Greg Waring, VP of Marketing at Kal Tire has over 30 years of senior general management, marketing, and business development experience. A native Canadian, his career began shortly after receiving an MBA in Marketing and Strategy from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He was recruited by McDonald’s, directing all marketing activities for Western Canada, including the execution and evaluation of all media plans, advertising, sponsorship and merchandising. In the late 90s, he also managed the production of the Company’s first website in Canada.
Following success as the CMO for Redbox, during which time the company grew from 100 to over 4,500 locations he decided to create his own business. In 2008 he co-founded Zaw Artisan Pizza, an innovative Seattle area retail concept featuring bake-at-home pizzas made with seasonal, organic and local ingredients. In 2012 he returned to Canada to accept the newly created position of VP Marketing with Kal Tire, Canada's largest independent tire retailer. In this role he has led the development and launch of several industry-leading customer innovations.
Greg Waring joined Cascadia Report to share the story of his career - while successful it is rare to meet someone who has been committed to a clear career path since school and remains passionate about it. Waring’s experiences taking companies on their digital transformation journey, as well as the story of founding his own company, have given him a unique perspective on business here in the Pacific Northwest, and beyond. First things first, we asked Waring what he loves about his job at Kal Tire after 8 years in the role as Vice President of Marketing.
“There's no such thing as a typical day in my position. We have a very diverse company with a diverse offering, in that we have about equal sized consumer facing retail business, and a B2B business that's focused on commercial truck drivers, and other business applications for tires. So, the marketing approach and the marketing needs for those different businesses are quite unique and then there's many unique segments within that and there's geographic areas within that. A lot of what drives tire usage in Canada is our extreme weather and because of our wide geography and varying weather patterns that the timing of our marketing programs tends to vary across the country as well. So, yeah, it's quite diverse. Not a lot of routine and dealing with a lot of specific nuances of the business that present fun challenges.”
As a marketer with a long background in marketing in a variety of positions, it can seem from the outside as if the journey has been straightforward. We asked Waring to give us an insight into how his career had panned out from his point of view. He is quick to credit his father - who worked in marketing for Shell Oil - with his passion for marketing, and that helping him out with event marketing as a summer job “gave me a taste of the industry” for what was to become a successful career in marketing.
“I came through the MBA program at UBC 1992 pursuing a career in marketing and the first 11 years were all in quick service restaurants. I spent time with the parent company of Dairy Queen and then with McDonald's Corporation in various marketing roles based out of the Western Canada office, culminating as marketing director in 2000, at which time I got tapped to go down to the global headquarters in Chicago for what at the time was meant to be a six month project to work on new business opportunities for the company. Seven years later, I was still there and we were able to do some great work and probably most notably there was really defining a position for McDonald's entry into healthier food options, looking at the various countries around the world understanding trends towards healthier food, healthier lifestyles, and building products to address that. We created a completely new business called Redbox DVD, which was focused on automated DVD rental. At first it was all at McDonald's locations, and then we learned quickly that there was great opportunity in other locations. We ended up spinning off that company and I was the founding Chief Marketing Officer for Redbox DVD when that spun off in 2005.
Taking it fast forward my wife and I originally went to Chicago for six months and decided at the end, we'd been in the US for 11 years and we wanted to get back into Canada. So, I started investigating opportunities back in Canada and the timing fit with where Kal Tire was at that time, eight years ago, was just a tremendous fit for where I was. At the time, they were still primarily focused on the commercial B2B business and the retail business offering was still early in its development. So, there was a lot of opportunity to help create a new compelling marketing model. It was an industry that hadn't evolved much, hadn't really added digital technology in a big way, so I just saw a great opportunity to go in and create something new and I'm still having fun doing it eight years later.”
While he had a clear view of the profession, he wanted to have a career in, once established Waring took the daring decision to open his own business. Zaw Artisan Pizza was a pizza business based in Seattle, WA, that Waring co-founded in 2007. We asked what made him make the leap from his office to the kitchen and take a risk in the food industry, and how he feels the experience has informed his later career.
“At the time I was New Business Development at McDonald's, we were continually developing business plans that we thought leveraged the company’s skill sets, and we looked for real mega trends in the world. That rewired my brain to think in that way, to constantly be searching for those unmet opportunities within areas that I understood working in food service for several years. So, this trend that we were seeing of people looking for either ready to eat or ‘ready to heat and eat’ meals that were prepared was at an inflection point. Also, this quest for gourmet. Pizza is largely known as being a high value commodity item, but we focused at the time on producing a product that had very high-quality ingredients. We had a great marketing slogan which was ‘everything is made with SOUL’ and the soul stood for Seasonal, Organic, Unique and Local. We did that with our food offering, which was all made from scratch, bake at home pizzas, salads, desserts, and we had small all Northwest beer and wine selection available. So, people could come in, they could get a wonderful pizza, a salad, a bottle of Washington or Oregon wine all for a reasonable price point so it was a great offering.
Our timing couldn't have been worse. We opened our first three locations in high end Seattle neighborhood hoods in September of 2008. I'm sure September 2008 resonates with everyone so from a timing standpoint, people were really locking down their wallets. We did grow it to, we grew the business up to, about a dozen locations at one point but just in the last few years, we made the tough decision to close the operation down, just because of the lack of scalability that we saw in the concept.”
It’s a story that many business founders will be familiar with, and many will have similar stories from the time. It provided Waring with a valuable learning point, saying that from then on, he was “always keeping an eye on the future and looking for those trends that are nearing tipping points”. The landscape for business has changed a huge amount since then, with Waring himself saying in 2013 that “E-commerce in Canada is five to 10 years behind the US”. We asked Waring if he felt that Canadian businesses had closed that gap in the 7 years, and how Kal Tire is positioned to take advantage of the shifting consumer habits.
“We certainly have caught up and are getting better. I remember being in Chicago in 2003 and I lived in a building where at the front door there was a stack of Amazon boxes every single day of what people had ordered. So, people had already made that migration to shopping online in a much more significant way in the United States. When I moved to Canada back in 2012/2013, Amazon didn't have much of an offering in Canada, the major retailers were still at a testing phase with eCommerce, and absolutely, Canada has caught up and I think in certain categories is actually doing a better job. I still spend a lot of time in Canada and the US, I'm still a consumer in both markets and I would say on the whole that the digital offering in Canada is almost on par. I would say digital grocery probably isn't quite as far as it is in the US but in most other categories it's caught right up.
When I think about Kal Tire, when I joined in 2012, there were a lot of tire retailers mostly in the US and Europe, some in Canada that had ‘online shopping’. But the user experiences there were horrible and if you look at how people are shopping online within other categories, you can start to think about how we can apply that to the tire industry. We used that to build an offering on kaltire.com that I still proudly say is best in class in North America as far as the ability to shop for tires, shop for services, and book an appointment. We invested a lot of resources in integrations with our systems. So, you could have confidence that you could book a product purchase or service. Whereas if you look at everything else in the industry, it's ‘request a service, request an appointment’, but you don't get that confirmation that customers want right now. So just, back to your question that ability to say, hey, what's the current state of an offering within the tire industry? What are we seeing in other industries that we can apply? And then let's go build that. It’s not that different from baking home organic pizzas in 2007.”
The ability to apply a problem-solving approach to multiple positions has no doubt served Waring well. We asked him what other obstacles and challenges he had faced in his marketing career, and in particular the transition from the food industry to Kal Tire had thrown up fresh problems to solve.
“Within the automotive industry the obstacle that I faced was the built-in resistance to significant change in what is in the offering presented to consumers or in fundamental ways of doing business. A great example of that is that historically, if you wanted to get your tires changed at a retailer in Canada, you dropped your car off in the morning and you hoped that it would be done by the end of the day. And if there happened to be snow that day, then you probably stood in a long line of people that wanted to get the same thing and you hoped it would get done. So, we introduced a reliable appointment offering at Kal Tire as a solution to that.
People have more double income families than ever and as a result are busier than ever. They're juggling career and home life and outside appointments. People need that security that they can drop their vehicle off at a certain time and can pick it up at another time and then the work is going to be done right. If we wanted to present this offering to customers online, we had to go back and re-engineer our operations. Working very closely with our operators and that took a lot of planning, time, and effort across the organization. But as soon as we were able to shift our operations to that system that just unlocked so much opportunity for us to introduce this industry leading offering, where if you went today onto kaltire.com and said, ‘I want to put my winter tires on’, we're going to let you pick any store in the city of Victoria for instance, we're going to display multiple available dates, times and locations and as soon as you pick it, we're going to confirm that's what you have. In some industries that might seem like an obvious item, in ours it's quite innovative.”
That resistance to change has eased over time, as people’s lives have changed but also as technology has become ubiquitous and almost an expectation when it comes to customer service. Being able to schedule appointments online and provide service with less physical interaction has gone a long way to ease Kal Tire’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As many customer-facing businesses were forced to close they have been able to adjust and keep serving the Canadian public throughout.
“We don't have a practical ability to make an automotive transaction completely contactless because in the end you need to drop off your car and someone is going to get in and drive it. We've taken extensive measures with our operating procedures in terms of how we deal with customers' vehicles, and with our stores themselves to increase the level of sanitization that happens in the stores and for each of our team members, putting protective coverings in place as much as possible. A lot of those steps that many retailers are doing. From a contact minimization standpoint, our E-commerce offering has been a tremendous help. Many of our competitors still require a customer to do that drop off scenario. Get in line in a store, drop your car off in the morning. That doesn't lend itself well to physical distancing. But we can actually stagger our appointments through the day. We can control the cadence at which customers arrive within our stores, so that we can take care of them in as safe a way as possible. Our E-commerce platform has provided us with a significant competitive advantage in that regard.
A lot of our growth has been based on a real high level of service and customer care. And one of the ways that I believe we've been successful with what we've been able to offer customers with technology, is we've tried to re-create the in-store experience online. Probably the best example of that is when a customer goes in to search for a set of tires, we ask every customer two or three questions. And those two or three questions are exactly the same questions that our team members in-store ask and we use those to take the customer through a guided search process that gets them into the right category of tires and ultimately the right tire for their needs. We've been really sensitive to re-creating that in store experience as much as possible. So, to think of it from an omni channel standpoint, whether a customer walks into a store goes on to kaltire.com we want to have a high degree of consistency in terms of that great Kal Tire experience that they receive.”
Kal Tire has partnered with huge brands such as the Canadian Football League during Waring’s time with the brand. We asked if he had any stories to share, and what working with the sport that boasts one of Canada's largest annual sports and television event was like.
“The Canadian Football League (CFL) has been a really interesting one for us to learn and it got promoted very heavily by our operators in some of the high interest CFL cities such as Edmonton, Calgary, & Regina. There was a local relationship with the Edmonton Eskimos and because of that local relationship, the other teams in the leagues were knocking on our door saying we should work together. There are a lot of interesting parallels between the two brands. Specifically, it is an almost perfect match between when our high seasonal times come and when the popularity of the CFL is at its greatest, and the markets where it's most popular. So, our busiest months of the year are October November, when Canadians are putting their winter tires on or buying new winter tires getting their cars ready for the winter. We're primarily a Western based company; we operate right to the Quebec border, but the provinces with the highest concentration of our locations are in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Those are also the markets where the CFL is the most popular and then there are playoffs during October and November. It was just a great fit for us both from an ability to communicate promotions, offer exclusive promotions and from a pure advertising standpoint, this is the time when everybody in our industry is out chasing eyeballs. The Grey Cup is annually one of the top-rated television shows in Canada and we're able to be front and center on that. So, we've been very happy with that relationship.”
As a nationwide brand such partnerships have been hugely beneficial to Kal Tire. Looking closer to home, we asked Waring what work he had done with local tech companies in the Cascadia Corridor. There are some big names operating in the Pacific Northwest, so we were keen to hear his insight as to what the industry is doing right, and maybe where big brands such as Kal Tire might have to look beyond the region for certain services or solutions.
“Out of Vancouver, there's a couple we work with. Iamota is a digital agency that produces a lot of our creative, they help us define and refine our user experience online. Great long-term partners that we have worked with there. We work with Traction on Demand based out of Burnaby on a lot of our commercial sales efforts refining our Salesforce platform. We've recently begun to work with Avanade who are our Microsoft Dynamics implementation partner. What's really been great is so many of the needs that we have had like when we launched E-commerce - over 20 technical integrations had to be built. We had to work with appointment scheduling software and the e commerce platform. And there's all these systems and our point of sales software. So, we had all these systems that had to come together, many of the solution providers that we needed we were able to find within the Cascadia Corridor. We work closely with Microsoft who's based in Redmond, Washington.
As far as where we might be missing some of the, really big platforms, the E-commerce platforms specifically for enterprises of our size tend to not be based here. Shopify is a great example of an E-commerce platform that is at least Canadian based, but their target is companies a little bit smaller than ours.”
The call for more solutions out of the Cascadia Corridor is a common one, and it’s a theme that Waring is keen to add his voice to. He speaks passionately not only about his work but also about those companies that make doing business in the Pacific Northwest easier and helps to provide a strong local economy that can not only be self-sustaining, but also world leading.
As someone who has held several leadership positions at international brands alongside founding and running his own company, we asked Waring how his leadership style had evolved over time and what advice he had for others looking to make a similar career for themselves.
“From a leadership standpoint, I try to translate my experiences into coaching opportunities for the members of my team as much as possible. I try to encourage curiosity to help reveal unmet customer needs that can be capitalized upon. I certainly at every opportunity try to delegate responsibility and tasks in order to make people's careers as fruitful as possible. There's nothing I enjoy or I'm prouder of than seeing people who I have led succeed. Either through promotion within, sometimes it's outside of the company I take a genuine pride in it. I pat myself on the back when I see somebody who's worked under me growing because to me that's a sign that they have been led in a positive way.”
You can find out more about Kal Tire here: http://kaltire.com