In 2016, when Ricart Automotive sold 8,000-plus used vehicles, Rick Ricart figured: “We really don’t need to sell more used cars; we need to do a better job with the number we’re selling” and gross profits.
But when the dealership group sold virtually the same number of used vehicles in 2017, Ricart concluded that those sales numbers, though good, weren’t good enough.
So on July 1, the company embarked on a massive restructuring program.
Among other things, Ricart is beefing up his service and reconditioning capacity and in September, rolled out Express Checkout, a new online auto buying and financing tool created by AutoFi, a financial technology company. Express Checkout enables buyers of some new- and used-vehicles to complete most of their vehicle purchase including financing online without visiting the dealership.
As a result of the overhaul, the group’s used-vehicle sales retreated somewhat to 7,496 units in 2018, Ricart said.
But now, Ricart Automotive has a new 2019 used-vehicle sales goal: 8,500 to 9,000 units, with at least 1,000 of those units being sold in a single month that has five weekends.
“If you’re not wanting to grow and improve, it doesn’t work,” said Ricart, 39, during an interview at Used Car Week in November. “If you improve and increase, it helps the culture, it keeps people motivated. Sales is an emotional business — it’s no more than the transfer of emotion from one person to another.
“When you have an automotive sales staff that is excited and encouraged, they can see the dream of more opportunity. The culture takes on a whole new level of energy, and that positive energy is what drives everything in this industry.”
All in the family
Ricart Automotive was started by Ricart’s grandfather, Paul Ricart Sr., in July 1953.
Ricart began his career in retail automotive as a lot attendant at his family’s business when he was 15. He started selling new Chevys full-time at age 21 in 2002 before rising though the dealership management ranks.
The third-generation dealer was the group’s vice president and director of sales and marketing prior to becoming its president in September. That’s when Ricart’s uncle, Rhett Ricart, was elected the 2019 vice-chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association.
Ricart Automotive operates Ford, Nissan Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Genesis new-car franchises.
The company also operates its stand-alone Ricart Used Car Factory, which specializes in Motor Trend Certified used vehicles. It also sells a “handful” of used vehicles under factory CPO programs when it’s “advantageous” to do so, Ricart said.
Ricart Automotive embraced the Motor Trend Certified program because it has a “strong” industry name and quality message, Ricart said. It also enables the group to use one certified inspection process most of the time and to consolidate its reconditioning operations, he added.
“Seven manufacturers and running all those CPO programs in different buildings, it slows down the process,” he said. “So we consolidated all of the operations.”
Speaking of reconditioning, expanding its technician staff is among the ways the dealership group plans to expand its used-vehicle sales.
Developing, recruiting technicians
As part of the restructuring, the company promoted a leading shop foreman to the newly created position director of technician development.
The director of technician development spends about half of his time training and developing the group’s current technicians; the rest of his time is devoted to seeking and recruiting new technicians.
“We work closely with the trade schools and the college programs,” Ricart said. “He goes to those institutions, introduces himself and makes it known what the benefits are of becoming an auto technician.”
So in addition to having a reconditioning shop for used vehicles, seven new-car franchises mean that Ricart Automotive has seven new-car service departments, Ricart said.
The company also has a medium and heavy-truck department, a fleet service department and a hot rod performance shop.
That gives technicians room to move around within the company and try something different, Ricart said.
Workplace variety helps keep some technicians energized and lessens the likelihood they can be lured by other dealers who are heavily advertising for technicians and courting them with aggressive offers, he adds.
“When you sit down with technicians and ask them why they are considering leaving, sometimes an environmental change and a different building or position reenergizes them,” he said.
“We at Ricart are not in desperation mode; we’re in expansion mode, and we know that service and fixed ops is what is going to drive expansion and growth.”
Ricart is also counting on Express Checkout to help the group reach its used-vehicle sales goal this year, he said.
Ricart piloted the program for about 18 months with AutoFi and Ford before implementing it last fall. Express Checkout is available on the new and used Ford, Hyundai, Nissan and Mitsubishi vehicles sold at Ricart Automotive, Ricart said.
He has partnered with CDK Global, his dealership software provider and AutoFi to build a complete customer experience process “that takes customers from online to off line with a congruent experience.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part feature on Rick Ricart and Ricart Automotive Group. Part II can be found here.