Big Guy with a Big Job

Midway through press days for the New York International Auto Show, John LaSorsa takes big strides to get everything done before the event opens to the public. The 6 ft. 2 in., 250-pound LaSorsa leads with a presence. The second-generation auto dealer knows the importance of this annual exhibition sponsored by the Greater New York Auto Dealers Assn. The show helps kick off the spring selling season,

Midway through press days for the New York International Auto Show, John LaSorsa takes big strides to get everything done before the event opens to the public.

The 6 ft. 2 in., 250-pound LaSorsa leads with a presence. The second-generation auto dealer knows the importance of this annual exhibition sponsored by the Greater New York Auto Dealers Assn.

“The show helps kick off the spring selling season, helping all 650 new-car dealers in nine counties,” says LaSorsa, show chairman for 11 consecutive years and owner of LaSorsa Auto Group in the Bronx.

His 65-employee dealership in a largely Hispanic community retails Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac and Mitsubishi along one strip. It does $50 million in annual business. Its staff is multi-lingual.

Employees get a break of sorts when LaSorsa is busy with the auto show. “The staff gets a week off,” he quips. But as he scans his hand-held BlackBerry for messages, he adds: “I'm only a phone call or an e-mail away.”

Ten dealership managers ordinarily operate at a fast pace, knowing they are accountable for month-end sales and service targets.

“Fortunately we have a great territory that helps our team reach its goals,” LaSorsa says. “There are 1.8 million people in Bronx County and 8 million in New York City. You've gotta love those numbers.”

Auto show publicity definitely drives customers to dealerships, LaSorsa says. About 6,300 media representatives attend press days. About 1.2 million people visit during public show times. Exit surveys indicate 50% of show goers will buy a new vehicle within a year.

The New York show spans four floors and 846,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. Last month, work began on a 200,000-sq.-ft. expansion. Existing show space is maxed out, with manufacturers pitching tents in parking lots to display products.

“Part of our job is to keep the integrity of the show within its available space,” LaSorsa said. “No manufacturer's exhibit can block the view of another manufacturer. They are allowed only one certified pre-owned car because we want to keep this a new-car display.”

The New York dealer association recruited LaSorsa as show chairman because of his energy and commitment to the industry at large, says Mark Schienberg, association president.

LaSorsa acts as liaison between the dealer network and the show personnel. It is a job the man built like a quarterback tackles with style and grace.

The 1,000-vehicle show registers a $300 million impact on the Big Apple, LaSorsa says proudly. At least 30,000 hotel rooms are let to visitors who often visit the show, then stay around for New York sightseeing.

LaSorsa says the chairmanship requires long hours, but offers welcome visibility to potential dealership customers because his name and often his picture appear on show promotional literature.

LaSorsa helps heighten the good name of dealers by co-hosting the auto show's black-tie charity preview. This year, Bentley Motors Inc. was a title sponsor and donated a new Bentley CTG as a raffle fund raiser.

Dealers raised almost $1 million for East Side House Settlement in the South Bronx, $330,000 from the car raffle alone, says Schienberg.

LaSorsa and his wife plan to attend the Paris International Auto Show in September and the Los Angeles Auto Show in December.

“We bring the best ideas back here and make the New York show even better,” LaSorsa says.

The Frankfurt, Germany auto show in 2002 featured a dirt track with various manufacturers testing their SUVs. LaSorsa was spellbound by the concept and spoke with several auto makers about reproducing it in New York City. Chrysler immediately rented the parking lot for a Camp Jeep off-roading experience.

“The auto makers tend to put on the most elaborate displays in their home country. We encourage them to bring similar shows to our city,” LaSorsa says.

The BlackBerry beeps. There's another media event on the exhibition floor. LaSorsa is off and running.

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