Dealer: So long, Saab sales; hello, parts and service
With brand's demise, Boston retailer hopes to tap orphaned owners
Dealer Ray Ciccolo, owner of the oldest Saab store in the country, is not giving up on the defunct brand just yet.
Ciccolo is expanding his Saab service and parts operations at a time when most Saab dealers are winding down theirs.
"If a customer trades in a Saab, someone else is going to buy it and they'll need service," says Ciccolo, president of Village Automotive Group in Boston. "So that's our goal: We're going to be the go-to Saab dealership for the Northeast."
Specifically, Ciccolo wants to be the largest Saab service and parts operator in his region and he is spending about $100,000 to do so. He is buying as many Saab parts as he can. He has consolidated his Saab parts warehouse and service center near his Volvo store in Boston to cut costs.
Ciccolo will hire two additional Saab service technicians. He will launch a direct-mail marketing campaign to Saab owners in eastern Massachusetts this month.
Finally, Ciccolo wants to buy as many of the 900 new and demonstration Saabs as he can when the Swedish automaker auctions them to dealers in the next 30 days, he says.
Ciccolo, who owns 10 stores that sell nine brands including Saab, foresees potential profits from Saab despite the brand's demise.
"Dealers aren't doing anything with the brand and so their customers are going to look to go someplace that's expanding to get good service," Ciccolo says. "I see at least three years of good business."
Saab stopped production and entered bankruptcy court last year. Last month, National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB, a company with Japanese, Swedish and Chinese investors, bought the automaker. The company plans to make electric vehicles, according to its Web site.
An emotional reunion
A brisk talker with a Boston accent, Ciccolo, 75, says his loyalty to Saab is rooted partly in his fondness for a former Saab dealer, Felix Bosshard. In 1957 Bosshard opened Charles River Saab in Watertown, Mass. In 1997, Ciccolo bought the store -- the oldest Saab dealership in the United States -- from Bosshard.
"He was a real character. He was just an icon. He was of Swiss origin and sold a Swedish-made car so his logo was a Swiss flag," Ciccolo says. "You see that on the back of a car and everyone knows that car is from Charles River Saab."
But Ciccolo, a dealer for 50 years, is driven by more than sentimentality.
"I also see it as a business opportunity," he says.
On June 1, Ciccolo moved Charles River Saab's service department from Watertown to a vacant building near his Boston Volvo store. He put his Saab parts in another vacant 7,500-square-foot building on that same property.
To gear up for his Saab service business, Ciccolo is spending about $100,000 to install computers, renovate the buildings and pay for marketing materials. But he expects the consolidation of his Saab and Volvo operations to reduce his annual costs to run the Saab store by 20 to 30 percent.
A business opportunity
Ciccolo believes there are 5,000 to 8,000 Saab owners in the Boston area who are "orphaned." He services about 25 Saabs a day, which he believes he can double with this business expansion.
Ciccolo will launch a direct-mail campaign in phases after July 4. He'll offer a $25 gift certificate for parts and service work or a free oil change to draw in customers.
"I'm going to phase it in so that I don't get overwhelmed with business I can't handle," he says. "But the region is large and people will travel a long distance to get their Saabs fixed."
Ciccolo has eight service technicians. He will hire two more to handle the extra business, he says.
Ciccolo realizes he's taking a risk. He says he'd be surprised if the Saab brand revives. But he hopes to make some profit with servicing what's on the road now.
"We're going to treat it as a business opportunity and if the brand comes back, fine." Ciccolo says. "If it doesn't we'll take care of the people we've sold Saabs to."
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