Tell us about the Autobarn
Richard says: I bought what was (demonstrably!) The worst Oldsmobile dealership in Illinois , and a VW dealership where the doors were kept locked! That was in July 1992 . Today we're still selling and servicing VWs here on Chicago Ave, and we love the brand and what it represents.
Next to VW is Mazda , which we added in 2000; we're building a brand new showroom for Mazda right now, it's going to be beautiful. Across the street is Nissan, which we added in 2005 and built for in 2009. Two doors up from them at 1034 Chicago Ave: Fiat/ Alfa Romeo. I've always been an Alfa enthusiast, and this is a labour of love.
In 2015 and 2016 we converted the old Shure Microphone building into an awesome Service Center for Mazda, Fiat Alfa Romeo, and Jeep/Chrysler products. Our Pre-Owned Warehouse store will open there in February. Nowadays we have over 2000 cars in stock, all in Evanston - and we service over 200 cars per day.
What's your origin story? How did the Autobarn begin?
From Chicago News: Back in the 80’s I worked as a salesperson and manager in the Chicago dealerships, I started at a Porsche Audi Saab Subaru store on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago in 1981.
The first Autobarn store was at 1540 Clavey Road in Highland Park, it was a pure used car dealership. We had an interesting old building that looked like a barn. We had a green velvet couch where customers would sit on instead of a desk, we had a slot car racing track, a basketball hoop, the atmosphere of a non-confrontational approach that was driven by enthusiasm for cars. I’ve been following racing and car industry all my life, and we try to have our enthusiasm fueling up the business. If you’re a salesperson or a service advisor or a manager at The Autobarn, you’re someone who’s enthusiastic about automobiles. A very long time ago we came to the conclusion that if you don’t like doing what you’re doing, then you should do something else.
What's the story behind the name "Autobarn?"
Richard says: I didn't want to do the same old thing of naming a car-dealership after myself! I did have a romantic notion about one day having the name be kind of a brand , and - most importantly - the first Autobarn was in a big old Barn selling Import cars!
Tell us the story of selecting your location.
From Chicago News: When we were just starting The Autobarn in Evanston, people asked me, “Why Evanston? You could have gone with a dealership in Schaumburg or somewhere like that.” And my answer was, “I like places like Evanston. I’d rather spend my time dealing with people in Evanston than be in a “massive manufactured” place. Through the time, we ended up being the only car dealership in Evanston and I just can’t tell you how privileged we feel to occupy this place.
What sets your business apart from others who sell the same products?
Richard says: We're car Enthusiasts. Absolutely. And we care about our Employees. No customer -facing small business can claim that their Employees truly care about their Customers unless those Employees genuinely feel that the Company cares about THEM .
What advice would you give someone who wants to start their own business?
Be prepared to miss lots of other facets of life for a very long time ; Only do it if you love what you're doing enough to accept that .
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