Paul Cullen’s grandfather Barry Cullen is a household name in Guelph and his Chevrolet dealership has been synonymous with car sales here for half a century so you might think the grandson opening a Subaru dealership nearby would ruffle some family feathers. You’d be wrong.
“I joke that they make me park around the corner when I go there for dinner but, the relationship is fantastic,” said Cullen. “The one thing my parents always encouraged for myself and both of my siblings was to spread our own wings and put our own stamp on the world.”
Cullen has done exactly that and his new job as general manager of the new Pfaff Subaru dealership on the corner of Wilbert Street and Elmira Road is just one example.
“A lot of factors really played into it,” said Cullen. “Subaru is a brand that I’ve had a long connection with. It is actually where I started my career. So, it’s a great opportunity to be back involved with the brand that I really adored, admired and respect a lot.”
Cullen was born in Guelph in 1985 the son of Mark and Laura Cullen. He developed a passion for cars early in life as well as an insider’s perspective of the automotive industry.
“It is something through osmosis you get to see and start to understand,” he said. “I fell in love with cars and being around them as a kid and the auto industry itself is something I have always been passionate about.”
He worked for his grandfather when he was young but didn’t aspire to join the family business.
“I worked for him very briefly just summer jobs as a student in high school and that kind of thing,” said Cullen. “I have fond memories of helping my dad push a broom around the shop and clean up as a kid but outside of summer jobs and part time work, I was never involved in the dealership in a career facet.”
After graduating high school at Centennial CVI, Cullen went on to earn a business degree from Georgian College.
“I joined Subaru right out of college at their head office, which is not an opportunity my family would’ve been be able to provide,” he said. “That set me on a career path and trajectory that I adored and had a lot of fun doing.”
His focus at the time was manufacturing.
“I had spent my early career in the manufacturing side of the business,” said Cullen. “I worked at the head offices for Subaru, Honda and Jaguar Land Rover.”
He eventually moved into retail as general manager for a dealership in London.
“Our organization, Pfaff Automotive, owns a Mazda dealership in London and I was running that dealership,” he said.
The opportunity to run a dealership in his home town was too good to pass up.
“My family’s involvement in the retail side of the business is always something that has influenced a lot of my decisions and I think it was the right opportunity at the right time,” he said. “All the pieces of the puzzle kind of fell into place and it made a lot of sense.”
Apart from the business he is also building his own family.
"My wife Lauren and I have a daughter Lydia who is coming up to 18 months,” he said. “We’ve been married since 2015 so, we are celebrating our fourth year together.”
Family is the focus of the grand opening of the dealership Saturday.
“There are a lot of family focused things,” said Cullen. “There is a petting zoo, a bouncy castle, carnival games, face painting, a balloon artist, a thrill ride in one of our cars, a BMX stunt show, food trucks and a couple things I am probably forgetting now. We are inviting everyone to bring their family and friends to experience Subaru and have some fun with the activities we have planned.”
He has no regrets about following his own path in the car business.
“Our group has grown significantly and substantially in the last few years,” said Cullen. “It’s not quite the niche brand it once was when I first got involved. It has changed a lot since then and is a highly desirable product, which is a great thing.”
Cullen knows his grandfather Barry, now retired, casts a long shadow and he looks forward to writing his own story in the family’s automotive legacy. The new Pfaff Subaru location is on a hill overlooking the family dealership, now run by his father.
“The family business is there and they have been very successful,” he said. “The brands we represent are different brands that appeal to different markets. We do similar work but we don’t consider ourselves direct competitors. The relationship with the family is phenomenal.”