the tact I took when I noticed the same person engage my sales staff in four separate online chats about pricing on a black, fully-loaded STI with wing spoiler.

I looked through the transcripts and noticed that, although each conversation started cordially enough, by the end, there always seemed to be a healthy sprinkling of snarky comments.


A snippet of a chat transcript from someone I suspect is a serial internet troll.

In one conversation, he declared, “Yes, I know math brother. Think only you know numbers?”

In another, when a salesperson gave him a price he disagreed with, he questioned whether the salesperson wanted to sell a car and wrote several different variations of, “have a good day buddy,” while the salesperson attempted in vain to recover.

During the final conversation, when our salesperson, Ollie, attempted to break down pricing for him, he instigated an argument about what promotions were available to him and why (which of course he already knew).

“LMFAO you are so funny dude that you don’t wanna even say you’re wrong,” he wrote.

“Wow that’s sad.

“Sorry, you suck at what you do Oliver.”

I reached out to the client via e-mail, telling him I noticed several of his conversations with our staff had ended less than amicably.

I admitted that there were instances where we were less direct than we should have been but that there were also times where it seemed he was deliberately antagonizing the salesperson.

I offered him to contact me directly if he was still interested in pursuing an STI purchase. However, if he wasn’t truly interested, I asked him to respect the time of our salespeople and refrain from contacting us again.

His response, which I present below verbatim, was the most vile I have ever received.

“Hey my friend I appreciate your opinion now go f*ck yourself you clown and talk to your sl@t wife with that tone. I asked nobody took me serious enough so go f*ck off you incompetent moron.

“You make me laugh wiring me such a nice email well you saw my nice side on chat and here’s my better side. If you need clarification on person or over phone call me please.”

I debated for a long time on how I should respond. My gut begged me to lash out with every foul word I could think of but my mind pleaded for restraint.

In the end I replied with an apology. I said I was sorry we cold not help him and wished him best of luck with the rest of his purchase.

Again, he responded.

“Thanks Carlo. Like I said, if you would like me to clarify call me I would be more than glad to set the record straight.

“Cheers you f*ck.”

I let that final epithet slide and thought the matter dead.

To my surprise, within a week, the contacts started again.

First, it was an online chat request, asking for the exact same information he always did, as if he had never contacted us before. I jumped on the chat right away, innocently introducing myself. I got no response.

Then, two days later, one of our salespeople received an e-mail from him within minutes of him making yet another online chat request.

Both of us thanked him for his time but said that, in light of our previous interactions, we didn’t think it was beneficial to pursue the matter further.

He politely accepted our reasoning and signed off.

Now we wait, never sure which bridge we cross has an ornery troll just like the STI client lying hidden underneath.

Kids Art

Tucked away in my filing cabinet, next to folders with serious sounding names such as “financial statements” and “retail sales performance,” is a folder stuffed to the brim with content completely incongruous to the material surrounding it.

The file is labeled “Kids Art,” and that is exactly what it contains, a random sampling of artistic creations made by my three children.

I am under no illusions about the level of talent displayed in any of the pieces. They look exactly like what you would expect nine, seven and four-year-olds to produce. But they are magnificent all the same because each piece was created with a specific muse in mind, me.

I know that sounds vain but let’s face it, it feels great to be loved. And no one gives love more freely than a child.


Although my wife receives her fair share of accolades from the children at home, there is something special about visiting a parent at his or her place of work.

I can speak from experience on this topic. When I was a child, visiting my father at the dealership was an event.

It wasn’t even the inevitable visit to McDonalds (and its exquisite outdoor playland featuring obscure characters such as Mayor McCheese and Officer Big Mac) that excited my brother and I so much. It was because visiting the dealership was like making a pilgrimage to a strange land.

First, there was my father. At home, his outfit of choice was a t-shirt and sweat pants, perfect attire for working in the backyard. But at the dealership he was always immaculately dressed in a suit and tie.

Then there was the location of the store itself. There was a vast, block-long strip plaza across the street, which incidentally, spanned six lanes of traffic. It was a far cry from the quiet sub-division we lived in.

Finally, there were the treasures awaiting us in my father’s office.

My father always felt guilty about how much he had to work, so he was anxious to find something from his desk for us to play with or take home.

The items were mostly office knickknacks (a euphemism for junk) but my brother and I pored over them like archeologists at a dig site in the Holy Land.

There was the odd-looking lease calculator whose functions nobody seemed to understand, a pop-up address book with a sliding letter selector and a gimmicky desktop wheel, finished in gold, which you could spin for various motivational phrases.

Once I almost convinced my father to give me his copy of the Canadian Black Book, a pocket-sized flip book which listed thousands of different cars and their values in tiny font. To this day, I have no idea why I wanted it but I was crushed when my father decided it was too important to be without.

Years later, certain artifacts have still survived from those exploratory missions.

I recently stumbled upon a nub-like pencil in my desk drawer.  What was once a pristine white finish had been chipped, cracked and dulled from years of storage. The metal eraser holder, without the benefit of an eraser to hold it in place, was bent into a series of sharp edges, making it treacherous to hold.

The pencil was more useful as a makeshift shiv than as a writing instrument. But clearly legible in thick (although faded) red italic letters was the reason I kept it for more than 30 years — Lada, the Russian vehicles we sold before Subarus.

It was a memory from one of my earliest dealership visits and needed to be preserved.


Despite the treasure trove my father’s office represented, it was otherwise unremarkable and actually quite sterile.

Above his desk was a large, artist’s rendition of a dealership that looked nothing like ours, despite promising in bold letters that it was, “The Future Carmen and Frank’s Garage.”

It always struck me as strange because the picture was littered with families seemingly cut and paste from other forms of media. One of the kids in it was holding a balloon and laughing while motioning for his parents to follow him inside, a distinctly different experience from anything I had ever witnessed.

For a personal touch, my father always kept our most recent school pictures on his shelf in carboard frames. But that was it.

There was nothing to even remotely imply my father had any type of personality (which he most definitely does).

In retrospect, I blame myself. To be brutally honest, my brother and I were takers. We were always looking for what we could bring home with us and never thought about what we could contribute back.

Apart from the odd father’s day activity we were forced to do in school, it never crossed my mind that my father might want some creation of mine.

Now that I’m a dad, I know differently. But even that realization came slowly.

Like my father, I always had pictures of my children close by but I was not what you would call a aficionado of pre-school art.

In fact, if you witness me at home, you may even get the erroneous impression that I hate children.

Unlike my wife, who treasures everything our children make and is not overly particular about organization, I am a neat freak. I break out in hives when dozens of multi-coloured magnets, each holding multiple doodles on irregular scraps of paper, cover every square inch of our refrigerator.

I love that all my children have fertile imaginations but their output rivals that of a roomful of renaissance masters at the zenith of their creativity.

I secretly (and somewhat shamefully) wait for my children to go to bed so that I can scoop up collections of forgotten objets d’art and throw them in recycling.

Little did I know that children are not as receptive to the environmental benefits of recycling as I am.

Before I learned to hide my purloined piles under bulkier cardboard items in the blue bin, I suffered more than a few confrontations with indignant and often, tearful, children.

Then one day, everything changed.

It happened sometime in 2013, just before my eldest daughter, Emma, turned four.

She had graduated from smearing colours on a page to drawing crude stick figures, little more than blobs with arms growing out of them.

She drew these blobs prodigiously, honing and perfecting her technique until magic happened.

With no direction, she drew a picture of me and her holding hands. My wife, ever the teacher, even helped her sign and label her portrait.


Much like Dr. Seuss’ infamous Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day.

I never doubted my children loved me but to know they were thinking about me even when I wasn’t around melted my heart.

I told Emma that I loved her picture and would hang it above my desk.

Little did I know that this gesture would start a chain reaction leading me to need a whole filing system for the creations of my children.

My middle child, Chiara, has always been eager to please. Even though she had just learned to talk, she saw how happy Emma’s picture made me and immediately set to work.

Even though it was just random brush strokes on paper, I could see she was very proud of herself, so that came to my office too.

When my youngest child was born, she became the most determined of them all.

As soon as she could grasp a pen, she was writing and drawing items for me to bring to work because that’s what her sisters were doing.

Now it is a (mostly) friendly competition between them.

If they draw something they are particularly proud of at home, they immediately set it aside and tell my wife it’s for papa to bring to work.

On those cherished occasions they visit the office, they barely say hello to me before ripping out sticky notes from my desktop dispenser and drawing or writing something for me to hang up.

As the kids have aged, their creations have become more abstract. I have one picture from Emma that conceptualizes me as a “cute daddy bear” and a poem from Chiara entitled, “You Are My Golden Dad.”

I don’t mind. As long as there is room to stick or store their work, I welcome everything.


I’m reminded of an episode of The Simpsons from back in its early years. In it, an unexpected pregnancy forces Homer to leave his dream job at a bowling alley and return to work for the odious Mr. Burns at the Springfield Power Plant.

To commemorate the occasion, Mr. Burns hangs a plaque above Homer’s desk announcing, “Don’t forget: You’re here forever.”

When Homer’s other children ask him why he doesn’t have any pictures of his newest daughter, Maggie, he answers:

“Oh there are pictures. I keep them where I need the most cheering up.”

The camera then fades to a shot of his workstation, with pictures of Maggie obscuring the plaque so it now reads, “Do it for her.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.