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Business Observer Thursday, Apr. 1, 2010 9 years ago

Sales Driver

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John Marazzi takes great care to hire the right people. Then he becomes their cheerleader.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

One of the Review's Best Managed Companies of 2010.

Naples has never been known as a place to get a great deal on a new car.

That is, until John Marazzi drove into town.

Marazzi, who transformed the Toyota store in Fort Myers into one of the largest-volume dealers in the country, acquired a 25% stake in the Nissan dealership in Naples that now bears his name in September 2008.

In that short span, John Marazzi Nissan in Naples has become the second-largest volume new- and used-car dealer in the Charlotte-Lee-Collier region, second only to the Fort Myers Toyota dealership, according to February sales data from Experian Automotive.

Today, John Marazzi Nissan is the 15th largest Nissan dealer in the country in February in sales volume, jumping 91 spots in one year.

Marazzi, 45, recently acquired a stake with Palm Beach auto dealer Terry Taylor in the Audi Jaguar Land Rover dealership in Fort Myers, promising to bring the same strategy of high-volume sales to that store.

The son of a dealership general manager, Marazzi grew up in the business. “I washed cars at 12, I was a lot man at 15 and I sold cars at 17,” he says. “I vowed that when I was boss, my dealership would be transformed into a business.”

Marazzi, who practices mixed martial arts to stay in shape, devours management books and biographies of accomplished people. He sometimes gets puzzled looks from employees who wonder why he's talking about moving cheese, a reference to the popular management book titled “Who Moved My Cheese?”

Most dealership managers run inefficient operations that are incestuously overstaffed and where the general manager micro-manages his employees, intimidating staff with threats and lots of yelling, Marazzi says. “What feeds people is a sense of accomplishment,” he says. “I have very high expectations and I give them authority and responsibility.”

Marazzi, whose open-door policy consists of removing the door and the hinges, says the key to running a successful operation is hiring the right people and cheering them on. He looks for candidates with smarts, a strong work ethic and a burning desire to succeed. “I hire competitive people,” Marazzi says. “Everything is about achievement.”

Red flags include job candidates who blame previous employers for their misfortune, those who don't plan out each day or those who are in difficult financial straits. To keep turnover low, Marazzi asks job candidates: “How much do you need to make to pay your bills?” Marazzi hires by consensus and won't take anyone who doesn't get the nod from all the managers in his stores.

Of all the traits of a successful employee, a strong work ethic is crucial. “You can't teach work ethic,” says Marazzi, who says he inherited his drive from his mother. “My mom was the queen of execution,” he chuckles, recalling how no home chore was ever left unfinished.

Marazzi makes sure his employees make a good wage by running a lean staff. For example, there are only 15 salesmen at the Nissan dealership in Naples, half the number of a typical dealership. “Each will do 20 cars this month,” says Marazzi, who has hired three sales assistants so the salesmen don't get bogged down by paperwork. “That's why they're all happy,” he says.

The high volume of new- and used-car sales drives business to the high-margin repair shop, where customers are treated with gourmet coffee and snacks. At the newly acquired Audi Jaguar Land Rover store, Marazzi showed up one day recently with a big platter of food to reward the guys in the repair shop. “It's not about money,” Marazzi smiles.

Recently, Marazzi quizzed the cashiers at the newly acquired dealership to hear how they could improve customer service. “Previous managers didn't want to hear form the cashiers,” he says.

As it turns out, the cashiers had plenty of great suggestions for improving customer satisfaction, including how to better explain a bill to customers and handing out gourmet cookies after they pay. “The secret sauce is really caring,” Marazzi says.
—Jean Gruss

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