Chris Marhofer, 36
COO, Ron Marhofer Auto Family
Chris Marhofer began his auto retail career in his teens as a porter at Ron Marhofer Auto Family's Chevrolet store washing cars and cleaning the grounds.
"I do remember I picked up every single cigarette butt on the lot," he said.
As the Northeast Ohio group's name suggests, Marhofer joined a family business, getting his start under the eye of his father, Ron Marhofer, second-generation dealer principal of a group with deep roots. Chris Marhofer's great-uncle started the business as a repair garage in 1919 after returning from World War I.
Still, the second-generation Marhofer did not pressure his son to join the business.
"When I grew up, we talked about the business, but it was never like something I had to commit to, or never an expectation," Chris Marhofer said.
But join he did, and he ended up working a variety of jobs for the dealership group — he was a technician, parts counter employee, service adviser, salesman and sales manager before being named COO in 2016.
In that role, Marhofer has taken the 102-year-old retailer into the future and, arguably, ahead of the curve. He helped spearhead the group's launch of home deliveries in 2018 — two years before it became an auto retailing essential amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"Thankfully we were ready to go," Marhofer said. "That was already our business process, so it was not a significant change for us."
In early 2021, the Marhofer group launched a seven-day money-back guarantee. It's seldom used by customers, but the reassurance it offers is seen by Marhofer as yet another way to ensure there are no barriers to vehicles being sold through remote means such as digital retailing or home deliveries. "It earns us more business," he said of remote sales.
Marhofer has a clear-eyed view of the direction the industry is going and has helped the group adapt accordingly. He remains confident that a local, family-run business can remain competitive amid the rise of electric vehicles and online used-vehicle sales.
"Our business is going to change for sure," he said. Yet despite the shifts ahead, "I am not bearish on our industry. I am very bullish."
— David Muller