Teddy Roosevelt was president. It cost two cents to mail a letter. Most American women still hung clothes outside, cooked from scratch daily and hauled water to get their housework done, because few homes had electricity or indoor plumbing.
That was America on June 16, 1903 when Henry Ford and 11 investors established the Ford Motor Co. in Michigan. Once they incorporated, they moved swiftly: They sold their first car – a two-cylinder Model A – on July 23. Five months later, Ford Motor Co. had produced 1,707 more. It seemed there was no stopping them.
Paul F. Ricart was born 14 years later and 300 miles away on the other side of Lake Erie. By then, Ford in Michigan had produced more than 1 million cars and the man behind it all, visionary Henry Ford, had doubled his employees’ wages, creating a middle class that could afford to buy the cars they made. By 1917, Ford had also introduced the world’s first moving assembly line and broken ground on the Rogue plant, which still operates in Detroit today.
Though they never met, Henry Ford’s “I can do it” attitude helped shape a small kid from Erie, Pennsylvania into a fearless but colorful car dealer and visionary named Paul Ricart. He is where Ricart Automotive’s story begins ...
Paul Ricart is born to John and Sophia Ricart in the blue collar town of Erie, Pa. Paul’s family is not blue collar. John Ricart is a first-generation German- American who owns his own insurance business. Paul’s mother, Sophia Schmid Ricart, is a stay-at-home mom. The two are so independent that when Paul and his three brothers graduate from East High School, John Ricart finances his sons’ college education with the rent he collects from an apartment building that he owns.
Alta Brewer is born in Erie. Her parents are Clyde Brewer and Ethel Dunn Brewer. After graduating from East High School, Alta attends nurses’ training for two years and then works in Beverly Hills for Dr. Verne R. Mason, an eminent internist and associate of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes.
Paul studies music, history and education at Muskingum College in New Concord, OH and graduates with a bachelor’s degree. Blessed with an exceptional tenor voice, he also wins first place in a 1939 Pennsylvania state opera competition, but his $500 prize check bounces. Paul’s children later remember that at sporting events as the crowd stands to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” those around Paul quiet just to hear his voice.
Paul Ricart with his mother Sophie. Paul is a sophomore at Muskingum College, New Concord, Ohio about 1937.
After college, Paul returns to Erie to become foreman in a GE plant that makes trains. His job is so important to America’s defense, that following the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Paul’s enlistment is deferred. In 1943, receives officers’ training at the Columbia Midshipman’s School at Columbia, University, New York City, where the Navy uses 10 buildings. His job? Fix what breaks. Later in his life, Paul says very little of his war experiences, though his children recall that he was prone to seasickness. He also told them that avocados were the only fruit in the Philippines without bugs.
Paul and Alta meet at a 10-year East High School reunion and marry four years later in Erie. The newlyweds move into the apartment building owned by Paul’s father, and they start a family.
Paul continues working at the GE plant, but he moonlights at a corner gas station where he also sells used cars that he and Alta fix up. He does the mechanical and bodywork; she repairs the upholstery. They make on average about $50 a car, or $450 in 2012 dollars.
Paul begins writing to the Ford Motor Co., asking about becoming a Ford dealer, but he gets no response. Finally, Alta – unbeknownst to Paul – writes directly to Henry Ford II, chastising him for failing to respond to Paul’s letters. Paul was, she says, an upstanding, college-educated family man and a veteran of World War II who loved Fords. That is the letter that gets Ford’s attention.
Henry Ford II sends an investigator to Erie to check out Paul Ricart. The investigator talks to all of Paul’s neighbors in the apartment building where Paul and Alta live. He fails to realize that all of Paul’s neighbors there are Paul’s brothers!
1953 Paul and Alta agree to buy a small Ford dealership in Canal Winchester, Ohio. They like Solt Ford because of its proximity to Columbus, Ohio’s state capital, and its access to State Route 33. Paul borrows $4,000 from a bank, $4,000 from an aunt and $4,000 from the Veterans’ Administration. Paul opens for business on at Ricart Ford, 28 E. Waterloo St. on July 4, 1953, a day he picks for its symbolism. As Paul and Alta relocate from Erie, they already have two children: daughter Robin and baby son, Paul Fredrick Ricart Jr. In adulthood, Paul Jr. becomes Ricart Ford’s iconic pitchman Fred Ricart.
1956 As part of his agreement with Ford Motor Co., Paul agrees to build a bigger, better showroom to replace the tiny Ford store on East Waterloo. He buys 9 acres at Ohio 33 and Bowen Road. Before he dies in 1999, Paul will have built three more Ricart Ford showrooms, each one on a bigger piece of property, and the Bowen Road facility becomes Ricart VanLand.
Ricart Ford consumes Paul Ricart’s life. From the start, he and Alta see Ricart Ford’s proximity to Columbus, the Lockbourne Air Force Base and southeastern Ohio as growth opportunities for their small business. Paul begins by building his reputation as Central Ohio’s “low price” dealer and advertising that he will never be undersold. That gains him both friends and foes. Consumers love him, but Columbus metro dealers start to hate him.
Paul’s Columbus competitors complain to Ford and the automotive trade press that a “fringe dealer” in Canal Winchester is unfairly competing for their customers. Paul negotiates the price of a new Ford from what any car costs his dealership, not from the price Ford recommends. He sells more cars to Columbus buyers than some of the dealers who complain about him. He expands service and parts.
Paul sells more new Fords than Ford delivers to Ricart, so Paul buys new inventory from other Ford dealers -- though some of these other dealers are told to stop selling to Paul. Ford tells him he’s “not” a Columbus dealer. The local Ford dealer network bars him from advertising in Columbus or in the Lockbourne AFB newspaper. Per his attorney’s advice, he takes notes and tracks letters to Ford. He continues to expand service and parts.
A Columbus dealer complains to Ford’s dealer association in Dearborn, gaining some sympathy. But some of the things he says bother Ford’s Ohio representative. Paul’s attorney suspects Ford knows that Paul now has a Dearborn lawyer. His relationship with Ford thaws and car delivery improves. After some back and forth, Ford OKs Paul’s plans to build a larger Ricart Ford in Columbus at State Route 33 and South Hamilton Road.
Roger Hawkins, Paul’s right-hand man, presents Paul’s plans for a new Ricart Ford at State Route 33 and Hamilton Road to a local zoning board. Why Roger? Because Paul and Alta are enjoying a Ford-paid trip to Hawaii, courtesy of Paul’s success at Ricart Ford. Paul’s plans for the new Ricart Ford are prophetic: a dealership so large that it can accommodate a 1,000-car inventory, a fishing lake and a test track. Paul gets the nod for the showroom and service department. Roger Hawkins, Paul’s right-hand man, presents Paul’s plans for a new Ricart Ford at State Route 33 and Hamilton Road to a local zoning board. Why Roger? Because Paul and Alta are enjoying a Ford-paid trip to Hawaii, courtesy of Paul’s success at Ricart Ford. Paul’s plans for the new Ricart Ford are prophetic: a dealership so large that it can accommodate a 1,000-car inventory, a fishing lake and a test track. Paul gets the nod for the showroom and service department.
Paul buys the first 34 acres of today’s Ricart Mega Mall and builds the third Ricart Ford showroom. The land was part of two sisters’ farm in southeastern Franklin County. Long-time Ricart employees remember walking up a gravel road surrounded by cornfields to get to the dealership. Used car sales were handled from a trailer. A later purchase resulted in today’s 67-acre Ricart Mega Mall. This 1965 Ricart Ford showroom that Paul built is Ricart Administration today, housing executive, HR, accounting and advertising offices.
Fred Ricart graduates from high school and enrolls in Case Western Reserve University’s pre-med program. Fred returns to the dealership in 1973 to help his father. Young Fred is smart, creative, musical and loves everything to do with engines. Fred usually wears a suit and sneakers to work.
Rhett Ricart graduates from Canal Winchester High School and enrolls at The Ohio State University to study marketing. After graduating in three years, Rhett launches his own repo business. Rhett is smart, analytical, musical and loves everything to do with engines. Most days, you’ll find Rhett in a three-piece suit.
Freds family is growing and he and his high-school sweetheart (Lynne Meadows) live nearby the original dealership. Rick Ricart, Fred’s oldest son, is born. Fred and Lynne will go on to have five children.
Both the sons (Fred & Rhett) are on board at Ricart Ford to help their father. Fred concentrates on Ricart advertising, while Rhett works in finance. Fred launches his singing commercials.
Fred and Rhett find a way to make Ford’s “turn and earn” policy work for them: Car dealers sell a car and the manufacturer replaces it, limiting opportunities for growth. Ricart Ford takes models that other dealers cannot sell due to limited consumer appeal. In time, Ricart increases the number of new cars it gets from Ford.
Jared Ricart, Rhett Ricart’s oldest son, is born.
Fred and Rhett use Ricart Ford as a kind of laboratory where they launch a program to see if it works. If it’s a success, they tweak it to get the bugs out. If it flops, they cut their losses and quickly move on.
Ricart sponsors The Bluegrass Classic/ Frontier Ranch. Now called Musicians Against Childhood Cancer, the bluegrass festival features top Emmy-winning Nashville artists and has raised more than $500,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Fred and Rhett bring business practices to Ricart that are usually tapped for retail stores. They track customer preferences, and make sure they have cars and trucks with the most requested features and the most popular colors in stock at all times.
They also hire Cincinnati-based Friedman-Swift for market research. What Fred and Rhett learn helps to shape Ricart Ford and Fred’s and Rhett’s business practices. Most significantly, they ask why people don’t shop Ricart.
Ricart Ford is the world’s largest Ford dealer and among the top five U.S. dealerships. We sell 11,283 new and used vehicles, generating $128 million in sales. We employ 410. Walter Cronkite personally congratulates Fred.
Ricart opens its first PayDays location.
Ross Ricart, Fred’s youngest son, is born.
Rhett is named the Columbus area finalist for SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year.
Fred produces on average 60 commercials a year.
Ricart adds Jeep-Eagle to its lineup. It also adds Isuzu and Mitsubishi. It eventually sells Jeep. It operates Ricart Isuzu until Isuzu quit shipping to the U.S. Ricart still operates Ricart Mitsubishi and stocks Isuzu parts.
A WSYX-TV poll asks viewers which local TV commercial did they think was most outrageous: Fred’s “Son of Columbus,” a spoof on the “Son of Heaven” art show, scored 81 percent.
By October, 43 percent of all new Ford cars and trucks sold in Central Ohio come from Ricart Ford.
Ricart Ford sells more than 24,000 cars. We are America’s No. 1 Ford dealer. We open Mini VanLand and sell 200-300 Ford Aerostars each month.
Ricart tests a 24-hour mobile service for emergencies and minor repairs or oil changes.
Fred Ricart is an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
Ricart adds Nissan when it is awarded the former State Nissan.
Ricart is again named the top-selling Ford dealer in the United States.
Ricart begins a relationship with Arnold Schwarzenegger to help promote his bodybuilding and fitness event in Columbus.
Ricart adds VW and Mazda, but it sheds VW when Mazda moves to the Mega Mall.
Rhett Ricart named 1993 Ohio Business person of the year by OSU’s Alpha Kappa Psi Professional Business Fraternity.
Ricart adds Hummer to Ricart Jeep Eagle, but it eventually gives up Hummer.
Ward’s Dealer Business identifies Ricart as the top-selling dealership in the U.S., based on sales volume.
J.D. Power comes to the Ricart Mega Mall to study Ricart’s approach to customer satisfaction.
Ford Motor Co. names Ricart Ford as its top selling outlet for the 1993 model year. This is the seventh year in a row that Ricart receives such a designation.
Ricart is the largest dealership in the United States, according to Ward’s Dealer Business. Ricart sold 10,490 new cars. It has 900 employees.
Jared Ricart, now age 14, begins working at Ricart. He washes cars on the wash rack.
Ricart establishes Central Ohio Credit Corp., a financing arm for its used car business. In 1998, it buys a 20,000-square-foot office building in Reynoldsburg to accommodate growth.
Ricart adds Hyundai. It still operates Ricart Hyundai.
Ricart adds Chrysler Plymouth to its Jeep-Eagle store. Ricart Jeep-Eagle is the largest Jeep-Eagle dealership in the U.S. Ricart eventually sells off Chrysler Plymouth to Byers.
Ricart is again the largest dealership in the U.S., per Ward’s Dealer Business.
Fred’s face becomes so recognizable that Eastland Vocational School District taps him to drum up support for a school levy. It passes.
Ricart regains top spot as America’s largest dealership, based on sales.
Ricart adds Kia. It still operates Ricart Kia.
Ricart launches Ricart Aviation Sales LLC. It eventually winds down this business.
Ohio Supreme Court clears the way for a Ricart company to sell home, auto and small business insurance in Ohio.
Ricart is the second largest dealership in the U.S., according to trade publication Ward’s Dealer Business. Ricart sells 10,451 new cars and 11,039 used cars.
Ricart launches Ricart Cellular and Paging.
Ricart launches Tracir Property & Casualty Co. Inc. to sell auto insurance to customers.