In male-dominated industry, this small group shines with skill and personality
She is one of the few female dealers to have followed a mother into the business and also to have seen a daughter join.
Rita is vice chairman of Rick Case Automotive Group, which ranks No. 26 on the Automotive News list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S. as ranked by 2014 new-vehicle retail sales.
She and her husband, Rick Case, operate 16 dealerships in Florida, Georgia and Ohio.
"My mom and dad were partners, like Rick and I," said Rita Case, 60, whose parents sold Honda motorcycles almost a decade before opening their Honda new-car dealership in Santa Rosa, Calif., in 1970. "She worked full time in the business like I've always done."
Most new-car dealers are men, so sons and grandsons following in the footsteps of fathers and grandfathers in the retail auto industry is a given. Mothers and daughters in the business are harder to find, but they're there. And as more daughters step up, those numbers are likely to increase.
Case's mother, Lori Manly, 82, is CFO of Manly Auto Group in Santa Rosa and is still active in the family business along with Case's brother, Brian Manly, who is dealer principal.
Case's daughter Raquel Case, in turn, demonstrated to her that young, inexperienced hires with the right personalities and drive can be taught to be successful salespeople and managers.
Raquel, 31, is the general manager of Rick Case Maserati-Alfa Romeo in Davie, Fla. She hired a staff of energetic employees, all under age 30, to open the group's Fiat store in July 201l.
In its first month, the store became the top-selling Fiat store in the nation. Raquel said the staff worked because the employees were eager to learn, enthusiastic and flexible.
"It's people skills and personality," said Raquel. "We can train the car business, but we can't train the personality."
Mary Jo Wheeler-Schueller, 38, is dealer principal of Wheelers Chevrolet in Medford, Wis. Her brother, Daniel Wheeler, 36, is her business partner in that store.
Their mother and mentor, Maryann Wheeler, 68, is dealer principal of Wheelers Chevrolet-GMC in Marshfield, Wis., and Wheelers Chevrolet and Wheelers Buick-GMC, both in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. Randy Schueller, Wheeler-Schueller's husband, is used-car manager at the Marshfield store and is enrolled in the NADA Academy.
Maryann Wheeler got into retail automotive about 50 years ago when she landed a job earning $1.10 an hour as office assistant at the Marshfield store where she is now dealer principal.
"I still love getting up in the morning coming to work," said Wheeler. "The dealership employees are like my family. Without the employees, you certainly can't be successful."
Dan Wheeler, who became Maryann's husband, was the owner. Working alongside her husband, she used her accounting skills to become the dealership's controller.
Though Maryann was happy to work behind the scenes while her husband was the public face of the dealership, she faced discrimination occasionally when she ventured out, said her daughter.
Wheeler-Schueller said her mom taught her many things, but the one that resonated the most was that the family always would run their stores ethically and honestly.
Maryann Wheeler said she prefers the lower-profile, fixed-ops side of the business and admires her daughter's outgoing personality and marketing skills.
She said Wheeler-Schueller's skills as a salesperson began to emerge in grade school.
Three years in a row, she sold more raffle tickets for a school fundraiser than her classmates. Each year, the top prize for the top seller was a TV.
The first year, the school awarded Wheeler-Schueller a small black-and-white TV. The second year, she got a small color TV. The school refused to hand over another TV the third year.
Recalls Wheeler-Schueller, laughing: "It was a Catholic school, and they just said, 'No, you're not getting it.'"