The Village Automotive Group, that is.
For close to 50 years, Ray Ciccolo has watched the automotive industry change. When he acquired his first dealership in the early 1960’s, General Motors dominated the landscape, Volvos were curiosities, and advertising decisions consisted of whether you wanted to be in the phonebook, the newspaper, or both. The car buying process took months instead of hours, dealerships were closed on Sundays, and all cars ran on gas.
Fast forward to our present challenging times and the rate of change has significantly accelerated. Yet if you ask Ray why he has succeeded despite the ever-evolving landscape, his reason is one you won’t read about in some arcane case study or in the latest business guru’s tome. It instead is a simple tenet that defines Ray’s life: family.
“I know that the whole ‘family’ theme can sound pretty contrived in these jaded times,” explains Ray, “with seemingly every dealership telling you how warm and fuzzy they are and how they’ll treat you like you just arrived for Thanksgiving dinner. But when you look at our Group, family IS the main reason why we have achieved so much. When I scraped up enough money to buy Gene Brown Rambler/Volvo when I was 25 (before cars I put myself through college by working as a bottle-breaker at the Ritz, which I followed up by buying and selling Laundromats), I didn’t know very much. But what I did know is that I needed to
create an environment where people enjoyed coming to work. If I could create a workplace in which the culture was one of respect and camaraderie – where individuals were treated as you would treat a member of your family – then my staff would pass that on to the customer, and we would have a good shot at success.”
It turns out that Ray was onto something with his unadorned yet powerful idea. Today The Village Automotive Group is a leader in the Greater Boston automotive community, comprised of 10 dealerships located throughout the metropolitan Boston area. The flagship store – Boston Volvo – is regarded as one of the nation’s preeminent Volvo dealers, with the largest Sales volume in New England, as well as the largest Volvo Service & Parts Departments in America. Cadillac Village of Norwood is the largest Cadillac dealer in New England, and Charles River Saab of Watertown is the largest and oldest Saab dealer in America. The other established locations – Honda Village in Newton Corner, Nissan Village of North Attleboro, Hyundai Village of Danvers, and Saab of Norwood – are fast becoming the largest dealerships in their trading areas. All of the locations are renown for their customer service skills and each has top notch Service and Parts Departments. The Village has received numerous industry awards, including such prestigious honors as the Cadillac Master Dealer Award, Volvo’s Presidents Club, GM’s Mark of Excellence, and Honda’s President’s Award.
Given the Group’s long-running history with Volvo, it was only natural that they recently acquired a struggling Volvo store on Pond Street in Norwell, and are transforming the new Volvo Village of Norwell into a model of the Group’s customer-focused attitude. The same transformation is occurring right next door at their newest locations: Audi Norwell and Porsche of Norwell, which The Village took over earlier this calendar year.
Spend a day with Ray – if you can keep up – and you can see he practices what he preaches. He is constantly on the move, visiting with his employees, many of whom measure their tenure with The Village in decades, not months (as is the norm in automobile retailing). And unlike a lot of owners, Ray loves to be out on the sales floor, talking to his customers, making them feel welcome, addressing any problems that arise. “For me, I still get a rush being on the sales floor during a big sale, with the hustle and bustle, the popcorn popping, all that activity,” says Ray. “I grew up on a side street in Cambridge, with family and friends and neighbors coming and going at all hours of the day. For me, being with people in a festive, friendly showroom is like being home.”
Beyond creating a family-atmosphere, family also holds another meaning for The Village. You’ll find the next generation of family involved in the business, with Ray’s daughters and sons-in-laws actively involved in the business, as well as the charities and initiatives that Ray has supported for years. “Giving back to the community – being a good and responsible corporate citizen – is something we take great pride in.” explains Ray. “Supporting educational institutions, humanitarian causes, contributing time and money to local community organizations – these efforts help define our organization and our family, and we take as much pride in these things as we do when we succeed on a business level.”
But with all of the success and accolades, it all circles back to the recurring theme of family, according to Ray. “Sure we have a great reputation and people know that our stores are leaders, so they come and see us. But people ultimately didn’t start choosing to do business with us because we are the largest this, or the least expensive that. They come to us because of the culture we’ve created, an atmosphere where our staff treats customers like they themselves are treated. Sure we say or do some dumb things sometimes – after all this is a people-intensive business rife with complexity, and mistakes and misunderstandings occur – but accountability has a face here. You have a complaint, you can come to me and it gets solved. That is something you’ll never experience at any of those giant, impersonal dealerships. I take great pride in the fact that while much has changed in this business, we haven’t lost sight of the fact that treating people with respect defines us.”
For more information on Ray and The Village, please visit www.villageautomotive.com.