Fuoco family remains loyal after 80 years
Every change in the life of a business risks offending the customer. That’s why consistency is key, according to owners of the city’s oldest automobile dealership.
After 80 years, the service-driven work ethic of the Fuoco family is one reason the venerable business endures, according to third- and fourth-generation family members who control the future of the company.
Bob Fuoco sees retirement around the corner as his sons, Taylor and Tony, build their equity. The young men take responsibility for different sectors: Tony keeps the office next to his dad’s and helps oversee the company’s finances; Taylor directs the parts and service department.
That leaves him free to give the newspaper interviews, Bob Fuoco joked.
Like their dad, Tony and Taylor Fuoco worked in most areas of the business at some point and are purchasing the enterprise in installments over time. Their share of the business is now greater than their father’s, Bob Fuoco said.
Fuoco said he believes the future of the company is in good hands.
“We believe in making the car shopping experience for the customer as convenient as possible,” Taylor Fuoco said during a tour of the lot Thursday. “We do everything we can to make them happy, to make sure their experience here is as good as the first time they came in.”
Core principles that started with company founder Jim Fuoco remain the same for the local, family-owned dealership, but the nature of retail car sales has changed dramatically over the decades, Bob Fuoco said.
BIG CHANGES IN 80 YEARS
Take the Internet for example.
In Colorado, new car sales rose over the previous year by 15.5 percent in 2011, 21.9 percent in 2012 and 11.2 percent in 2013, thanks in part to the Internet, said Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Association.
Ninety-four percent of U.S. franchised new car and light truck dealers, for example, have websites, the majority of which are interactive, according to a National Automobile Dealers Association survey. Sixty-four percent of dealers with a website have completed a sale on the Internet, the survey said.
“In the majority of cases, (the Internet) makes it easier (for the customer) because they’ve really already done a lot of the homework,” said Ed Nielsen, Fuoco Motor Co. general manager.
“It’s made it a lot more competitive,” Bob Fuoco said. “I mean, everybody knows what your cost is. Everybody’s a click away from shopping at another dealer. So, it’s changed the way you do business. You have to have a sharp pencil when you start a deal.”
Fortunately, most customers understand Fuoco needs to make a profit to keep the doors open, so a mutually satisfactory transaction is usually completed.
“It boils down to this,” he said. “If I was the customer, how would I want to be treated?”
FUOCO MOTORS BURNS
The family matriarch, Bobby Fuoco, widow of Earl, likes to tell people she’s 87 probably because she appears 20 years younger.
The 1990 fire that burned down the dealership’s original building still traumatizes her whenever she recalls it. The conflagration was apparently the result of arson, she said.
“It was terrifying,” Bobby Fuoco said. “They never found out who did it.”
The fire took place during a time when an arsonist was attacking churches across the Grand Valley, although it was ultimately decided that the dealership fire was not related, she said.
Fuoco rebuilt out of the ashes, tearing down a family home apparently once owned by former Daily Sentinel publisher I.N. Bunting, and rebuilt at the location where the Honda dealership is today.
Fuoco said she really likes the look of the new Honda dealership and encouraged the city to consider what’s possible when new construction improves an area formerly blighted by burned-out buildings.
IN THE BEGINNING
The company patriarch, Jim Fuoco, launched the enterprise in 1934 — in the midst of the Great Depression. A bold move, considering that in the beginning, new car manufacturers were aggressively pushing products in Grand Junction and elsewhere across the nation.
“That meant almost every one of those lines had a dealership in town,” Bob Fuoco said.
In addition to Cadillac and GMC, Fuoco Motor Co. sold Nash, a brand of car now out of production for decades.
Even though Fuoco was approved as a Nash dealer just prior to World War II, the dealership did not sell a single Nash vehicle until after the war ended. In fact, no new cars were sold during the war since all manufacturing was dedicated to the war effort, Fuoco said.
The company made it through by selling used cars and emphasizing a good service department, he said.
“I remember the Nash because my grandmother had a ‘49 Nash,” Bob Fuoco said. “It was a little, upside-down bathtub — bronze-colored.”
THE EARLY 1980s
Bob Fuoco started “chasing cars” around the Fuoco lot as soon as he got his driver’s license. It wasn’t until after he graduated from Mesa College’s first baccalaureate class and earned one of the college’s first four-year degrees in accounting that Earl Fuoco finally decided he needed his son’s help.
Initially, Earl Fuoco told Bob he would need to find another line of work and should not expect to take part in the family business.
That was the case until a Fuoco Motor Co. bookkeeper without training in computers became overwhelmed by the digital age and needed assistance.
Fuoco had recently graduated with an accounting degree and passed his CPA exam, so he was the natural choice to step in.
“Typically an auto dealer probably has 2,000 to 3,000 account numbers,” Fuoco said. “Every manufacturer broken down by department has an account number, and each of those has five or six sub-accounts. The computer made all that more manageable.”
Another big change Fuoco sees in the business is the way consumers think about the place where their cars are manufactured.
A debate about domestic versus foreign cars brought on by the gas shortages of the 1970s and 1980s no longer means anything, Fuoco said.
“There’s really no such thing as domestic cars and foreign cars,” he said. “All of our GM vehicles are manufactured in Mexico or Canada. Almost all of our ‘imports’ are built in the U.S.”