On the Rise: Sarah Tolai

Dec. 10, 2019

Sarah Tolai

Marketing Manager | East Bay Tire Co. | Age: 39

What was your first job in the industry?

Marketing manager.

What attracted you to the industry?

The tire industry is in constant evolution, which allows for the marketing space to remain fresh, relevant and modern.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?

Marketing supports annual business goals, and therefore can be seen as just an expense on the operations budget worksheet. The biggest challenge I have faced is helping the "bean counters" understand the true investment proposition marketing makes toward the bottom line and that marketing professionals are revenue partners, helping organizations reach and exceed financial goals.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

For the tire industry specifically, Tom Van Ormer, former director of purchasing at East Bay Tire.

What is your biggest accomplishment in the industry?

The marketing department at East Bay Tire does it all. We have zero need for outside assistance to execute any of our marketing programs. I have figured out a way to leverage the skills and talents of my current team to execute programs in-house. No longer do we need to partner with outside marketing firms to create, execute or track our programs. As such, vendors and manufacturers from all corners of the tire industry call on us to co-brand platforms and programs for mutual benefit. Lastly, and most meaningful to me, I have made huge strides in the way marketing programs are received at my company and with all the tire vendors we partner with. Marketing is designed to inform and create positive action, but it is also designed to delight and inspire. I've taken an ordinary annual sales meeting and have turned it into one of the best events in the industry, which grows every year. Industry leaders ask to attend, and some take personal time to fly across the country just to be part of the action.

Tell us about your current job and responsibilities. How do you spend your workday?

I am responsible for leading and executing the marketing efforts for our 14 locations, which includes wholesale, commercial and retail activities for markets in Arizona, California and Hawaii. I also provide senior-level project support for our CEO and President, on occasion. No two days are ever the same for me, so a “typical day” in my department just doesn’t exist. Like today, I opened an email regarding a short-run tire promotion perfect for our Big Island shops and quickly wrote and recorded a radio commercial to meet the short deadline.  I’ve tried to run a pretty stringent production calendar but have learned over the years that flexibility is the name of the game in the tire industry. As long as I check my voicemail, clear out my inbox, check in with all my managers and can keep the projects flowing, I’ve had a pretty successful work day.  

What did you do before you entered the tire industry?

Prior to joining the tire industry, I led marketing and business development activities for a top-tier trial consulting firm in the Bay Area.

If a friend expressed an interest in joining the industry, what advice would you give them?

Jump in and trail blaze. There is no playbook for marketing in the tire industry and for some, that might mean a lot of treading water. What I’ve come to learn about this industry is that it allows the tire professional to drive success based on what they find most meaningful. For example, it is meaningful for me to create marketing assets that delight our target audiences. I get to do that and still see success, mixed in with the everyday tasks that are necessary and align with the company’s annual goals.

What do you expect to be doing 20 years from now?

Hopefully getting to spend a bit more time traveling.

Aside from the basics like health insurance, what’s the most important perk/benefit an employer should offer?

Right now in my life, I would say nap rooms. Life is busy and full. Sometimes a nice space to catch an afternoon nap would make a world of difference.

What’s the biggest issue facing the tire industry?

Tire availability. This is definitely something that has plagued lots of tire dealers throughout the country.

Tell us about your family.

I’m from a family of six and I am the youngest of four children. My parents raised us in southern Maine, where we grew up loving the ocean, the four seasons and traditional New England food. 

What’s the worst cliché or generalization made about your generation?

I’ve got a lengthy answer for this question.  It frustrates me to no end that my generation is often labeled as poor communicators. That is simply not true. Many of us are strong communicators who can write well and read past a sixth-grade level. And when prompted, we can pick up the phone and deliver bad news without first putting it in a text. Texting has just made things faster. Since many of us are multi-tasking at light speeds these days, texting while on the phone, in a virtual meeting while making photo copies, just means we can let the babysitter know we will be a few minutes later than expected.

Name a talent you wish you had.

Singing. I have zero talent in this area. However, come into my office on a random Friday and we do bust out a few songs, karaoke-style. When things start to get stressful, a quick karaoke moment helps move us on to better things.  

What’s your favorite childhood memory?

My favorite childhood memory is Christmas with my family every year. My mom always made the holidays so magical. To this day, certain smells and sounds remind me of those times, no matter how far apart we are.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

I would like to meet my great-grandfather and ask him what it was like emmigrating to the U.S. with an infant in tow. Imagine it! I want to scream after a six-hour flight to the east coast with my toddler. 

Do you live by a mantra or motto? If so, what is it?

Funny thing is no, but over the course of my career I’ve helped write so many for others.

Tell us something about yourself others might not know.

I am writing a book about my family. It’s an on-going work in progress, but one day I do hope to have it published.

What’s your go-to song for a road trip playlist?

I am not fond of road trips. However, when my colleague and I head to the Tulare Farm Show or head out to a customer’s location for a photo shoot, “Regulators” by Warren G is typically played in the first 10 miles of the trip.

If tomorrow you could move into any other position in your company, what would you choose, and why?

I am an operations person by nature and crave consistency and purposeful function. I could see myself in a corporate operations role at some point in my career, as long as it allowed me to focus on the importance of employee culture and helping employees love the environment they work in.

What’s your favorite weekend activity?

I love to hike and try to get outside as much as possible.

Who’s your role model?

Not too sure she is a role model, per se, but I do follow Suzy Welch, who is probably most known for her contributions as a business journalist and TV commentator.  I appreciate her point-of-view on so many of the topics she covers and aspire to master the level of public speaking she makes look so easy.

If we gave you $1,000 and one hour, how would you spend the money?

I would grab my husband for a day date and enjoy some time without the kids. 

What advice would you give your high school self?

Spend as much time outside as you can. Sitting at a desk job is hard for me. I want to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine.