How Francesco Policaro helped turn a single car dealership into a half-billion dollar business

Policaro says the key to his company’s success is simple: respect everyone

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While most teenagers were chasing a soccer ball or their first kiss, Francesco Policaro started chasing his dream by selling his first car while still in high school.

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“I was the kind of kid who flipped through Car and Driver and Road & Track magazines,” he says.

Peddling this used 1992 Acura Vigor was a prelude to a career in car sales that quickly propelled the 46-year-old to the helm as CEO of one of the nation’s leading car sales groups . It was at the feet of his father and his uncles who emigrated from Italy in the 1960s that Policaro fell in love with cars.

“I was a dealership rat. I was always in the store and loved it, so I’ve been going to it all my life. And being in the business side of the auto industry since I was very young, it was just very natural for me.

The brothers – Basil, Tony and Paul – rose through the ranks from delivering parts and pumping gas to selling cars.

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In 1979, they bought a Toronto-area dealership – Satellite City Honda – and four years later a Hyundai dealership in Brampton, Ontario, caught the eye by offering a free car wash with every service visit. .

Francesco Policaro, General Manager of the Policaro Group.
Francesco Policaro, General Manager of the Policaro Group. Photo by courtesy Policaro Group

That early flirtation with the idea of ​​offering something different, something that stands out to the customer, has stuck with Policaro, who says the key to his company’s success is simple: respect everyone.

“It’s the way we treat people, the way we treat the community – it’s genuine,” says Policaro, whose company pays a living wage of $17.50 an hour to entry-level workers and is extensively involved in giving back to society through the Policaro Foundation, which donates money to pediatric centers in Ontario hospitals.

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In 1987, the Policaro brothers had opened the first Acura dealership in Canada, and over the next four decades, the Policaro Group grew into a half-billion dollar – and growing – organization with six dealerships in southern Ontario. The latest additions are in the luxury market: Land Rover, Porsche, Jaguar, Volvo and BMW dealerships in the Kitchener-Waterloo and Etobicoke, Ontario areas. The group also owns four ancillary businesses: Policaro Performance, Policaro Motorsport, Policaro Leasing and Motion Endeavours.

According to Policaro, when making such a large purchase, especially when it comes to a luxury purchase, customers are more likely to take a hands-on approach. They want to see the car. Touch that. Drive it.

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“Customers are very passionate about dealing with this specific brand and so there is always an appetite for brand immersion where they like to come in and really experience the brand, get professional advice and professional knowledge even if they do the majority of their online searches.

And make no mistake, the company’s migration to online shopping does not extend beyond high-end vehicles. “What we saw during COVID was a shift towards e-commerce and digitization and less contact during the customer journey of the buying process, so those are all things that will definitely change and reshape our business.”

Francesco Policaro and world champion driver Daniel Morad, announcing the launch of the Porsche Center Oakville racing team in the 2015 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge.
Francesco Policaro and world champion driver Daniel Morad, announcing the launch of the Porsche Center Oakville racing team in the 2015 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge. Photo by Policaro Automotive Family/CNW Group

To that end, the Policaro Group has been at the forefront of user-friendly technology that allows the customer to get into the automotive game without leaving home. During the pandemic, it unveiled Policaro Access, an AI-powered software that gives customers various options for testing and purchasing vehicles and can track a vehicle delivered to their doorstep.

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While Policaro foresees a change in business model, closer to an Amazon system where a car is just a click away, he believes physical dealerships in the high-end auto sector are on solid footing.

“While things are changing and I think we will continue to see an increase in the number of people who will transact online and the number of people who will engage us online and want to do a little more online to create a little more of a frictionless and perhaps touchless experience, I think that will happen gradually over time and we will always be one of the last industries to go completely online,” he says.

Recent disruptions in the auto industry, including supply chain disruptions, have resulted in dealerships carrying fewer cars and trucks. And the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been the best time to sell premium vehicles. But Policaro is confident that those in the industry willing to shift gears will not only survive, but thrive.

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“We constantly have customers who come in to build their brand new car and configure their vehicle, and they have questions that may need answers from people who do it every day and who have the experience and knowledge to saying ‘hey these are the options you’ve selected and here are some options we think you should have on the car for ABC reasons’ so there’s always that reliance and reliance on some guidance professionals.

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He says that when it comes to buying a car, the test drive remains the litmus test. And this test is best done at a dealership.

“When you do this from home, a vehicle comes your way, but it might not be the ideal vehicle for you. There are different powertrains, there are different power levels, different vehicles to try out and so I think the test drive is always one of the main reasons customers come to visit us.

While Policaro says he can see autonomous vehicles hitting our roads probably in the “mid-2030s, maybe 2040s,” there will still be a role on the retail side to take care of those customers. .

“I still think people will continue to have a need, or at least there will be a demand for personal vehicles, even when self-driving, to have that privacy and that sense of independence. There’s always fear of the unknown because there is change, but we have been very resilient in this industry.

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