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(Credit: Chris Casella)

Rick Ricart, 32

By Travis Hoewischer

Published March 1, 2012

Title: General Manager, Ricart Automotive Group
License: Third-generation Ricart in the automotive business

The Ricarts are nothing if not savvy.

In 1964, after 10 years in the business, Paul F. Ricart purchased a 67-acre property that would become the cornerstone of a massive automotive empire in central Ohio, just miles from Rickenbacker Air Force base, which at the time housed around 50,000 people.

“My grandpa had a vision – he wanted a place close by to sell cars to all those troops,” said Rick Ricart, the third generation of the family business, and Ricart Automotive General Manager. “The story goes, he wanted to replace that whole field with a field of cars one day.”

Today, Ricart runs a large part of the show for the family empire, a slightly more subdued, if not equally affable version of his dad, Fred, who has maintained minor celebrity status in Columbus for decades with his charmingly corny commercials.

Despite getting razzed in school about Fred’s TV spots and never having a solid interest in the used car industry until he was 21, Ricart now operates with the same dedication to deals that his forefathers did.

Many people see your dad and think of his commercial persona, with the guitar and catchphrase, “We’re dealin!” What’s something most people don’t know about the real Fred Ricart?

My dad actually has a science background; he was pre-med in biochemistry at Case Western University. One of the things he did was apply some of his new scientific knowledge to the sales process.

Interesting. How so?

Back then, a car salesman did the whole deal – they did the paperwork, everything. We were one of the first ones to have a salesperson, a sales manager, and a finance manager and really put these people in place. He was clever with inventory control, too. He would order cars based on his marketing data, and make a commercial ahead of its release. By the time the ad was on the air, he timed it up so he could sell those cars fast. With the power of the song and dance, people really took to my dad; he’s a really fun, approachable guy. He kind of had that next-door neighbor image, and he wasn’t afraid to make fun of himself and act goofy. That was something people could relate to. I still like to maintain that same image, because that’s kind of what I am. I am about as normal as you can get.

How was it growing up in Columbus with your dad being a recognizable personality?

Oh, it was brutal! (laughs) Many nights of prank phone calls, getting teased in the football locker room in high school. It was pretty expected that when we would go out for dinner, people would come up and ask for his autographs. He had such an approachable image on TV, no one thought twice about walking up to him, and saying, “We’re dealin!” To me, it got to where it was normal. I was always curious as to what he did when he went to work. Really, up until I was 21 years old, my dad kept me away from the business. He really separated his business form his family life. We’d spend weekends racing go-karts and riding dirt bikes, but I didn’t really know what he did. It really made me curious and made me want to know.

How did you come back to the fold?

I went Northwood University, and got a degree in automotive marketing and management – I really soaked it in. I’ve always loved cars; they’re just cool. I like every car that’s ever been made. It made this fire burn inside me that I wanted to get into it, but he always held me back. I finally started full-time in 2003; I was just eager.

What was your dad’s reaction?

He was very cautious of it. He had built this company to where it is. I think he was really afraid of me failing. At least it felt that way. It turned out to be a great thing for me, because I started just selling cars. He said, ‘Go sell cars, and we’ll see how you do.’ Being the dad, he had a little bit of skin in the flame. What if this automotive mogul has a kid who doesn’t have what it takes to sell cars? And I felt that, too. Luckily, I sold 37 Chevys in my first full month, in July of 2003. When he got that call, I think he realized I knew what I was doing. As a dealer’s kid, I always like to joke I have my PhD, as in Poppa Has a Dealership (laughs). I always used to ask him when I was getting promoted (laughs). He told me I would never be promoted to another position unless I was the absolute best in the company. Anytime I was moved, I was motivated to have the best numbers, the best customer satisfaction. It really helped me learn the business fast and right. Plus, there was always a part of me that wanted to make him proud.

As the young student, what have you taught the old master?

That’s a great question. As this industry has transitioned to being a lot more digital- and internet-based, that’s part of it that he and I have gotten to learn together. Being a little younger and more computer-savvy, I picked up on that stuff faster. He’s still the master, though. I fall back on him a lot, especially for the advertising and marketing.

What’s been the most interesting customer interaction on the lot?

I’ve got some characters that are regular customers of mine, but you get a lot of surprises. You can’t judge people by their looks in this business. I can’t tell you many times a guy comes in wearing muddy overalls and maybe has a tooth missing and someone may not think to go out and help him – but he’s got a brown paper bag with $60,000 in it, ready to buy a new truck. We get the Wal-Mart customer to the Nordstrom customer. I’ve seen a little bit of everything. Once a guy came in with a pickup truck he wanted to trade in, and he said, “I want to see who’s gonna give me the most money for my truck.” It looked pretty standard on the outside, but when you looked inside he had completely gutted the truck and done the whole thing in wood. Built-in cabinets, wood seats – it looked like the kitchen in your grandma’s house. It was one of those head-scratchers. He ended up waiting three months and shopped around, but I ended up winning the bid. Somehow, we found a home for it (laughs). That was pretty crazy.