2019 IW Winners

Entrepreneur of the Year - Sault Ste. Marie

Francine Floreani

Francine Floreani

Before becoming the dealer principal at Great Lakes Honda in 2012, Francine Floreani had zero experience in car sales.

Up until then, she had successfully applied her Laurentian University business degree to help run her husband’s orthodontic practice for 20 years, but she was eager for a new challenge.

“I’ve not looked back since then,” Floreani said.

Under her direction, the dealership has flourished, earning recognition from Honda Canada as a Honda Driving Excellence Dealer in 2017 and 2018. Based on customer feedback, the designation is awarded to dealerships that demonstrate excellence in sales, customer service experience, and employee training.

Just recently, Floreani was appointed to the Honda Dealer Advisory Team, voted by fellow dealers to represent them at the senior level of Honda Canada.

She’s only the second woman in the brand’s advisory team to be named to the panel of 12. “I’m very proud of that accomplishment in this point in my career,” Floreani said.

In an industry that is still largely male-dominated – where the bulk of dealerships are run by men whose fathers or grandfathers had paved the way before them – the Sault Ste. Marie resident is a bit of an anomaly.

But she believes her unique perspective is exactly what appealed to Honda Canada when they considered her application for management and ownership of the dealership.

“I think that’s what I bring to the table: I don’t think the old boys’ club way,” Floreani said. “I think the new way: how are consumers buying?” Roughly 73 per cent of buying decisions are made by women in the household, according to industry research, Floreani noted. As a woman, she believes that gives her an advantage in the industry, and she’s keen to watch for other female up-and-comers she can mentor.

“I find that women are very capable: we’re talented, we can multi-task, we’re great at customer service, we can empathize and connect with people,” Floreani said.

“There’s a whole bunch of qualities that women have that are great when it comes to entry level or even upper management positions. I’m always on the lookout for women that have good qualities, and I think the auto business is a great thing for women right now.”

As passionate as she’s been about the industry, Floreani has an equally fervent desire to support her community in a meaningful way.

“I’ve never been a cheque writer when it comes to sponsorship or supporting local events,” she said. “I’m more of an active supporter of the community, because this is where I live.”

That’s why the boardroom at Great Lakes Honda is available at no cost to the community’s non-profit organizations that need a meeting space. Available through reservation, the room can accommodate 30 and includes the use of a computer, smart TV, whiteboard and adjoining kitchen.

In 2014, the dealership, in partnership with Passport to Unity, held the Community Driven Awards, recognizing people who promote community involvement.

The community’s ARCH Hospice, Ojibway Women’s Language Group, Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy, and Big Brothers Big Sisters are among the dozens of other organizations that Great Lakes Honda has sponsored and supported over the years.

“Great Lakes Honda is a strong advocate of making Sault Ste. Marie a better place,” Floreani said. “It’s our way of giving back.”