By Charlie Finnerty
Integrity Automotive celebrated the grand opening of the Infinity City showroom in Bayside the morning of Sept. 26. Co-owners Jeffrey Weiner and Michael Ianelli promised the community that their ownership would bring transparency, efficiency and respect to the dealership as a small, family-owned business.
“Jeff and I have more at stake than just ourselves,” Ianelli said in a press release. “We have our sons and other family members working in our dealership, and our reputation along with our families’ reputation is on the line. There is always a family member available to speak with.”
According to Executive Manager Jeff Zonen, the dealership staff consists of five salespeople, two managers and himself. Zonen said the dealership hopes to separate itself from negative stereotypes surrounding car dealerships by engaging with the community and showing their investment in Queens.
“Dealerships usually have a bad rap,” Zonen said. “Whether it’s our time, whether it’s our money, whether it’s our influence — we’re here to help the community.”
Zonen, who was born and raised in Long Island and now lives in Queens, said it was important to him that the success of the shop is reflected in and shared by the community around it.
“It’s a lucrative business. For me to come in here and do everything selfishly doesn’t make any sense by me,” Zonen said. “I want to do right by my people, by my staff plus the community we’re in, that’s a big deal to me.”
Billy Kendall, the used car manager at the dealership, began his career in the car sales business only blocks away in 1979.
“I’ve been doing this my whole life,” Kendall said. “I started on 191st Street on Northern Boulevard, and now I’m at 218th Street on Northern Boulevard and I can’t believe it.”
Kendall said the dealership’s respect for his family life is a major difference from the sales industry he was used to before.
“When my kids grew up, I worked late hours. Now we have grandkids, by the time I leave here at 6 o’clock, I’m home by 6:15 and I get to spend time with them,” Kendall said. “I get culture shock thinking, ‘I should be in a dealership somewhere, it’s still light out when I’m coming home.’”
Kendall said he chose to work at Integrity because he wanted to be at a family owned business. After working at a larger corporate dealership, he saw an opportunity for a different work environment.
“I know Jeff, and that’s why I came here. I had a job. I wasn’t looking for a job, they found me,” Kendall said. “I want to work for a family-owned business that understands that I have a life and the customer has a life. I want to be respected, I don’t want to be a number.”
Kendall said he believes the approach Integrity Automotive has taken to the dealership business will allow them to stick around much longer than short-sighted competitors.
“There’s long termers and short termers. I’ve seen a lot of short termers come into the business thinking you have to be seedy and slimy,” Kendall said. “When that person comes [to Integrity], they last about seven days. Because by the seventh day, you don’t want that reputation.”
Zonen said he sees mutual respect between the salesperson and customer as essential to sustaining the business.
“You treat people they want to be treated,” Kendall said. “Everyone needs a car. The king needs a car and the garbage man needs a car, and everyone in between.”
“By default, I have to do the right thing. It’s me here, I’m in a glass office. People are going to come in here and my name is attached to how we do business. I want to be a guy that treats people right. I don’t want people to come in here just because we have the best prices, I want then to come here because they want to do business with good people and that’s what we’re all about,” said Zonen.
Zonen said that Integrity Automotive structure as a small business allows the staff to avoid the numbers-driven approach to sales that larger dealerships have to pursue in order to maintain corporate quotas.
“We like the direct connection between us and the consumer. There’s no hiding, there’s no game, there’s no fees. People come in here, they get treated the right way with respect, transparency and integrity,” Zonen said. “We live by that. Anybody can come in here and walk right into my office and have a conversation with me. Try that somewhere else. Go into any dealership and ask for the general manager, they’ll protect him like he’s the president of the United States. Not here, man.”