The Case story reads like a fairytale. A born salesman, Rick Case’s entrepreneurial fervor was ignited at age 9, when he took a newspaper delivery route in his hometown of Akron, Ohio—and soon found himself so busy that he had to hire a string of additional delivery boys to cover more ground.
At 14, he purchased and fixed up a used car and resold it within days; by 19, he was operating his own used-car lot. He saw demand for motorcycles increase and entered the industry, developing the first marketing strategy to sell motorcycles en masse. By 29, he owned and operated a multimillion-dollar chain of stores.
Rick’s future wife, Rita, was no stranger to the car business; her parents launched the first Honda automobile franchise in the United States. She worked in their Santa Rosa dealership throughout school, and after college she was promoted to general manager.
The two met—where else?—at a car convention. In 1977, on a mission to meet other dealers and better understand the business, Rita headed to a Honda convention and came home with more than she bargained for: She’d met Rick, her perfect match.
It was love at first sight. But their fateful first encounter was just the beginning of what has since grown into a veritable empire. Upon marrying in 1980, Rita relocated to Akron and the two began working as a team, proving to be a dynamic duo: Rick’s five dealerships soon expanded to 14 across Ohio, from Cincinnati to Cleveland.
“We were a motorcycle-marketing machine and became the largest motorcycle retailer in the United States, selling more than any other dealer by volume,” Rita recalls. “We would sell in one month what many dealerships would sell in an entire year.”
Their status as an auto-industry power couple solidified over the years as they grew the Rick Case Automotive Group and pioneered brands never before sold in the U.S.
In 1985, Honda brought Acura to America, offering first dibs on the brand to their most successful dealers. The Cases could pick anywhere in the country for their dealership. They chose Fort Lauderdale for two main reasons: It was in the same time zone as Ohio, and they felt that a melting pot like South Florida afforded the best chances of acceptance of the first Japanese luxury automobile. They migrated from the Midwest and opened the nation’s first Hyundai dealership the same year; the stores remain side-by-side in their original location on U.S. 441 and Sunrise Boulevard.
Case grew by being awarded “open points”—locations where a manufacturer wants to establish a dealer—as new markets emerged. When that occurred in the emerging West Broward market in 2000, Honda opened applications. More than 220 dealers—including public companies like AutoNation and Group 1 Automotive—applied, but Case’s successful track record and the fact that Rick and Rita would run a startup personally earned them the point.
Today the world’s largest Honda facility and in the nation’s top three volume-wise (as it has been since they opened 18 years ago), Rick Case Honda was among the first on what’s today known as “auto row.” They’re the largest dealers by volume of many brands—breaking records was a passion of Rick’s—and Case expanded like wildfire as they earned open points from Kia to Maserati. “Every point that we applied for, we got,” Rita says. She chalks it up to an outstanding record of customer satisfaction, community support, sales volume, and hands-on leadership.
“Rick and I ran the group,” she says. “We didn’t have layers of supervision. We did have a general manager on-site in every store, motivating sales and organizing dealership operations, but as far as running the company, Rick was the CEO and I was the COO.”
Rick passed away in September 2020 after a short battle with an aggressive form of cancer. Now, alongside their children, Ryan and Raquel, Rita is ensuring the continued success of what they built by succeeding Rick as CEO.
“I miss him terribly; we were like one person for 40 years,” Rita says. “We were married; we grew the business together. Every decision we made, we made it together. We were always going at a very fast pace. If there was a minute to spare, we filled it. It was just who we both were.”
That high-energy, goal-oriented approach is what will carry her through his passing, she says. They also had time to prepare for the next chapter without the patriarch. Though no one outside the immediate family knew he was sick—Rick opted to keep his diagnosis private—husband and wife discussed the future in-depth as Rick’s time dwindled.
“We had a lot of quality time together to plan what I should do, how I should move forward, what he thought,” shares Rita. “He knew, as did I, that I would have no problem running the company. The business is not going to falter at all. We are going to continue to be a very successful automotive group.”
Rita says she plans to continue the Rick Case brand’s reputation as a pillar of the local community. Many organizations have benefited from their financial support, including Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County, Nova Southeastern University, American Heart Association, Cleveland Clinic, Memorial Healthcare System, and American Cancer Society. The Cases have raised more than $100 million for charity over the years.
Rita was committed to being a successful car dealer even before she met Rick and has no plans to slow down now. She finds it motivating to be a female car dealer—a trailblazing exception to the rule. “Women are not car dealers,” she says. “It’s just not very common, certainly not as owner and CEO of a billion-dollar group operating in several states with 1,300 associates—and to be a sales leader in the country.”
Ryan and Raquel are doing their part, too. Both hold leadership positions after working their way up the family business: Ryan serves as national parts and service director over all 16 dealerships. Raquel, who excelled in sales, has spent recent years working in dealership development and training to assume her father’s integral role in advertising. “My father’s talent, along with his enthusiasm and passion for being No. 1, was contagious and is ingrained into my core values,” Raquel says.
Their marching orders from Rick are to “beat all Dad’s records,” Ryan says. “I also have the privilege, honor, and responsibility of carrying on the Case name by working hard to raise my three sons.”
After their community-enrichment efforts and record-smashing success in a fiercely competitive industry, the family’s biggest source of pride is the extensive car collection Rick amassed throughout his career—a jewel of which is the Case car. In the early days of automobiles, Case tractor company built a car by placing a buggy atop a tractor chassis. Manufactured only from 1911 to 1927, the Case car, a 1914 model, is a rare antique that Rick long sought for his collection.
Still, the car most special to Rita is Rick’s 1960 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. “That was the car Rick picked me up in the first time I came to Ohio,” she recalls. Her friends in California—Rita was raised in Sonoma County’s wine country—were in disbelief that she’d even consider dating someone in Ohio, much less move there. But Rick convinced her to visit and picked her up from the Cleveland airport in the Rolls-Royce. His tactic must have worked because it ended up being their wedding car—and, later, their children’s.
One of Rick’s favorites was his 1958 Pontiac Bonneville, the same model and color as his first-ever new car, but Ryan is partial to his dad’s red 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible. “We always had a good time cruising in it,” he says. Rick’s red 2005 Acura NSX with zero miles—similar to one he owned when Raquel was a child—holds a special place in his daughter’s heart: “My father would drive me 45 minutes to middle school in an NSX every morning. We’d blast Jimmy Buffett and sing along the entire ride.”