There’s a new style of dealership selling the hottest old cars
(Bloomberg Businessweek) — Gaston Rossato sold his first car, a 1981 Toyota Corolla that he bought from one of his South Florida neighbors when he was just 9 years old. “He was asking $200 for the car. I offered him $100,” Rossato says. “He laughed at me.”
But Gaston moved back to the neighbor with his father, Lucas, who ran a local used-car dealership. Lucas loaned his son the money for the transaction and then let him use his land to resell. “We made 100% profit. And I bought the bike I always wanted, a GT Performer,” says Rossato. He was hooked.
Rossato started his classic car dealership, The Barn Miami, in 2013, buying and selling underappreciated specialty vehicles from a rented one-car garage. Although his father still works with him as an advisor, Rossato, now 37, has moved on in earnest. His store occupies a 10,000 square foot freestanding warehouse in Doral, with acid-stained polished concrete floors. In a loft, clubby living room perched above the showroom, a bay window overlooks more than $6 million in inventory, including Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, Porsches, Mercedes-Benzes and Volkswagens .
The dealership’s name came as a surprise in the Valentine’s Day estate registry of Rossato’s wife, Nicole, to conjure up the idea of ”barn finds” in vintage car collecting. The company has developed a dedicated customer base, many of whom return to buy or sell multiple vehicles. These car enthusiasts, including Gen Xers and Millennials, people of color and women, flock to on-site events celebrating car culture, such as talks and talks, and regional unveilings of new models from exotic automakers.
In general, people hate going to a car dealership. In fact, a 2016 survey by the now-closed online car sales startup Beepi reported that a majority of Americans felt anxious, uncomfortable, or exploited at a dealership — and that sentiment was more acute for younger car buyers. A quarter of millennials said they would rather wait in line at the DMV or do their taxes. A similar proportion of Gen Xers said they would rather have a root canal than go to a car dealership.
Consumer surveys by automotive sales consultant Kelley Blue Book have found that satisfaction with the car buying experience has peaked during the pandemic as lockdowns and changes in technology and behavior have moved more of the process away from dealers.
“The worst thing is going to a car dealership,” says Emmanuel Laroche, a 42-year-old spice importer in Bayview, Florida, who is a regular Rossato customer. “When I was looking for my 1974 Alfa Romeo GTV, I met other dealers. But they were in a hurry. Gaston was very easy going. I went to see him, and we talked for an hour, just a conversation. I felt like I could trust him.”
These qualities are essential for car buyers, especially those interested in the classic car category, where prices have skyrocketed in recent years and competition can be fierce. Many new collectors are heading to the online auto auction sites Bring a Trailer, Hemmings and Cars & Bids. All have a knowledgeable commentator offering advice and criticism, and there’s no direct pressure from a salesperson. These sites are also able to offer wide ranges of cars, as they are not constrained by the need to maintain physical inventory.
The Barn is one of a rare category of trusted in-person dealers, such as Hyman Ltd. in St. Louis and Autosport Designs Inc. on Long Island in New York. The latter two have decades of experience and a connoisseur clientele that gives them access to some of the most exclusive cars.
“It’s not just about the car. If you have a great dealership experience, you’ll come back,” says Ivan Drury, senior knowledge manager for automotive research firm Edmunds.com Inc. “I know people who are repeat buyers, who are even loyal to sellers, especially if they’re nice and truthful and answer questions quickly. If you’ve earned someone’s trust, that’s a major accomplishment.
Rossato has built his business on these principles. If he doesn’t have the exact car a customer wants, he’ll help find it and broker a deal. “We have a strong network of current and former customers and other dealers. And we know where some cars are, cars that aren’t even officially on the market,” he says. “If we don’t know, we know which doors to start knocking on first.”
He’ll even travel with clients to check out a car he’s not officially selling to help them complete their due diligence. (For the best customers, this is a free service. For strangers, says Rossato, “I should charge for my time.”)
When customers come to his store to see a car they’re interested in, he gives them the royal treatment. “We pull out the car’s manuals, historical documentation, whatever we have so they can review it, comfortably,” he says. “And we put the car that they’re interested in right under a three-headlamp setup that we’ve built in the showroom, and we put them upstairs on the glass wall, looking down. That makes that people feel special.
It helps if the barn has a compelling inventory. Aware of trends in the collector car hobby – where each successive generation buys the cars that were imprinted on them in their youth – Rossato specializes in “young”, cars from the last decades of the 20th century. “The market defines the type of cars we offer, and today a lot of those are upcoming cars, from the 70s, 80s, 90s,” he says. “But we try to have a nice variety. Not all top notch, not all entry level.
So its inventory ranges from the mid-fives, like a $30,000 1979 VW Beetle Cabriolet or a $55,000 1980 Land Rover Range Rover Classic, to low sevens, like a 2005 Ferrari 575 Superamerica or a 1958 Mercedes. Benz 300SL Roadster, both $2 million.
Knowing that his target demographic craves community and experiences, he has made his dealership a place where customers and potential customers can congregate and ogle the merchandise. Rossato has hosted on-site events for Ferrari, for classic car insurance company Hagerty, and for Italian automotive design house and exotic automaker Pininfarina. For the past five years, he’s hosted a weekly “Cars and Coffee” get-together on Sunday mornings at a cafe in the Wynwood Arts District. And he launched AutoKultur 305 Social Club, a series of talks held at local breweries with discussions with automotive experts.
It is also expanding its online presence. The Barn Miami has more than 100,000 subscribers on its social media platforms, including YouTube, where he and his brother Renzo, who works in client relations for the company, discuss and pilot the latest acquisitions. (“We still have the Property Brothers thing,” Rossato says. “They call us the Car Brothers.”)
His website allows customers to browse inventory — with over 100 high-quality photos of each car — to contact him and even complete purchases. “About 60-70% of our business is done virtually,” he says. “Often we don’t even talk to the person. Although we can use FaceTime or send videos, tours or getting started and driving videos. »
Again, this meets the needs of its target cohort. “Millennial shoppers are looking for the idea that you can do things almost entirely online,” says Drury. “And they want a dealer’s website to really line up, to look like what you would see if you walk into the showroom.”
Rossato’s expansion plans include further upscaling. “There’s nothing like a mid-’60s Ferrari V-12. I’ve never sold a short-wheelbase 250 GT,” he says, referring to a highly sought-after model that sells currently between 7 and 9 million dollars. “That would be really satisfying.”
That wouldn’t surprise his long-time customers. “I’ve seen him grow exponentially in his reputation, in the size of his space, in the type of cars he deals with,” Laroche says. “He just does everything well.”