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Once a gamble, foreign makes are Ciccolo's sales success

Posted by Bill Griffith  November 2, 2010 05:00 PM

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(Bill Griffith for The Boston Globe)

Ray Ciccolo, left, and son-in-law Tony Bartolotti outside their new Hyundai dealership in Danvers.

One in an occasional series from the Globe Automotive section that profiles the CEOs of Greater Boston car dealers. It is not a paid advertisement or intended to imply any kind of endorsement by the Globe or author.

There's a now-abandoned auto dealership on Route 1 in Danvers. Until last month, it housed Hyundai Village's operations.

However, both Hyundai and the Village Automotive Group have been moving up in recent years. Nationally, Hyundai had a September sales increase of 48 percent over last September. In the Boston region that increase was 173 percent. At Hyundai Village, it was 266 percent.

Now the Hyundai Village dealership has moved into the former Colonial Cadillac / Saturn of Danvers location alongside the Liberty Tree Mall in the same town.

"We had a unique opportunity to buy these two locations in Danvers when they closed their Cadillac and Saturn stores," says Ray Ciccolo, founder and still very much hands-on owner of the eight dealerships in the Village Automotive Group.

"Over the last two years Hyundai has been the most explosive product on the market," Ciccolo says.

For 2010, Hyundai has introduced redesigned versions of its popular Sonata midsize sedan and Tucson SUV. Next year should bring more new product with the launches of the redesigned Elantra this winter and Accent next spring. That, plus a 2009 North American Car of the Year award for the Genesis sedan (with the Sonata on the 2011 ballot), made it "mandatory" to move to a larger, "more central" complex.

It's been an amazing trip for Hyundai, a brand that almost ceased its North American operations after launching its ill-fated Excel in 1986. Since then, the company has fought an image of low quality and below-average service, something it's changed only in the past few years. And the vehicle that's causing even more buzz is the coming $60,000 Equus. "It's just going to be an outrageously nice car," says Ciccolo.


If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entrepreneur such as Ciccolo to build the Village.

Most successful entrepreneurs learned the value of hard work early on. As he paid his way through Suffolk University, Ciccolo worked as a "bottle-breaker" for the Ritz-Carlton, smashing glass whiskey bottles into a barrel.

After college, he was in the laundromat business, and began buying and selling locations. If that sounds like a familiar story, rival Herb Chambers got his start doing much the same in the copying machine business.

Ciccolo's first franchise was the Gene Brown Rambler/Volvo dealership in Newton. "I don't remember any other dealers giving up domestic franchises back in 1963," he says, "but we gave up Nash to concentrate on Volvo. Nash was a tough road to sell against Ernie Boch Sr. in those days. I remember back then selling a car for $1,799 and making not a penny on the sale. The next week in the paper, he cut the price to $1,789. What an introduction to the business!"

Ciccolo renamed the dealership "Volvo Village" but had no plans to expand the name until fate intervened.

"In the '80s I bought a Chevrolet store in Needham-Village Chevrolet," he says. "That's when I said to myself, 'You've got two stores with the Village name now. You might as well keep it going.'

"It's only been in the past year that we began making a concerted effort to brand the Village dealerships as an entity. Before that, each dealership was able to do its own thing from a marketing standpoint."

For that, he's got plenty of help. Ciccolo and his wife, Grace, have three daughters. "We're fortunate. All three of those families are involved in the business," he says. Daughter Christine is the general manager at Honda Village in Newton Corner. One son-in-law, Phil Jackson, is working on marketing for the entire Village group. And son-in-law Tony Bartolotti is GM at Hyundai Village in Danvers and overseeing sales management for the group.

"Employee satisfaction equals customer satisfaction," say Ciccolo and Bartolotti almost in unison.

The other shops in the Village are the flagship Boston Volvo and Volvo Village of Norwell, Cadillac Village of Norwood, Charles River Saab (the nation's oldest Saab dealership), and Saab of Norwood.

Ciccolo says he's working on a major expansion plan beyond his new Hyundai dealership. It could mean the Village will become a metropolis.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
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Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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