MONTICELLO — Rick Ridings was 15 when he sold his first car. Forty-one years later, he still gets a thrill making a sale.
Ridings, who owns and operates the Rick Ridings Inc. Ford dealership in Monticello, now has a pending deal to buy Bill Abbott Inc.’s Chrysler and GM franchises, also in Monticello.
He and his father, Bob, both remember Rick’s first sale. The family had a small farm in the Taylorville area and a car dealership in town. Young Rick decided he liked working around cars better than working on the farm, his dad remembers.
One day, Ridings Sr. and his car salespeople all had to be away from the dealership, so he left Rick in charge of the showroom until he returned.
“I came back, and I saw he had someone sitting across the desk from him,” Bob Ridings said. “The guy says, ‘Well, we’ve been sitting here talking, and we’ve already got a deal’” on a vehicle.
Rick remembers the buyer saying, “Rick’s selling us a station wagon. But he won’t negotiate.”
Dad just laughed and helped him wrap up the deal.
“I don’t know if he ever paid me for that,” Rick said with a laugh. He admitted he was “extremely nervous” making the sale.
The young Ridings wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. At age 11, he was pulling weeds around the dealership lot. His payment was two cans of Pepsi. Later, he worked in the service department.
Despite feeling that he wanted to continue in the car business, Ridings attended Southern Illinois University, at Dad’s insistence, and earned a bachelor’s degree in finance. After graduation, he decided selling cars was something he wanted to do.
“He just loves the car business,” his father said. “He loves Monticello, he and Amy. It’s just been a great experience for them.”
Rick Ridings is a car lover — vintage and new. Of the vintage models, he owns a couple of classic Mustangs plus his favorite, a Bronco.
“Me and my father both like Model As and Ts, and we’ve got several of those,” he said.
The family also owns a 1952 F100 truck and a 1955 Thunderbird convertible.
Ridings still enjoys selling cars.
The most important ingredient to being a good seller: “I think just mainly if you’re comfortable talking to people. I always like talking about cars,” he said.
“I think it kind of helped that I knew something about cars,” he said. “I knew what kind of a motor it had.”
He said his father, who is 81 and remains active in his dealerships, taught him much of what he knows about the business.
“He always told me, ‘Everything’s about people. People buy from people.’
“I know all the things are going online, and we’re up with that, but still, when people come into the store ... you’ve got to have the product and all that, but it’s still relationships.”
The Ridings family must be doing something right. They own six dealerships. The Abbott deal, which is pending, will make seven.
In March, it will have been 25 years since Rick and his wife, Amy, bought the Strohl dealership in Monticello. The Strohls had moved their business out near Interstate 72 and converted a former FS building into their facility.
“We did a little work on it to get it ready,” Ridings said. “They were probably selling 30, maybe 40 cars a month.”
Ridings increased staff, loaded up the inventory and sold 100 vehicles within a month.
In 1998, they added a new showroom on the front and 13 new sales offices. Ridings also added a large service department to the back because the volume had increased dramatically.
In 2016, they did another complete remodel to get “the Ford look — that new showroom and delivery area.” A new service lane was also added.
Ridings Ford employs 45 people.
Rick said car dealerships have to carry a lot more inventory than when he started, because there is a great deal more selection.
“When we started 25 years ago, there might be only three or four different ways to order a truck,” he said. “Now there are 30 to 40 ways with different options and so many colors.”
People used to order vehicles more than they do today, he said. Now, they want to see it and drive it first. And a dealership has to keep its website current. People tend to do more shopping around.
Changing on the fly
Ridings Ford will now also deliver cars to people — an even more attractive feature in these days of the pandemic. Some buyers don’t even come into the dealership.
“We’ll do it any way they would like. You have to be as flexible and easy as possible and offer a big selection,” Ridings said. “The manufacturers are requiring more and more from you, like having certain equipment, making sure your facility is upgraded. I think sometimes, the smaller dealers, it can put a strain on them.”
He said people aren’t buying — and manufacturers in some cases aren’t making — sedans like they used to. The trend is toward crossovers, SUVs and trucks. People like to sit up higher, and they like a hatchback more than a trunk, Ridings said.
Selling cars is a family affair for the Ridingses. Bob’s daughter, Cathy Xamis — Rick’s sister — and her husband have a Ford-Lincoln dealership in Lincoln.
Bob said he was delighted when the possibility arose for Rick to buy the Abbott dealership, because he started in the business in 1969 selling Chevrolets and Buicks.
Back then, Bob could order a new Corvette for about $7,000. He told Rick with this purchase, he wants a new Corvette, which these days sells for about $100,000.
He’s not so sure that’s going to happen.