HOLYOKE – As a young boy, Gary Rome would go to his father’s car dealership, Jerry Rome Motor Car Co. on Main Street in Holyoke, to watch him interact with customers and to learn about the business.
Those trips eventually led to Gary Rome doing odd jobs at the dealership. He cleaned cars. He worked in the service and parts departments as he got older.
Eventually, Gary Rome bought the dealership, later known as Jerry Rome Nissan, in 1997 from his dad and has since built his own car sales empire in Holyoke and Enfield.
“My father is my mentor, and I learned so much from him. As a kid, I always wanted to be around him. On Saturdays, if he tried to sneak out of the house I made sure I got up early so he could take me to work with him,” Gary Rome said.
This year, Rome, 53, is launching an expansion of his dealerships with a planned construction of a new facility on a 19-acre parcel on Whiting Farms Road in Holyoke. But first, the younger Rome is navigating the municipal permitting process for a zone change from general business to a highway business needed for the project to proceed.
As he embarks on this growth in the business, Gary Rome continues to rely on the working world lessons which he learned from his father.
“He has a great business sense and a great business mind. He showed me a lot about the business and how most of all that your word is your bond and how important your reputation is,” he said. “He always goes by the same cliché. For over 50 years he’s been saying, ‘Gary, it doesn’t cost anything extra to be nice. People want to do business with people they trust and feel comfortable with. We treat everyone like family.'”
And it’s family which has connected the Romes to a long and successful relationship with the Paper City, Gary Rome said.
In 1890, Gary Rome’s great-grandfather, Louis Ricklas, opened a shoe store and a grocery store in the city. Thirty-six years later, Gary Rome’s grandparents, Samuel and Dorothy Rome, operated a haberdashery on High Street, selling uniforms and other clothing to city workers, including police and firefighters.
After purchasing his father’s business 18 years ago, Gary Rome redeveloped the dealership at 1000 Main St. to Gary Rome Hyundai. Under the Gary Rome Auto Group, the Holyoke native also operates a Kia dealership in Enfield.
But being in the car sales business is not always met with the utmost respect, he said.
“Unfortunately, some car dealerships have bad reputations. So it’s important to me that we demonstrate to our customers, who are ultimately our friends, that we treat you like you’re a family member and trust us,” he said.
For the past two years, Gary Rome Hyundai has received Hyundai’s President’s Award as a top-10 dealer out of 812 dealers in the country for customer satisfaction.
“We’ve honed customer satisfaction as our skill and are focused on taking care of people,” said Gary Rome, who lives in Longmeadow with his wife, Jane Rome, and their children, Will, 12, and Sydney and Jake, 8, a twin girl and boy.
In an industry in which mega-car dealerships are popping up all over, including in Western Massachusetts, Gary Rome says one of the biggest challenges to staying competitive – as inventory is the great equalizer – is finding the right personnel.
“I am very lucky I have found great staff who work hard and have my same work ethic. Many of our staff have been with me for a long time,” he said, noting Cliff Dexhiemer, general sales manager, will retire in April after 18 years.
Currently, his Hyundai dealership employs 62 people, while Enfield Kia has 29 employees.
Even Rome’s dog, Jack, a 5-year-old Vizsla Hungarian hunting dog, is a part of the company’s advertising campaign and goes to work with him every day.
One of the main reasons Gary Rome plans to build another dealership in Holyoke is to not only make it more convenient for customers, but also to benefit the city where the family business has its roots, he said. If approved, the new Gary Rome Hyundai dealership would add a net gain of 50 full-time employees and as many as 25 part-timers. The new facility would also provide additional tax and utility revenue to the city, he said.
Holyoke Gas & Electric Department awarded a contract last year to Gary Rome to purchase the Whiting Farms Road property for $2,050,000.