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Mark Cipparone has conquered Philadelphia-New Jersey with his five-store collision operation, and now he hopes to conquer the world of boxing as manager of lightweight contender Tevin Farmer.
something I do well. Being someone’s business manager shouldn’t be taken lightly. I understand that every step along the way can be critical in [Tevin Farmer’s] career, so I move wisely and with great precision.”
Immersing himself in the boxing world, Cipparone had the great fortune to meet light-welterweight world champion Danny Garcia, who happens to live in Philadelphia. He met him through a photographer acquaintance, and the meeting resulted in Rocco’s signing on as one of Garcia’s sponsors.
“To have Rocco’s sponsoring the world champ and me breaking into the world of boxing at the same moment created a phenomenal dynamic for my company,” Cipparone says. “The whole company has a new life because we built this boxing ring and private gym for Tevin, and now we’re sponsoring the world champ Garcia.”
Teaming up with Garcia gave Tevin the opportunity to spar with him many times, which proved to be great experience for the young and upcoming fighter.
“That experience was more valuable to Tevin than the experience he had in his entire career, because when he walked out of the gym that day, he was able to say he sparred with the world champ, and that’s amazing,” Cipparone says.
Tevin “The American Idol” Farmer won his last fight by TKO over Victor Vasquez in the eighth round in June, making his record 11-4-1. According to Cipparone, once he reaches 15 wins, he will be challenged by boxers in the Top 10, and that’s where the money is. And while Cipparone the businessman would love to see a return on his investment, he said it’s not just about the money.
“It’s about helping Tevin reach his goals in life and get to his dream, which is to be world champ.”
Cipparone says the excitement of boxing and molding a young man’s future has gotten into his blood. He has really embraced the pageantry, hype and adrenaline of the matches, and the camaraderie felt among his team.
“When I’m in the back room and we’re getting ready to walk out, that level of [Tevin’s transformation from a gentle human being to a monster in the ring] is something I can’t get enough of,” he says. “There are some great moments in that room. And when we come out, we’re so fired up that I know when Tevin walks into the ring he’s 10 times stronger due to the dynamic that happens among all of us.”
Cipparone has since signed another fighter, Eric “Outlaw” Hunter, who is 17-2 and more than likely will fight for the world title in September. If he wins, he’ll be ranked No. 10 in the world.
“What this team needs and every team needs is people who care and are qualified to react and act on every circumstance,” says Cipparone. “If you want to be a world champ or at the top at anything you do, you better be ready to make great decisions, and make them often.”
Crunching the Numbers
Cipparone hopes he is as successful with boxing as he has been with collision. He credits his success in the auto body world to many things. One is starting out as a technician working for his father, then managing the original store. He doesn’t claim to have any fancy business education, just an attention to the “numbers.”
“I was maybe one of those mechanics or people who had minimal business skills other than knowing the ins and outs of collision as far as fixing cars,” he says. “For me, statistics was where it was at. Do I have a tolerance level that goes beyond where it should at moments? Absolutely. But when I want to bring it back to a palatable, profitable existence, I go to the statistics. If you don’t manage your company by statistics, at the end of the day, you won’t have a company.”
The numbers at Rocco’s get crunched weekly, not every 30 days or every quarter. That way, if they catch something in the first seven days, they can maybe make it up in the next three weeks.
Keeping It Light
Cipparone likes to have fun, and believes it’s an integral part of his company’s success. Whether it’s hosting a ’70s disco party or videotaping everyone dancing crazily and putting it on YouTube as part of the “Harlem Shake” craze, he likes to keep things light and feels it contributes to a happy environment.
“Everyone knows I’m a silly guy and I like to have fun,” he says. “If you worked for me in my shop, you would never work harder in your life, but you would never have a happier day as well. I make everyone have fun, although everyone knows how serious I hold this company.”
Cipparone says fun is a great thing if you know how to use it. He’s also not scared of being friends with his employees because he believes he has the ability to walk the fine line of being both a boss and a buddy.
“I’m friends with everyone and I can have them over for dinner and we can go out for drinks no matter who in my company it is,” he says. “But the second I say it’s time to be boss, I’m their boss. But it’s a very hard thing to train, show or teach someone to do. As I get older in life, I realize it makes me very unique – and also allows people to stay in my company for a long time.”
When I asked if he gives out bonuses to employees, Cipparone said he can count on one hand how many he has given out in the last 12 years. The reason, he says, is because he pays extremely well.
“I know people incentivize in different businesses, but I think I keep a team together good and strong and connect at that level,” he says. “But more importantly, there is a mutual respect for where they need to be in this organization to keep things moving along.”
What it comes down to, says Cipparone, is that you either get a raise at the end of the year or you don’t. He figures that with all the long-term employees he has, he must be doing something right.
“I’ve been consistent [in paying people] in that if you improve on who you are from last year, you will be in line for a raise,” he says. “I have not done anyone any injustices ever based on their performance, and that is a word that’s spread throughout the company. Nobody talks salary; they’re not supposed to. But everyone knows who I am as an employer. I come through for the right people, and they motivate themselves.”
One would think that having 23 DRPs, Rocco’s Collision wouldn’t need to advertise. In fact, a glut of DRP work in the past seemed to kill the marketing spirit of many shops, and then when that DRP work dried up, they were in trouble. Not Rocco’s.
Cipparone would probably admit he’s flashy and showy and proud of his shop. That’s why he sometimes has three to four billboards on major highways at one time that get seen by 90,000 people daily. He admits that he got taken advantage of when he first looked into billboard advertising, realizing after the fact that he could have bought the property the billboard was on for $60,000 rather than spend $60,000 on vinyl that he wouldn’t own and thus would be replaced or taken down at some point.
“One person told me not to do it, but I just had to be on the frontier,” he says. “There were so many naysayers. But still I took a chance, and I don’t know if it helped or not but I do know that everywhere I went, people would stop me and tell me they saw the billboard. It may have felt special and important, but soon enough, that translated into more business.”
Cipparone is obviously proud of some of the ads his team has come up with as they are displayed in large black-and-white posters in one of his shops. One shows the inside of a sparkling clean spraybooth, and it simply says: “Autobody ER.” Another shows a beaming young boy being handed his toy car by his dad, and it says, “Rocco’s Collision: the best guy to fix your toy since dad.” Still another shows a beautiful woman who looks as though she is about to plant a passionate kiss onto the hood of her car. It says: “Developing strong relationships.”
“All of these ads in different magazines and TV and now boxing venues have made us the most well-known shop in the tri-state area,” says Cipparone.
His 36 company vehicles ranging from pickup trucks to Hummers to SUVs to sedans are all wildly painted and customized and draw looks all over town.
And then there are the YouTube videos: one showing his technicians and crew doing the “Harlem Shake,” a wild dance touched off by a rap song that millions of people worldwide emulated when it went viral this year; Cipparone getting his beard shaved off at a local barber; Cipparone getting a tattoo; a holiday greeting from various staffers; and many others. Cipparone himself is self-promotional, and that carries over to his business. And while to some it might seem outlandish or a cry for attention, he says it’s all for the greater good of the business and having fun. He simply says, “I am not conventional by any means.”
All About Image
From the floors to the desks to the walls, all of Rocco’s shops are immaculate and sharp. It’s as though no detail has been neglected. There is even a custom car on a rotating floor in the Blackwood facility. Cipparone believes this thought to the image they portray gives them “free opportunities.”
“I’m one of those people who likes the free opportunities it gives us,” he says. “When you meet someone for the first time, before they say any word you see they’re clean and dressed sharp. I more than encourage my staff to stay sharp, and that is one free opportunity. Maybe there is some forgiveness for a sharp individual, and maybe also when there is a granite floor and countertop. But I’m not necessarily looking for forgiveness because I hold everyone to the highest level of customer service and satisfaction. I want all that image there. We’re in your face. We’re flash all the way, but you can’t be flash and not back it up. We’re not cocky and arrogant, we just want to be recognized and known. Our competitors may not like that, but that’s who we are: loud and proud and just as strong to back it up.”