As president and owner of Bumper-to-Bumper member Pieces d’Auto Angus, Isabelle Blais has a busy job staying on top of the aftermarket trade in the Haut-Saint-François region, not far from Sherbrooke in the southeastern tip of Quebec. But at the end of the day, Isabelle closes the door on PA Angus and takes on a different role: as lead singer for the rock-pop band The Deadly Daisies.
“I’ve always loved singing, but I never thought I’d do it professionally,” she laughs. “I just started singing with a band a few years ago for fun – and it grew.” In fact, on the day we interviewed her, Isabelle was getting ready for a show that night.
The six-member band has been together for three years now and does mainly covers in a wide variety of styles, from classics like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to Pink, country music, and even AC/DC. They perform at clubs, festivals, and the occasional wedding, as well as local events like the recent Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations in their area.
“When I’m singing, I am just me, and I forget about everything else – I love it! When I go to a practice or a show, I don’t think about the business, about problems or life; it’s all just about the music. You really need to have something outside of work that lets you shut it all out for a few hours; the business is always there, but when I sing, I’m a singer.”
In the eighteen years or so since she took over from her father, PA Angus has grown extensively; along the way, she built a larger, more modern store, and in early 2017 it became the second auto parts store in Quebec to take on the Bumper-to-Bumper banner.
“We’d been a member of Uni-Select for the past 20 years, but when they brought out the new Bumper-to-Bumper program, we liked the idea of being part of a nationally known brand. But I also like that we can put our own word in, and we have a lot of discussions with corporate. It’s my own, independent store, but I like that people recognize the name.” Since her store joined, several more Quebec auto parts stores have since become Bumper-to-Bumper members, helping to raise the profile of the brand even more.
PA Angus was started by Isabelle’s dad as an auto repair shop next to a local auto parts store, which he eventually took over. She was never a “car girl,” she says: she studied finance and worked part-time for her dad, with the intention of continuing her university studies later. Over time she realized that her interest in business was perfectly served there at the family firm, and in 2000, she bought the business from him. Today he continues to be part of the team, where his expertise is still instrumental to the store’s success.
In 2009, the shop received a particular honour: Meilleure Entreprise en Estrie, the top prize in its category in a major regional retail business competition. “In the 19 years since I bought the store from my father, we’ve done a lot: built a new larger store on the land, expanded and modernized. But this meant a lot to us, because it’s great to be told you did well.” With typical modesty, she credits her 24-member team: “I can say I have the greatest team of all time,” she says. “It’s something I’m extremely proud of, because it’s very hard to find good employees today.”
In fact, she feels that this is one of the greatest challenges facing the industry these days. “In our industry, we need vendors to be open-minded, be ready to change how we treat employees, find new ways of thinking and running the business.
“People in our industry have to work to be more knowledgeable generally about electronics and technology,” not only in vehicle repair itself, but in things like being able to accept online appointment bookings. “And training is more important than ever; it’s growing so much faster than before that you have to be sure you keep up to date, just to stay in business.”
With the success of Bumper-to-Bumper East Angus, Isabelle won’t be quitting her day job any time soon. But as she and the rest of the Deadly Daisies prepare for the show tonight, she confesses to a bit of pre-show butterflies.
“I’m a little anxious,” she laughs. “There are a lot of friends coming tonight!”