Photos by Rosetta Annino Unless Noted
45 years ago, Ralph Mangino Sr. purchased a small Pontiac dealership in Ballston Spa, NY.
Living by the mantra that the customer always comes first, he worked hard and instilled good values in his family and employees. Little did he know that decades later his children would be running multiple dealerships, overseeing state-of-the-art remodels, and delving into industry changing technology such as electric vehicles.
Ralph Sr. bought the Pontiac dealership in November: it was formally Ballston Motors
Buick added in March
Tina, Mike, Patty & Ralph bought the Chevrolet dealership in Amsterdam
In June, Pontiac went out during GM's reorganization.
The existing Buick/GMC building was demolished and completely re-built.
Added another 10,000 feet to the Chevrolet service department to accommodate the addition of the Medium Duty truck line to their commercial and fleet line up.
Buick-GMC to begin construction of additional 8,000 feet to the service department!
Q. What was your main pull into the family business?
Ralph: As a young kid I just wanted to be around fast cars.
Patricia: I remember wanting to be a part of it all, to learn the business. My father worked at Salisbury Chevrolet for 18 years prior, so we grew up in the auto industry.Tina: When our parents opened the dealership in 1978, they needed a warranty claims administrator. I went in part time and started handling the claims. It snowballed from there in a good way. I am very grateful for the opportunity they gave us.
Mike: The Parts Manager at the store had resigned to move back homewith his family. I was looking to not travel like I was in my previous job and was offered the opportunity by my father-in-law to take over the Parts and Accessories division of the business.
Q. What was each of your apprenticeships like?
Ralph: I started out cleaning cars and brushing the snow off cars during snowstorms. Then just working the lot and doing things that kept the lot, property, and cars in order. During the summer of my senior year in high school I started selling cars.
Patricia: I started with the post office and bank runs, low man on the totem pole. Then, little by little, I learned each portion of the accounting office, and bits and pieces of the other four departments as I went on. It was important, there were seasoned employees in place, and I was the owner's daughter. I had to prove myself and there was no special treatment given.
Mike: I had some background in warehousing which helped me learn the systems and processes in the GM Dealerships. I also attended General Motors University which is a training program for General Motors.
Q. How has technology impacted the field?
Ralph: The auto business is one of the fastest changing fields when it comes to tech so it’s very common for it to be at the forefront of new tech.
Patricia: For me, we used to keep handwritten ledgers, and if needed, search through dusty file boxes for prior years' information. Now, data is readily available to and for our customers and vendors. Our total operational analysis is at our fingertips.
Mike: On the side of doing sales and service, it has made a lot of things easier as it has evolved. It has also made the customer very educated on vehicles at the same time. Now the vehicles themselves are loaded with technology to help keep the customer connected to the vehicle and to us the dealer.
Now we are moving to the next level with electric vehicles.
Q. Your recently completed a full remodel of Buick/GMC. Tell us about that process.
Ralph: We were really lucky to have the house on the lot. When we remodeled the Chevy store in Amsterdam the crew had to work out of trailers, which is pretty common, so the house was a lot more comfortable. We took advantage of the full kitchen!
Patricia: We acquired the GMC franchise in the summer of 2011 with the factory requirement that we bring our brand image up to date to GM's standards. On April 1, 2013, the trees out back started to come down. We began with the service and parts department, then when it was time, we set up interim offices in the house that was situated on the lot. It was quite cozy with 5 sales desks and a fireplace in one room, the business office and managers in the next and finally the accounting personnel upstairs. We had access to the fully stocked kitchen where Ralph Sr. would make eggplant or zucchini parm.
I think we were fully moved back to the new building in February of 2014.
Mike: GM started a program called EBE (Essential Brand Elements). This is a program that was designed to help dealers upgrade facilities to meet brand image requirements. This worked out well for us as we had begun to outgrow the building with the business we were doing. We spent about 2 years in the design & build process to construct the all-new state-of-the-art facility. Now, we are about to add an addition to the service department to handle the all-new EV line up for GMC and Buick.
Q. What does business look like today vs. 25 years ago?
Ralph: It is different because of the tech and the product is amazing compared to 25 years ago, but really we’re doing business the way our parents taught us to, and that’s never going to change.
Tina: We still do business the same way, the customer comes first, and we stick with the principles that work for us. The biggest difference is it is harder to know each of our customers by name.
Mike: Selling vehicles today has changed with technology growth over the last 25 years. Now with the internet, the customers can begin the process online and even complete it online if they wish to. What really has not changed for most customers is the desire to touch and feel the vehicle they want to purchase. The customers still want to create a relationship with the dealership they choose to do business with.
Q. How have ‘electric/hybrid vehicles’ impacted your business?
Ralph: For us here in Ballston Spa we are just getting ready for it. We have the chargers, lifts and tools needed so we will be ready when the factory starts to release the models. Our Chevy store in Amsterdam has been selling hybrids and full electrics for a few years now.
Tina: We have invested a great deal of money in charging stations, equipment and training. Right now, there isn't a big impact as we don't have a large section of our customers interested in them.
Mike: EV is still in the initial growing stage. It has not impacted our business yet but we are certainly looking forward to this opportunity in this segment. We have orders for the new GMC Hummer that are moving into production, and we have sold hundreds of the Chevy Bolt and Bolt EV’s from our Chevrolet location in Amsterdam. With that said, we are ready for the new opportunity. Our charging stations are installed, and we have the tools and the training ready to go. As the manufacturers ramp up production and the infrastructure expands to meet this demand, we will have the vehicles and information to help the customer purchase the right vehicle for their needs.
Q. What does the revenue breakdown look like regarding new sales, used sales, service and parts?
Mike: Revenue between what we call the front end (new and used sales) and the back end (service and parts) is a good split down the middle.
Q. If you weren’t in the family business, what would you be doing?
Tina: If I only had a crystal ball….
Mike: I would probably be in the construction industry.
Q. For the larger business owners reading this, how do you handle fleet sales?
Ralph: At both the Chevy store and Buick GMC store we have fleet teams that are ready to help business owners build what they need to help their businesses. We are totally mobile so if a business wants us to come to them, that’s what we do. We are constantly picking up and dropping off vehicles to business owners just so they don’t have to take extra time by coming to us. It works great.
Mike: We have a fully staffed commercial and fleet sales division at both our dealerships. We can help with everything from the purchase of the vehicles to special pricing from GM for larger fleets. We also put together fleet maintenance programs to help customers keep their vehicles maintained and on the road. We can also help vehicle fleet cycling programs to help our customers know when it’s time to think about changing out vehicles rather than keep putting money into them, along with special financing options for Fleet businesses.
Q. What do you see as the greatest business opportunities for our region in the future?
Mike: I believe the Luther Forest Technology Park is a huge asset to Southern Saratoga region. It is producing jobs and growth in the area. Construction in the area is continuing to thrive and it is a great place to live and bring up a family.
Q. What is your best advice for a young entrepreneur starting a family business?
Patricia: Work hard until you are established then protect your good name. I would say to surround themselves with great employees and treat them right. Become involved in your local Chamber and get out in the community. Give back when you can. Business and family life will merge but that is the biggest payoff.
Tina: Take care of your customers, work hard and don't fight with your sibling. We have a great team, so it makes it easy for us.
Mike: Look your employees and customers in the eye when you speak to them. Work harder then everyone around you and the rest will take care of itself.
Books on bedside table?
Birds of Vero Beach on the coffee table.
Smith's Orchards cherry crumb with Stewart's Philadelphia Vanilla Ice Cream
One thing people don’t know about you?
I'm an open book, ask me I will tell you, but you might not like the answer.
Favorite TV show growing up?
We were outside a lot, but I did like Hollywood Squares.
If you could have lunch with anyone alive or dead, who would it be?
Too many to pick just one, but it would be people who I knew, not celebrities or politicians. Tim, Paul, Jamie; lots of regrets for one more conversation.