From the outside, Kulu Motorcar looks like any other southeast Calgary warehouse. There is no storefront sign on the building’s exterior announcing the company’s existence. A bit of small print on the front door reads, “By Appointment Only.”
Inside, Kulu Punia sells some of the most expensive and hard-to-find cars in the province. His showroom is filled with Ferraris, Porsches, Bentleys and Aston Martins. “I sell roughly 200 cars a year,” Punia, 37, says, but that translates to about $20 million. “It’s just me and one other employee here.
It’s really simple, and on a busy month, we’ll sell 20 cars.”
The front door is locked for a reason: Punia doesn’t want a dozen people kicking tires when he’s trying to sell a Ferrari Enzo to a moneyed Albertan. “Other than my website and some advertising on Autotrader.ca, we don’t do much marketing or promotion,” he says. If the door was unlocked, Punia says he would need to hire additional staff to deal with shoppers visiting his showroom. Instead, Kulu Motorcar is set up for targeted searches of rare and expensive cars. “A high-net-worth guy phones me and says, ‘I want this car,’” Punia says. That’s how Kulu Motorcar operates.
Punia first incorporated his company in 1997, when he was in his early 20s. Since his high-school days, he had been flipping cars – starting with Volkswagens – to make money. Eventually, he found himself wanting to trade in the luxury car market, but dealers and wholesalers wouldn’t give him the time of day. Punia says, “At the beginning, a lot of these dealers would say, ‘Who are you? You’re just a young kid.’" But that didn’t deter him.
Punia went on a cross-Canada trip to meet with luxury car dealers and wholesalers to establish a network. That’s when he realized it would take drastic measures to get their attention. “I would buy a $100,000 car and flip it just to make $500 and to get the dealer’s attention and form a relationship,” Punia says, adding that was the case for many of his first car deals. “Now, I talk to these dealers every day on the phone and we do a few million dollars’ worth of business every year.”
In fact, before Punia bought the warehouse in 2004, all of his business was done between dealers. Punia built Kulu Motorcar buying and selling excess inventory and trade-ins among dealerships across the country. When a Bentley dealer in Toronto accepts a Mercedes-Benz as a trade-in for a new car sale, Punia bids on the car and finds a buyer in another market. Between 1997 and 2004, Kulu Motorcar acted as a wholesaler between dealers until Punia started picking cars he could retail on his own, in his own space.
Since Punia bought and renovated the warehouse in 2004 – giving the interior of the shop a big makeover – Kulu Motorcar has also become a luxury car retailer. But six years after renovating the interior of the warehouse, Punia says there are still no plans to update the front of the building. Not even with a sign.