If you analyzed Joe Buzzetta’s DNA, you would find the “car gene” prominently profiled. Cars are in his blood.
It all began at the Bella Vista, a restaurant in Centerport on the North Shore of Long Island that Joe’s grandfather, John Buzzetta, opened in 1956. At the time, the restaurant was located at the intersection of roads frequented by a burgeoning group of sports car club members who would travel to eastern Long Island for weekend rallies. They began congregating in the parking lot of the Bella Vista, regaling each other with their auto adventures and then staying to have a meal.
Joe Buzzetta, Sr. was in his 20s and was working for his father as a bartender at Bella Vista. He had recently returned from a stint with the US Army in Germany, where he also began racing cars. When he left Europe, he had his 1959 356A 1.6 Carrera Speedster shipped back to the States as well.
Oscar Rubio, a frequent patron at Bella Vista, was a well-known hot-rod mechanic who owned a repair shop in Smithtown called Competition Engineering. Rubio and Joe Sr., who were both car guys, became friends and decided to go into into business together. Buzzetta’s father was upset that his son was leaving the restaurant business, but he lent him the money to finance his dream.
DRIVE YOUR DREAM
“My father had a great business mind, and knew that in order to make money they needed to sell something besides mechanical services,” Buzzetta recalls.
Joe Sr. and Rubio became partners in a car dealership that sold Porsche, BMW and Datsun, all housed under one roof in less than 3,000-square feet of space.
In 1970 Mercedes approached Joe Sr. about opening a dealership with the caveat that he construct a new building on Jericho Turnpike in Smithtown.
“My father also agreed to give up the Porsche dealership in order to get Mercedes, and they moved into a new 8,000-square foot location,” says Joe.
“My dad was one of those visionaries and entrepreneurs who hit his stride in the 1970s when Long Island was booming. Business was good, the stars were aligned and that’s how we got our momentum.”
FAST AND FURIOUS
When Joe was in his late teens, he began working at the auto group as a parts truck driver. “I did almost every job there except for working as a mechanic,” he says.
In the late 1980s the partnership between Joe Sr. and Rubio split up, and they went their separate ways.
At the time, Joe was already in the car business for a few years and was joined by his younger siblings, Jim and Nancy, when they finished college.
Joe worked his way up to general manager at Competition Infiniti and was there for about a dozen years when the top spot opened up at BMW in 2001. He jumped at the chance to manage Competition BMW.
“It’s my favorite franchise in the group,” he says proudly. “BMW is a fabulous car with the finest engineering and design, not to mention terrific to drive.”
Just two years after Joe became GM, BMW rolled out new requirements called BMW Future Retail, that included significant facility upgrades and modifications, that were going to change the entire dynamic of the BMW market in the US.
Future Retail requirements meant that Joe would need to plan for major renovations to expand the Competition BMW dealership to be included in the program. In anticipation of this initiative, Joe began to acquire property in the Smithtown area and when a local dealership had two acres for sale, he seized on the opportunity to purchase the land.
“Those two acres were a huge windfall for us. It was pivotal to acquire that property for our new facility.”
Joe’s real estate purchases increased the total square footage of Competition BMW to 67,000-square feet, giving them ample room to expand and the assurance that they did not have to relocate the dealership to a larger building.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
In addition to his duties at BMW, Joe worked closely with his family to grow the entire auto group. With Joe Sr. overseeing the expansion, Joe, Nancy and Jim became equal partners in the group and are each responsible for two franchises. Nancy oversees Mercedes-Benz of Smithtown and Competition Subaru, Jim is at the helm at Mercedes-Benz of Huntington and Competition Toyota/Scion of Middle Island, and Joe oversees Competition BMW and Competition Infiniti.
“My brother, sister and I meet every two weeks to discuss business and every month we have a board meeting that my father attends as well,” Joe says.
The Competition Auto Group employs more than 500 employees, and sold more than 12,000 cars last year.
Joe is almost modest about the volume of business that the group handles and sustaining that momentum is a huge undertaking. A large part of that success is due to Joe’s management skills that have kept his stores on an even keel.
“I’m very good at sitting down and talking to people,” says Joe. “I tend to get everyone on the same page or at least agree to talk and get on some common ground.”
Three years ago, Joe named Howard Berliner to the top spot at Competition BMW and the pair have had huge success working together.
“Now we have an outstanding crew. This place is unique, it really is. People want to work here. Many come to Competition after working at other dealers, but once they land here, they’re here for good,” Joe says.
With Howard at the helm, Joe can now take a step back from his everyday duties at BMW.
“When the construction on the new building started, there wasn’t a day I wasn’t here. I know every inch of this place. That’s the way I wanted it. I was all in. I’m not going to be invisible now, but I am immersing myself in the other dealerships and projects.
“Cars are my thing, always will be,” he says. “When I was young all I did was daydream about them. This business has a lot to do with cars, but not necessarily the love of cars.”
Joe not only inherited a love of cars from his father, he too is a visionary and entrepreneur who built Competition BMW into a 67,000-square foot state-of-the-art facility that is unmatched on Long Island.