The Highway Much less Traveled, Half 1


It’s a superb “Greetings From Sunny Florida” postcard morning, and Rita Case, queen of the Rick Case Automotive Group empire, is buzzing alongside like a turbocharged engine.

As traditional, she’s dressed to kill in any boardroom: smooth skirt and jacket. Energy pumps. And her trademark hat. Right this moment’s alternative, an aesthetic pink pillbox quantity, is plucked from her assortment of greater than 250.

She welcomes a visitor to company headquarters at Rick Case Kia, onerous by the Sawgrass Expressway, and instantly launches right into a tour of the foyer and hallways full of trophies and plaques honoring Rita and her late husband for his or her many achievements within the auto business and devoted work in charities.

The convention room glitters with extra awards and testimonials, earned by 60 years within the enterprise and 40 years of marriage. In relation to shiny {hardware} accolades, the Case assortment makes the New York Yankees’ haul appear to be it could possibly be saved in an overhead bin.

Rita Case easily slipped into the motive force’s seat of Rick Case Automotive Group as CEO and president after her husband, an automotive legend, died of most cancers in September 2020. Reality is, she at all times had a hand firmly gripping the wheel.

“We had a tremendous enterprise relationship,” Rita, 67, says. “Rick knew how he needed it achieved, and he instructed me to get it achieved.”

Given her day-to-day function working the operational aspect of the 14 dealerships in South Florida and Atlanta, Rita was stunned at a number of the response from the general public after Rick died. A type of “Poor, Rita. No matter will she do now?”

Some noticed Rita because the dutiful and devoted spouse alongside the last word entrepreneurial husband in TV commercials. Everybody within the enterprise, together with Rick Case dealership normal managers, knew higher.

Nonetheless, her first mission was to go to each normal supervisor in individual and pledge her dedication to the corporate.

“I instructed them, ‘We’re not promoting,’” Rita says. “I instructed them that they may rely on me. I mentioned, ‘We’re going to discover methods to fill in for all of the holes that Rick has left. It’s lots, however don’t fear. Maintain promoting automobiles the best way he taught you. Maintain working what you are promoting the best way he taught you. Maintain treating prospects as your greatest associates the best way he taught you.’”

One factor Rita Case wasn’t fearful about: Rita Case.

Like Mom, Like Daughter

In the event that they measured gumption by the gallon, Rita may circle the planet with no fill-up. Her ambition and power has at all times been fueled by motivation from her mom, Lori Manly, who at 90 nonetheless stops by the Santa Rosa, Calif., dealership she opened in 1970 together with her late husband, Invoice, as the primary Honda auto vendor in the USA.

“My mother is superb,” Rita says, beaming like a schoolgirl whose mom simply interrupted first-period math class with a tray of freshly baked cookies. “From the second I can keep in mind, she at all times was doing issues that no one can imagine.”

Lori Manly raced bikes, piloted classic planes together with her husband, competed in ice skating and gymnastics, carried out in ballet and at 15 modeled for a neighborhood division retailer.

The Manlys owned a bike gross sales and restore store throughout Rita’s childhood and, not like her two brothers and sister, she took a eager curiosity within the enterprise. By age 8, she was sweeping flooring, answering telephones and sharpening bikes. At 16, she obtained two licenses—driver’s and pilot’s. Like a chip off the outdated hubcap, she additionally was racing grime bikes, competing in gymnastics and enjoying a wide range of different sports activities.

In 1968, when Honda requested California sellers who had been promoting their bikes in the event that they have been serious about pioneering their enterprise into U.S. auto gross sales, the Manlys purchased in. Two years later, their teenaged daughter was introducing curious however skeptical motorbike prospects to the tiny overseas automobiles sitting in a makeshift showroom.

“Nobody needed to purchase this automotive,” Rita remembers. “They’d say, “Oh, my God. It’s so small. Is it secure?’”

Rita was their take a look at driver, tooling round city in what she describes as an “air-cooled, 600cc tin can with two seats.”

“Some bikes had bigger engines,” she says. Her promoting factors resulting in the primary Honda car buy within the nation have been fuel mileage and maneuverability alongside the boxy, two-ton gas-guzzlers of the day.

One factor Rita was offered on—her ardour for the auto enterprise and her need and willpower to take over her household’s dealership. Her father didn’t get it. For one factor, he instructed her, “That is actually for guys. Males are those who’re automotive sellers. Let your brothers do it.”

Rita revved her engine in reply.

“Why? I will be higher than them.”

Lori Manly was all in for her daughter.

“You are able to do it,” she instructed Rita. “However it’s important to be the perfect. When you’re going to be a girl on this enterprise, it’s important to be the neatest one within the room.”

After graduating from College of California at Davis with a level in economics, she took over her mother and father’ dealership. Early on, her place was met with quizzical appears from male counterparts.

“I’d be at a gathering, and somebody would say, ‘The place’s your dad?’” Rita says. “I’d say, ‘I run the enterprise now.’ They usually’d say, ‘Effectively, good luck.’ ”

Behind the scenes, they assumed, Dad was nonetheless working the present. Rita jokingly referred to herself as “D.D.” in reference to behind-her-back whispers of “She’s simply the vendor’s daughter.”

Seems, D.D. had a reasonably sharp enterprise IQ. Realizing that almost all Honda auto sellers have been extra well-versed in promoting the Japanese model’s bikes, she turned to the Nationwide Automotive Sellers Affiliation for assist in branching out to automotive gross sales.

Supplier’s Alternative

The NADA’s 20 Group program brings 20 sellers collectively for a number of days of brainstorming. Rita managed to spherical up 18 sellers to fulfill in Hawaii to speak about Honda automobiles, together with Rick Case, who had made a reputation for himself with revolutionary, wacky and profitable gross sales promotions at his dealerships in Cleveland and Akron.

At 22, she was the youngest in attendance and the one girl.

“I stood out and he stood out,” Rita says. “I stood out as a result of I didn’t have any worry. I used to be a small-town woman within the room with individuals from Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland and Dallas. I mentioned, ‘Guys, I put this deal collectively as a result of I must be taught the automotive enterprise, and I’m asking all of you to assist me.’”

She arrived ready as a result of she remembered her mom’s robust phrases of recommendation.

“They didn’t low cost me as a result of I used to be the neatest one within the room,” she remembers. “I knew my monetary assertion inside and outside. I knew the enterprise. I understood the mathematics of it.”

Rita and Rick have been the one single sellers on the convention, so that they sat aspect by aspect at breakfast and lunch, and when wives joined their husbands at dinner.

Rita shortly realized that they shared a drive to be the perfect.

“It was just about love at first sight,” Rita says. “He was so energetic. He was so smitten by being nice. He would say, ‘I’m going to be the No. 1 quantity vendor on the planet’ and I might be over right here saying, ‘I wish to be a fantastic vendor, too.’

“That was the attraction.”

After the conferences, they saved in contact, exchanging concepts and the standard begins and stops of working companies. In 1979, Rita invited Rick to spend time together with her in California. When you’re imagining a Hallmark Channel script of picnicking within the park and strolling hand-in-hand because the solar units over the lapping waves of the Pacific Ocean, assume once more. Gearheads will probably be gearheads, so Rita and Rick set off on bikes to go to Honda dealerships up the Pacific Coast, and on to Portland and Seattle.

Regardless of the exhausting itinerary and a chaperone—Rita’s father insisted a 3rd wheel accompany the fledgling couple, so a vendor good friend of Rick’s tagged alongside—“We fell in love on that journey,” Rita says.

The following yr they married. Rita handed again the household dealership to her mother and father and joined Rick in Ohio. By then, he had reached movie star standing in Cleveland and Akron, partly due to his profitable Honda auto and motorbike dealerships however extra by inventive, some would possibly say, loopy, promoting gimmicks.

Rick promised to purchase again your automotive if it didn’t get 50 miles per gallon. Deliver you a tire if you happen to had a flat. He leaped off the roof of a dealership (and right into a cushion beneath), and received motorbike daredevil Evel Knievel to leap 10 Mack vehicles at a Memorial Day promotional occasion. (Knievel then employed Case as a promoter, together with for his notorious Snake River Canyon rocket-powered soar in 1974.)

In the meantime, for Rita Case, D.D. was now D.W.—vendor’s spouse.

“It was burning inside me,” she says. “What am I going to do to be seen? I’m not simply Rick’s spouse. I’m his enterprise companion, and we’re married, and I need you all to see me as his enterprise companion, not as cooking his oatmeal within the morning.

“I needed to do one thing completely different.”

Images by Eduardo Schneider

Artistic Course by Melanie Geronemus Smit

The publish The Highway Much less Traveled, Half 1 appeared first on Way of life Media.


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