You’d probably never guess when first walking through the doors at Ricart Automotive or talking to employees that the business is over 66 years old. Yes, there is the feeling of tradition and esteem that only long-living institutions achieve, but there is also an equal feeling of excitement and innovation.
The Columbus, Ohio, community feels it. Anyone who walks through the dealership’s doors feels it.
This doesn’t happen by chance. President Rick Ricart exudes an almost constant positive energy and excitement about the business.
“It’s something I learned from my dad,” Ricart says of his father, Second Generation Dealer Fred Ricart. “One day years ago, I emailed him a bunch of questions that were on my mind, and he responds, ‘Are you sitting in your office with your door shut and the blinds drawn?’ And I was [laughs]. He told me, ‘Whatever you do … make sure a tidal wave of positive energy goes with it.’ And that was it. It’s that simple.”
Rick Ricart is currently one of nine Ricarts (“some in-law, some outlaw”) in the family-run business. Each family member puts a lot of importance on being at the dealership and engaging regularly with employees and guests.
Their shared positive energy certainly helps keep Ricart Automotive Group tops on the list when it comes to customer and employee satisfaction and loyalty.
And it also helps fuel the business’s constant innovation in serving its customers’ needs.
For example, in order to serve customers’ growing car customization needs, Ricart opened Rabid Customs in May 2017. And then there’s the recent acquisition of three of the oldest Harley-Davidson dealerships in the country, as two-wheeled modes of transportation are becoming ever more popular.
“Harley will be launching an all-electric scooter in August,” Ricart says. “From two wheels to 18 or more, we are thrilled to have a part in it.”
Whether it’s the simplicity of his dad’s quote about positive energy, or the complexity of growing a decades-old business, Ricart says that when it comes down to what’s most important, relationships win out. Customer loyalty then becomes a byproduct.
“The most important thing remains to treat people how they deserve to be treated, always.”
Most of us take time to clean up the house before guests arrive and think of things we can do and things we can provide to make our friends feel welcome. That is the same approach that the Ricart team takes to its customers.
“We definitely want to be first on our customers’ lists for where to buy a new car, but we have
to earn that right, throughout the relationship,” says Ricart. “It starts before we’ve even talked to the customer for the first time. We don’t even call them customers at that point – we consider them and treat them as guests to our business.”
A spotless store and friendly atmosphere are part of the hospitality that greets every guest. But in today’s increasingly digital world, where first impressions are often made online, providing an easy-to-use, helpful website is equally important. Hospitality to Ricart involves anticipating and meeting or exceeding expectations at every touchpoint.
One way the company does this is by offering Express features online, including Express Checkout, Express Service, and Express Delivery. These options help customers save time when buying a car and/or getting their car serviced, as explained by Ricart in a short video for customers on the dealership’s website. The services includes quick credit approvals, the ability to complete as much or as little of the deal online without stepping foot in the dealership, pickup and delivery for service appointments, and more.
“Time is the new currency. Time is so valuable,” Ricart says. “We want to offer speed wherever possible. But we also respect our guests’ and customers’ time. If we know we can’t get someone in and out quickly, we tell them honestly how long it will take. That’s part of building trust and loyalty too.”
AutoAlert is another technology that helps the team provide an outstanding customer experience. It ensures that all points of contact with customers are meaningful and helpful, through personalization and unique deals.
“This is the data age. We all have access to way more data than we can use,” Ricart says. “AutoAlert makes sense of the data, and it gives us a seamless pathway to have communication with customers on their terms.”
This includes in the service drive, where AutoAlert provides the perfect conversation-starter for every customer.
All of these efforts to make guests to the dealership feel welcome and to meet or exceed customers’ expectations help to create memorable, emotionally positive experiences – without which, earning a customer’s loyalty doesn’t stand a chance, according to Ricart.
The new Rabid Customs aims to do the same thing. It gives customers a chance to make their car uniquely theirs – and thus become more emotionally invested in it and the Ricart brand – while allowing the dealership to take advantage of growing after-market and accessories dollars.
Although all guests and customers of Ricart Automotive are viewed and treated as equals, Ricart did have a few stand-out customers come to mind when asked.
There is Gary, who became and is still such a Ricart fan advocate, regularly bringing in many customers, that he was required to get his automotive sales license. A competing dealer threatened to sue if he didn’t.
And John, a body shop owner who lives 100 miles north but consistently brings new customers to the dealership because he doesn’t think they’ll be happy buying anywhere else.
And a friend of Ricart’s grandfather (Paul F. Ricart, the founder of Ricart Ford), who has now been a loyal customer of the young Ricart’s for many years too.
Ricart has stories of other friends and family who stand out. But every customer – every guest – of the business has the same thing in common: They were treated exceptionally well from day one.
“Our goal is sustainable growth through retaining positive employees and guests,” Ricart says. “Everything we do stems from that.”
It is a team effort to ensure that each and every guest and customer has an exceptional experience at Ricart Automotive. Appreciating employees is not “paying lip service” – management has taken concrete steps to ensure that they never lag in their efforts to provide a great work environment.
Several years ago, in an attempt to boost morale and reduce turnover, a full-time Employee Engagement Manager position was created. Third-party surveys are regularly taken to seek employee feedback in a non- threatening way.
Ricart Automotive also offers excellent benefits, including access to an onsite gym. There is a Subway restaurant at the dealership, and additional healthy lunch options are available daily.
For the past seven years in a row, Ricart Automotive Group has found a spot on the top 10 of the city’s most popular “best places to work” list, published by Columbus CEO Magazine. They also regularly make the “Top 10 Best Places to Work” list published by the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. Employee turnover is a small fraction of the industry norm.
“It all comes back to our employees, and we’re so lucky to have such a great team,” Ricart says.
The dealership’s loyalty isn’t confined to its customers and employees; the team has a long history of being loyal to the Columbus community and beyond, donating to numerous education-, family-, music-, and health-based organizations.
In an industry where the future can be somewhat blurry, Ricart Automotive Group is building from a solid foundation to pave a clear path forward.