Country Magazine sits down with RICK MANCUSO, owner of the Ferrari dealership Lake Forest Sportscars, to share his story in his own words.
How did you get started? My father was a Chevrolet dealer in Skokie from 1953 until 1994. I worked with him and my brother during the 70s. It was the best of times and the worst of times. The best was working with my dad. The worst was working with my dad. We were very much alike and there-in lay the problem. I quit in 1979. He gave me two weeks’ pay and use of my company car for 30 days. It was a rough parting. Ultimately, we became the best of friends. I think of him every day.
Were you always interested in cars? Always. But especially from the first moment I saw a Corvette. I still love Corvettes. It’s my Chevrolet DNA. I drew pictures of cars every day in school. Cars were all I thought about. I was a terrible student. I hated when the teachers would interrupt my drawings and my day dreaming to try and teach me something.
Is it hard to get a Ferrari franchise? Not hard… impossible unless you try and buy out an existing dealer. Ferrari keeps a tight lid on car supply as well as dealerships. For example, there are 3,000 Chevrolet dealers, 16,000 franchised new car dealers in all, and over 60,000 used car dealers in the United States. There are only 40 official Ferrari dealerships in North America and just under 200 in the world. We enjoy a worldwide network of great friends. This year, our Ferrari racing team will race in up to six different countries where we are always made to feel at home. It’s a pretty nice club!
You originally opened in Lake Forest on Western Avenue, right? Yes, we spent 23 great years there leasing the building from the Swarthouts, who were wonderful landlords and friends. I signed the first lease with Floyd Swarthout Sr. at his house on Westleigh Road one night sitting at his kitchen table. The rent was 3K per month for the first few years. I loved being in downtown Lake Forest, especially with all my kids going to school in town. It was a great way for all of us to grow up.
You have added franchises over the years and sold some but always kept Ferrari. Why? Over the last two years, we have sold off all the other brands so that we can concentrate on Ferrari. We were able to work out a plan where we can increase our Ferrari business in every segment as we focus on only Ferrari. This creates opportunities for us to grow our Ferrari business in several different areas. The Ferrari business opportunities are of course new cars; certified pre-owned modern and classic Ferrari sales; Ferrari parts and accessories; Formula 1 events in 16 countries; Ferrari Challenge Series participation; client driving programs; classic Ferrari certifications and restorations; Ferrari Financial Services; and custom built Ferrari cars. We enjoy a very close relationship with Ferrari both here and at the factory in Maranello, Italy. Ferrari is all we do and who we are.
Did you ever meet Enzo Ferrari? Yes, a few times during the 80s when we would go to the factory every year or so. Those were very special moments. Maranello is the automotive version of the Vatican, and Mr. Ferrari was the automotive version of the Pope. I have a framed letter from him, signed in his purple ink, welcoming me to the Ferrari family. It is especially meaningful for me as I was sued twice to prevent me from becoming a Ferrari dealer by other dealers. I’m no
stranger to fights.
Motorsports seems to be a part of everything you do. Why? In the movie LeMans, Steve McQueen is rumored to have authored the lines ‘Racing is life. Everything that happens before and everything that happens after is waiting.’ That’s the hardcore version, which many drivers live with. I did for a while as well when I was a factory supported driver. From my perspective, racing has always had a business aspect to it. It opens lots of doors closed to others. Racing has positioned us very positively with car manufacturers and has helped us obtain franchises over the years. Even today we have a motorsports provision in our contract with Ferrari, which specifies that we have a minimum of two Ferrari Lake Forest Team cars entered at every Ferrari Challenge race. I do enjoy the racing when it goes well and dislike it intensely when it does not, perhaps somewhat like my golf game!
You have your family working with you. That doesn’t usually work out well so why does it seem to be working so well for you? It’s working because we are all in different areas of the business. My oldest son Adam is our COO and a graduate of the Lake Forest School of Management MBA program and on the Board of Directors of the American International Automobile Dealer Association. Dan Carver is our highly skilled, factory trained general manager, classic and supercar expert, and a graduate of Lake Forest College. Cassie Carver, another graduate of Lake Forest College, manages our events, our digital presence, and Ferrari client hospitality worldwide. Nick, UCSB graduate, is our general sales manager and recently was accepted into the Kellogg MBA program. They’re better in every one of these areas than I am so they really run things and I need to stay out of their way in most cases! My time is spent mostly with our manufacturer, Ferrari, our motorsports programs, and Ferrari events all over the world. Plus I also attend many of the worldwide RM/Sotheby’s classic car auctions as we are developing our classic Ferrari preowned business, which is our fastest growing segment. It’s a delightful position and I really enjoy it. And I think they like having me doing all those things as it supports everything they are doing. Good team focus.
Do you see yourself retiring soon? I’m not sure I have anything to retire from. I love what I do so much and especially now that we are exclusively Ferrari. I’ve never had a real nine-to-five, wear a tie job, in my life. I’ve been a ski instructor, a professional sports car driver, and now a Ferrari dealer. I’ve had a dream situation all my life. Maybe I’ve never grown up? That’s ok with me. Perhaps a bit less ok with my wife.
What is your relationship with the Navy SEALS? Adding again to my dream scenario, this is one of the great honors of my life! We help assist naval special warfare team guys, predominately SEALS, transition from active duty into the civilian world. We’ve been doing this for just over five years. We do this by hosting events with them and introducing them to local business people and others in private life. We provide an office for them here at the dealership and have many discussions about anything they want to discuss. I treasure the relationship. We will do anything we can to help them in any way we can. Just like they do for all of us. They are some of my best friends. I, my family, our staff here, and our friends and clients have learned so much from them about core values such as teamwork, valor, loyalty, brotherhood, focus, and mission completion. They have changed the way we approach running the dealership by embracing the team concept at a level I never imagined. Best guys ever. I wish they were running 100 percent of this country.
Who are your buyers? Seventy percent of our buyers are entrepreneurs from the greater Midwest area (within 500 miles). Ten percent are medical specialists and health care, 10 percent are attorneys (mostly personal injury attorneys), and 10 percent are athletes and celebrities of all types. It’s a very interesting mix; you never know who is calling or where they are calling from when you pick up a sales call here.
Does everyone pay cash? Sixty percent-plus of our transactions are financed or leased, especially with this low-rate environment. Ferrari Financial Services is very active in making it easy to own a new or pre-owned Ferrari of any year or any value. FFS will even provide credit lines for approved owners when they go to auctions such as RM/Sotheby’s, which are held all over the world. We have never had, in almost 40 years, the character that comes in with the suitcase of cash like many people think we’ve had. It’s all checks or finance contracts, and that’s fine with us.
What is your favorite Ferrari? Interesting question. Enzo Ferrari’s answer to that question was always ‘the next one.’ And I agree with him almost 100 percent. However, I do have a favorite right now… our 488 Ferrari Challenge racecar, which I love driving especially at places like Daytona, Sebring, and possibly LeMans this year. It is so intoxicating at every level—sight, sound, smell, emotion, art, speed, it ticks every box for me. A little bit of McQueen’s description of racing still resonates with me.
Do you own the entire business? We’re 100 percent family owned and always have been. Ferrari likes it that way, and so do we. It keeps us very nimble so that we can make team decisions quickly and efficiently, and every decision we make is for the good of our long-term business plans. It’s hard to beat that. I’ve been on three Boards of Directors and resigned from all three because there was no teamwork, no focus, and too many hidden agendas. No one had anyone’s back covered unless they were aiming at it. That’s not for me.
How many cars do you sell each year? I’m often asked that, and the answer usually surprises people. For 2017, we sold and delivered over 100 new and pre-owned Ferraris. In November alone, we delivered 19 new and preowned. That was fun. Our target for 2018 is to do better than 2017 and we are well underway. These numbers are especially meaningful to me because I remember that first day, long ago when there was one car, myself, and Greg Berner all alone in the Western Avenue building. Later, we were joined by Tyler Dean, David Pigg, Drexel Stitt, and Sue Machonga. Everyone is still here today and that’s why our sales and service are excellent—because our team is.
Lake Forest Sportscars is located at 990 North Shore Drive in Lake Bluff, 847-295-6560, ferrarilakeforest.com.