Over the last half century, Village Automotive Group has grown into one of the state’s largest automobile dealers, with more than 400 employees at eight locations. President Ray Ciccolo recently chatted with Globe reporter Erin Ailworth about how it all started. Here’s what she found out:
Ciccolo was only 24, but he already owned two coin-operated launderettes when he walked into the Gene Brown Rambler/Volvo dealership in Newton Centre looking to buy a “little, fuel efficient” Volkswagen to replace an old Buick he had rebuilt from junkyard parts. Instead, he listened to a friend working at the dealership. Ciccolo left with a gas-guzzling Lincoln Continental — it got just three miles to the gallon — and plans to purchase the business.
“[My friend] said, ‘The owner is in real trouble and the bank is coming down on him, and have you ever considered going into the automobile business?’ I sold [the laundrettes] and signed away my life and bought this dealership. I had nothing to lose. I was single.”
2 Ciccolo's first job was at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, where he helped compact wastepaper and break bottles to save room in the dumpster. (This was back before recycling was en vogue.) He credits the experience with spurring him to attend Suffolk University, where he studied business administration.
“I used to go home smelling like liquor, with glass all over me [because] I was a bottle breaker in high school. I soon realized that if I didn’t go to college, I would be doing this until I was 50. So at the last minute I applied to college and went.”
3 Ciccolo and his family try to test all the models sold at his dealerships, which carry import brands such Porsche, Hyundai, and Honda, as well as Volvo. He is currently driving a Volvo S80, but will trade it for another demo after 3,000 miles or so. He says switching cars constantly isn’t as glamorous as some people might think.
“Especially my wife, she likes keeping her car. When [the dealerships] call her and they say, ‘Oh, we’ve sold your car,’ she is not a happy camper. You just get comfortable with the dials and the controls and up shows a new one, and you’ve got to start all over again.”
4 He restored the vintage Volvo 544 in the showroom at Boston Volvo Village in Allston, but Ciccolo doesn’t consider himself a “car guy.”
“A lot of people get into this business because of their love of cars and antique cars, and they restore cars and have this tremendous collection of cars. And I’ve just never been interested in that. People often ask me, ‘Now what’s your favorite car?’ I say a sold one.”
5For many years, the Northeast was what Ciccolo calls “the last bastion of resistance” against leasing, but that’s changing. Take Ciccolo’s Honda dealership, where 50 percent of the new cars are now leased. Ciccolo thinks the shift will forever alter the used car market, as leased cars get returned to dealers and sold to second owners.
“Your old days of your typical used car — you didn’t know where it came from and who drove it — that’s going to be somewhat passe. We’ll know the history of the car and then we’ll certify it. That’s what our used cars will be.”
Ballroom dancing and acting in community theater are somewhat secret passions of Ciccolo’s. He also sings in group, the Boston Minstrel Co., that performs at shelters, hospitals, senior centers, and corrections facilities.
“If I had to do it all over gain, I think I would somehow preferred to have done something — as difficult as it is — in theater.”
That friend, Hal Rosen, who persuaded Ciccolo to buy an auto dealership some 50 years ago, stayed with company until his death in 2010 at age 89.
“Until the day he passed away, he came to work every day.”
Bonus: Monday — Jan. 20 — is Ciccolo’s 76th birthday. If you see him, wish him a happy one.Erin Ailworth can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.