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Fred Ricart and his family business Ricart AutomotiveAsk any Cenral Ohioan who Fred Ricart is, and a majority will immediately mention one or two of the 100 TV commercials that Fred and his beautiful wife, Lynne, have produced over the past 30 years to lure customers to the family's new-car dealership in Groveport.

They'll talk about the guitar Fred always carries and probably comment on how corny some of his ads can be. Then they'll gesture. They'll wad up their left fist and swing in an arc that starts from their chin and ends near their right shoulder. "We're dealin'!" they'll say.

In Central Ohio, Fred's slogan is as well known as Fred's face.

But there's far more to Fred Ricart than an advertising icon. Aside from owning a half-stake in one of the country's largest privately held automotive groups and running its advertising and marketing division, Fred Ricart is a research scientist, a race car driver, and a musician who has played with some of the best pickers in the country.

Plus, he's the father of five grown children, two of whom shar his interest in racing the cars and motorcycles that Fred continues to design. His oldest son, Rick, is now working at the dealership.

   

 

 

 

 

 



Fred grew up around motor oilFred's father, the late Paul F. Ricart Sr., came to Central Ohio from Erie, Pa. in 1953 when he bought the former Solt Ford Dealership in Canal Winchester. Fresh from the army, the elder Ricart wanted a business where he could support his family, which at that time included his wife, the late Alta Ricart, and one son, Paul F. Ricart Jr. - today known as Fred.By the time young Freddie was 10, his parents could not keep him away from cars. From his family's home in Canal Winchester, he routinely walked under Route 33 through a 4-foot drain pipe to get to Ricart Ford, all the while toting an old medical bag given to him by his family doctor that was filled with young Fred's tools.

Aside from doing things that his father told him to do - like cleaning the bathrooms and sweeping out offices - Fred learned about motors from some of the race car drivers his father sponsored. Like Don Crapsy, who drove 427 Galaxies. And Bob Johnson, who ran the lemans in an A.C. Cobra. At that time, Fred's father - as a Ford dealer - sponsored the Lively Ones Racing Team, which to this day holds a title in the National Hot Rods Association.



In his father's service department, he watched these men and others as they built their motors. That oil not only got under young Fred's fingernails, itt seeped into his blood. As he grew, Fred would race the karts and hotrods that he built on five unimproved acres that his dad owned behind the dealership. Infact, a make-shift track was created from his plain use.

By the time he graduated from Canal Winchester High School, Fred was a bona fide fan of motorsports, and he had met the woman he would marry - Lynne Meadows Ricart, also a Canal Winchester native. His interest in all things racing is one he today shares with Lynne, who rides her own Harley-Davidson Sportster.




Fred didn't think his destiny was in selling cars. In fact, he thought his future was medicine.

After graduating from Canal Winchester High School in 1969, Ricart left home for Cleveland and Case Western University where the pre-med student studied chemistry. This is a very different Fred Ricart from the Ricart Ford pitchman he eventually became. In college, his professors knew him by his given name, "Paul."

Paul Ricart was recognized for his research. Fred studied the structure of rhodopsin, a protein responsible for black and white vision. He is credited for devising a technique that allows protein measurement to be done 10 times faster and more accurately than methods used at the time.

Fred's medical ambitions ended when he returned home in 1973 to help his father run Ricart Ford, then one of Ohio's smallest dealerships located in Canal Winchester. Though his life went in a different direction, his interest in science did not.

Fred's grasp of chemistry resulted in an animated drug education program that is available to local schools. In it, he explains how drugs work on the brain. Called "Biopower," Fred explains how catecholamines - which are natural chemicals such as dopamine and norepineophrine in the human brain - create feelings of happiness, joy and excitement. Drugs like crack cocaine stimulate similar responses initially, but they derail the brain's natural processes and lead to depression and desolation.

Biopower was validated by neuropharmacologists at The Ohio State University and caught the attention of President George H.W. Bush during a Columbus visit. For more information about Biopower or an overview of the program, Click Here.

Fred was also active with the Fairfield County Sheriff's Department in its D.A.R.E. program. He brought an all-American interest to that program with a Lamborghini painted with anti-drug messages.

 


The first time Fred used "We're Dealin"The first time that Fred used his "We're Dealin'" advertising slogan was 1985, some 11 years after his father asked him to come home from Case Western Reserve to help out at the family's small Ricart Ford store.

But those 11 years are chalk full of lessons that helped Fred and his brother, Rhett, shape a business plan that would take their father's showroom from one of the smallest operations in Ohio to the largest in the country.

For Fred, on of his first lessons came by way of rejection. Ricart, then in his 20s, approached adman David Milenthal in Columbus for help with advertising, Milenthal, quite rightly at the time, told Fred his business was too small to afford an ad agency's steep fees for TV commercial production.

So Fred did the next best thing. He lined up his own production staff, initially outsourcing the duties. His first commercials were anything but memorable. Infact, they pictured Fred sitting at an office desk, pounding the table, with messages for consumers about that week's great buys at Ricart Ford. There was no creative. No stunts. No props. No costumes. Not even a guitar.

That changed, almost by happenstance. One afternoon, a production crew that Fred hired taped him walking through Ricart Ford's new car lot at what is now the Ricart Mega Mall. Unaware that he was on film, Fred strummed his guitar, adlibbing a song: "I got too many Escorts .... I don't know what to do. I got the Ford Escort blues."



The video crew convinced Fred to pitch his cars that way. After carful consideration - and lacking the support of Ford Motor Co. - Central Ohio was introduced to the new Fred Ricart, the guitar-bearing icon that Central Ohioans know today.

That single change raised Ricart's consumer awareness so high that it increased sales, eventually drawing crowds of shoppers every Saturday from all over Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Michigan. Ricart Ford was the world's largest Ford dealership for nearly a dozen years in the 1980s and 1990s and it remains the nations largest, privately held automotive campus.

And in the heart of the 70-acre Ricart Mega Mall, nestled in a corner of the company's executive offices -- is the recording studio that Fred built. Today, Ricart Automotive is one of the few new-car sales companies that maintains its own production studio and production staff. That studio is where a couple of Central Ohio's entrepreneurs, including Todd Emrick and Jim Hern, started to learn their craft.




Fred Ricart, The MusicianWhat does Fred Ricart have in common with Crosby Stills Nash & Young? How about Bonnie Raitt, bluegrass greats Tonny Rice and Ralph Stanley or Neil Young?

The answer is music. Fred shared the stage with Crosby Stills Nash & Young at the Olive Tree coffee house in Cleveland in the 1970s when the rock 'n rollers made an impromptu appearance. In fact, he opened for Bonnie Raitt at the Olive Tree in Cleveland.

He often plays with Tony Rice, a long time friend. Rice and dozens of other major bluegrass stars come to Central Ohio for the annual Musicians against Childhood Cancer music festival, which Fred Ricart has sponsored for 20 years. In recent years, the annual festival has raised more than $300,000 for St. Jude's Children's Hosptial.

Fred's got music in his genes. The late Paul F. Ricart Sr., Fred's dad, was recognized as the best opera singer in Pennsylvania in 1931., a title that came with a $500 cash award. Unfortunately that check bounced when Paul Sr. tried to cash it.

In his lifetime, Fred has played more than a dozen instruments, though the guitar has always been his favorite. He was a student of Nicholas J. Perrini, a Capital University professor, when Fred was in high school. In their courting days, he taught Lynne how to play: she has demonstrated her skill time and again on Ricart TV ads, which she also writes and produces.

Fred's musical genius extends to building guitars. One he built with guitarist Clay Hass, a former Ricky Skaggs musician, and Todd Sams, noted Ohio State banjo champion, is based on a 1937 Martin that Fred owns. Fred borrowed elements of the Martin's acoustic chamber and tone bars. You can still buy that Ricart guitar through Ttodd Sams at Stewart-MacDonald Guitar Shop Supply in Athens. Just ask Todd Sams. He'll know the one you're talking about.

Today, Fred plays his guitars as much as he drives his race cars. He oftentimes changes bridge plates or plays around with his guitar's frets. He makes some of his own repairs using dental equipment and a ceramic composed of boron glass particles that grows hard to absorb no tone. Now that's something only a chemist would know!



He is now adding to his "how to play guitar" series. Click Here to go to the lessons.
 


Fred the Race Car DriverFred's boyhood interest in motors and racing has followed him to adulthood. When he was a Case Western student, Ricart was racing a Mustang at the National Trail Raceway and drag racing at the Thompson Motor Speedway.

His interest took a back seat to his family, however, once his oldest son Ricky was born. But Fred eventually introduced him to the sport. They began building and racing karts at Harrisburg, an oval outside Orient, and at Circleville.



Today, Fred and his younger son, Ross, race the Rotax Max series at Circleville, where they won several contests in 2006. In February 2007, Ross set a fast time at the 2.02-mile Roebling Road Raceway near Savannah in a Sports Car Club of America Spec Miata. It was young Ricart's first time racing behind the wheel of a car. He finished the course 3 seconds faster than the course record of 1:26.14.

Today, Ross is a student at Florida State University. Rick has already followed in his father's footsteps to Ricart Automotive, where he's manager at the Ricart Mega Mall.

Fred's racing interests also extends to Motorcross, a sport he took up until 10 years ago when he broke both his wrists. While the accident stymied Fred's Motorcross career, it launched Lynne's interest in TV advertising. To help her ailing husband - and in spite of having five children at home - Lynne began writing and producing many of Ricart's most memorable TV spots.

In the last year, Fred has won SCCA sanctioned races at Sebring and Moroso, in Palm Beach County, Fla. where he still holds a track record for a race in ana RX7 Spec Miata. And he continues working on his custom Harley Davidsons at his home.

On occasion, Fred will race with his brothers, Rhett and Pete Ricart. Pete heads Ricart Automotive Group's Motorcross division, while Rhett oversees daily operations at the dealership.



The dealership that Fred built

Fred's advertising in the 1980s and 1990s is chiefly responsible for Ricart Automotive's rapid rise on the dealership map, earning distinctions that range from largest Ford store in Ohio to largest dealership in the world! In fact, by 1990, Fred was recognized nationally as an ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. That's one big honor.

But the Ricart strategy goes a little further than advertising.

Fred and his brother Rhett knew early on that car options are just like car color and various makes: Some are more popular than others. So the Ricarts began to measure customer choice. They often know before the manufactures what a make's top sellers are. Then they make sure those are the cars they order from the factory. The result? When a customer comes to Ricart, they are reasonably assured that Fred stocks what's hot.

The Ricarts recognized that the 100,000 mile warranties on Korean makes were a big draw for their customers. So what did they do? They extended that offer to all new cars purchased from Ricart Automotive. Not long after, some American manufactures extended their warranties as well.

In 2007, the Ricarts began offering a 6-month exchange policy on cars sold at the Ricart Used Car Factory. If a customer doesn't like the vehicle they selected six months before, he or she can return it to the Used Car Factory - in good shape -- for some other model. That's just the way Fred thinks.

That kind of innovation hasn't gone unnoticed. Ricart Automotive has been a case study for years for graduate business students in the book Consumer Behavior and a laboratory where J.D. Power, the Detroit-based automotive think tank, has held meetings to examine Ricart's practices.

Fred and his brother are recognized as auto dealers who love the car business. In the words of one auto journalist, they're a breath of fresh air in what's otherwise become a "staid" industry flush with public companies.

Still, at its heart, Ricart Automotive holds dear those values that Paul F. Ricart Sr. brought to the company when he bought a small Ford store in Canal Winchester more than 50 years ago. Every day, the Ricarts credit their terrific employees and great customers for its success.