Vaughn Wyant’s Automobile Dealership Dynasty

Entrepreneur says sales are about relationships not products

  • Feb. 6, 2019 8:00 a.m.

– Story by Toby Tannas Photography by Darren Hull

What inspires an empire? The answer to that question is as varied as the entrepreneurs who build them. For Vaughn Wyant, it was a visit to a one-car showroom with a dirt floor service department in small town Alberta.

“I met a guy at a retreat,” recalls Vaughn. “He owned his own car dealership and I said, ‘I’m going to do that.’”

Within a year of that encounter in the 1970s, Vaughn made good on the promise to himself. He bought his first dealership in Carstairs, Alberta and soon after a second, in Beiseker, a short distance away.

Today, Vaughn is president and CEO of the Wyant Group, which owns and operates close to 20 dealerships — including several in Vernon and Kelowna — and represents 17 vehicle brands in Saskatchewan, BC and soon Calgary, Alberta.

“I worked seven days a week, I pumped gas, I wrote repair orders, did most of the accounting and sold the cars because that was just fun,” he chuckles.

Vaughn, who continues to exude a palpable energy and enthusiasm for the business more than four decades later, first stumbled into selling cars after high school, while visiting relatives in London, England.

At the time, he says, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.”

Vaughn’s father was a respected physician in Saskatoon, and his brothers were also academics. The self-described “average student” didn’t find his true calling until he stepped onto a showroom floor.

“Selling cars was the easiest thing in the world. Selling anything isn’t about the product it’s about the relationship and when you build that foundation you’re going to get a good result,” he explains.

Vaughn brought his selling skills back to Canada and after working for dealerships in Vancouver as a salesman and eventually sales manager, he knew he was destined for more.

“I always tell people you don’t get what you want, you get what you think about. My goal was always to own my own dealership.”

After three and half years of owning the two Alberta operations, opportunity knocked again. Vaughn sold his Alberta interests to his then sales manager and jumped at the offer to purchase a Ford dealership in his childhood home of Saskatoon. Jubilee Ford is where the Wyant Group was born in 1983.

“We have a business unit in the Okanagan, which includes Porsche, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, Audi and Hyundai in Vernon,” he says. “You really transform when it becomes not just about you. We build these dealerships to build lives.”

President and CEO of the Wyant Group, Vaughn Wyant. Photography by Darren Hull

The Wyant Group’s new facilities on Finns Road in Kelowna reflect the level of sophistication of the products they sell. They invoke a sense of pride in all Wyant Group employees — people who Vaughn sees as an extended family.

“The reality is that the person who washes our cars is just as important as the guy that owns the business. We get paid different amounts of money, absolutely, but I will tell you that only has to do with responsibility. Take on more responsibility and you earn more money,” he says.

Vaughn points to numerous examples of WG employees who have climbed the ranks from car detailers to general managers over the years. Employee retention and growth is a significant point of pride.

“If I wanted to hire a general manager for this store, I would look within my existing business and I would say that if we haven’t developed that person then shame on us.”

As Vaughn walks through his bright new Kelowna showrooms chatting with employees, it’s clear the respect is mutual. Those relationships are what drive his whole business.

“I believe so strongly in the people we hire and the culture we’ve created because it’s still a family business.”

Vaughn enjoys the mix of family and business. His two sons are active members of WG. Phillip is CFO, Michael is COO. His partner, Lori Leac runs her own advertising firm and co-manages the Wyant Group marketing team. His daughter operates her own successful salon and spa business and lives just down the road from the family home in Saskatoon.

“It’s not rocket science. Working in a business and running a business are the same as running a successful family. You respect each other but you’re still allowed to have disagreements.”

When you’re in charge of multiple dealerships and nearly 500 employees, things don’t run smoothly every day, but it’s the challenges that keep Vaughn engaged and why he likely won’t ever retire.

“I love working,” he chuckles. “People ask ‘what’s your hobby?’ For me, it’s working and part of the reason is because when something goes wrong I don’t mind the challenge of fixing it. It’s never perfect but those tests are the things that make you better.”

Vaughn credits much of his success to his ability to thwart negative self talk. His mind is always striving for the positive in any situation.

“If you ask me how my day is going, I say ‘tremendous’. Is it always tremendous? Maybe not, but if I can convince myself it’s good it’s probably more likely to be good than bad,” says Vaughn.

President and CEO of the Wyant Group, Vaughn Wyant. Photography by Darren Hull

When he’s not busy with the day-to-day operations of Wyant Group, Vaughn is heavily involved in charity work. He sits on industry advisory boards, he golfs, cycles and is a major shareholder in the Saskatchewan-based Great Western Brewing Company.

Vaughn is a mentor to many in his industry, but when asked who inspires him, the answer is simple and endearing.

“I would tell you it’s my mother. My mother taught me about respect, about overstaying your welcome, always saying please and thank you. We got tired of hearing it,” he says, shaking his head. “But every single one of my brothers and I understand where the good came from.”

Vaughn works to exude those childhood values every day. He prides himself on being the same guy at work as he is at home. His appreciation for what he’s built is obvious — it’s a direct result of the humble beginnings that built him.

“I’ll always remember pumping gas to get my business going, would I go back and do it again if I had to? Absolutely.”

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