From The Regional News November 19, 1998
Revving in the warehouse of shiny dreams
By Mike Capito
There's a business in Alsip that helps people all over the world own the cars they've wanted since they were young.
Midwest car Exchange doesn't just sell cars, it sells dreams.
Bob Cozza, of Palos Heights and Mark Leszczynski, of Burbank, started the business seven years ago after spending years buying autos at antique car auctions, restoring them in their homes, and then selling them for a profit. They met in 1989 when Leszczynski was a customer at Cozza's All Guard Auto Alarm business in Alsip. "I was there getting an alarm installed in my personal vehicle," Leszczynski reminisces. " We started talking about our cars and how great it would be if my collection met his collection." They began to discuss opening a classic car dealership and decide to give it shot. The two 40-something men both still work at their other careers, Cozza in the alarm business and Leszczynski as sales director for Allen Products, of Connecticut, a motion picture film products company.
In 1991 they bought Midwest Car Exchange's facility on Laramie Drive, in Alsip. With The exception of a small office area, the entire building is dedicated to housing between 55 and 70 sets of wheels at a time. The makes and models vary from month to month, but most of them are classics from the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
The business may be headquartered in Alsip, but the customers come from all over the world. "The majority of our customers buy from, out of state," Cozza says. Advertising in such national car publications as Hemming Motor News and The Old Car Trader and over the Internet has brought them buyers from every state and from as faraway as England, Denmark, and Japan. "The Internet is working real well," Cozza says. "We don't place many ads in this area because our base is out of the area." Of the 150 to 200 cars they sell yearly only about 20 go to local buyers.
Leszczynski tells about an English gentleman who was driving across the United States looking for a 1960s Jaguar XKE. He found one at the Midwest Car Exchange, and had it shipped to his home. "We actually sold a Jaguar back to England because it was so nice," he says laughing.
Once or twice a month someone will walk in and buy a car. "When we do sell a car on a cold sale it's kind of spontaneous," Cozza says. "Emotions take over and the next thing out is the checkbook."
"We don't sell them," Leszczynski points out. "The cars sell themselves." For muscle car buffs, the showroom has plenty to look at. At the front of the showroom on the day we visited was a Ford Mustang Boss 429, which one car show judge deemed the best in the country. "Grabber" blue with a white interior, this Bel Air convertible beckons. For those who want a vehicle with some showbiz history attached to it, Midwest Car Exchange is selling a 1969 Dodge Charger that played the part of General Lee on the "Dukes of Hazard."
Most of these dreamy classics sell for more than $25,000.
Cozza and Leszczynski say that most buyers fit a very specific profile. "We get people mainly in the 35 to 55 age bracket, with a house paid for, both spouses working, and the kids' college already paid for," Cozza says. Leszczynski adds, "While they were going to college their friends were driving the hot cars, and now it's their turn."
Still, they say, memories are only one part of the equation. People who spend that kind of money expect the vehicles to serve as an investment as well. Cozza says that the classic car market is stronger now than ever. " You can expect an increase on your money of 8 to 10 percent [per year]," he says. And one more thing Leszczynski notes: "You can't drive a stock certificate."
Though the partners sell a lot of cars, they don't always own the cars they sell. Oftentimes Midwest Car Exchange acts as the middleman for sellers who want to unload classic car but don't want to deal with the hassles of entertaining potential buyers. Chicago Radio personality Steve Dahl is selling a 1959 Chevrolet pickup through the company. They said they are more careful now than they were in 1991 about what cars to represent for sale. For example, Leszczynski says that one time a man came in looking to sell a 1965 Chevrolet Impala 4 door: the Car was in mint condition and had only 8,000 original miles. Midwest Car Exchange did not agree to sell the car. "The problem is, who is going to want this particular car," he asked. And the seller wanted $25,000. " He said '25' and I though he meant $2,500," Leszczynski says. "He meant $25,000. I said "sir, I can't help you out. Thank you very much."
"We are getting more discriminating, "Leszczynski says." We turn away 99 cars out of 100." The partner had just finished watching a tape of a 1966 Pontiac GTO sent to them unsolicited from a man in Canada who wants them to sell the car. Though vintage "Goat" would seem to be a typical Midwest Car Exchange sale, the partners turned it down. The seller couldn't answer specific questions about the car, and the firm couldn't take the chance that the car was a beater, Leszczynski says.
The Midwest Car Exchange is so demanding because potential buyers are so demanding. People don't travel across country to see a clunker, and they expected be treated well by the owners. " We spend a lot of money on advertising, "Leszczynski says. "But if you treat people badly they will talk. If t you treat them right, they will help your business. There's no bull, no lying. There is no perfect car. If I try and tell John Q. Public something that isn't true, he has books that tell him otherwise."
Their reputation for selling top-notch classic cars has helped them catch the eye of several celebrities. Midwest Car exchange has sold cars for various sports star including Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. Jackson usually sells on of his hot rods each year through the business. They've included a 57 Ford and a 69 Chevy Camaro Z28. "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno an avid car collector, has not purchased a car from the Midwest Car Exchange, but had heard of it and sought out Cozza and Leszczynski at an Auction in Auburn, Ind. To compliment them on their business.
Brimming over with success, the partners hop to continue to add more cars to their stables. In addition to the Alsip facility, Midwest Car Exchange keeps more than 100 more cars at two warehouses. Personally, Cozza and Leszczynski hope to keep some of the special cars for themselves. For example, that Hemi 'Cuda won't be at the Alsip showroom for long. The two men plan to keep it for themselves for awhile. " We are finally in the position that we can purchase some of these rare cars that we only dreamed about in 1991," Leszczynski says. But, both men stress everything is for sale, and if the right buyer comes along they will part even with that special classic Plymouth of Their dreams.
From the Daily Southtown, August 24, 1999
For Love and Money
By Graham Buck
With his fingers millimeters above its polished body paint, Mark Leszczynski swept his hand delicately along the lines of a $33,000 1970 For Mustang. You could almost see his eyes well with tears in the car's brilliant blue reflection. "These are hard time cruisers," he said, motioning to the showroom full of classic cars. "They'll bring back a lot of memories - front seat and back set."
Managing jobs on the side, Leszczynski and Bob Cozza opened Midwest Car Exchange in 1991 to sell classic and "Muscle" cars from the 50s, 60s and 70s. The dealership owns about 10 percent of the "hot wheels", brokering the rest for people who don't have the time or knowledge to store and market their cars. Ten years ago, Leszczynski walked into Cozza's auto alarm business in Alsip looking to install an alarm in his car. Their conversation drifted to their personal classic car collections and they both speculated about combining their collections to open a classic car dealership. Midwest Car Exchange was born soon after.
"We knew there was a market," Cozza said. "It's limitless on how much you can make. It just depends on how much time you want to put into it." Cozza and Leszczynski opened the 12,000-squre=foot facility on Laramie Road in Alsip where the roar of the Tri-State Tollway provides a fitting soundtrack. The building holds 50 - 65 cars and their only regret is that they haven't found a larger warehouse.
"There's just not enough room for all the cars we want," Cozza said. "For us, every car is hard to say no to. It's like an alcoholic on a bar." Cozza still owns his auto alarm business, operating both on four hours of sleep a night. "It makes me feel good when I sell an $8 alarm switch, " he said, " and I get that same satisfaction when I sell a $50,000 car."
Leszczynski also works at his original job, traveling the world to set up motion picture laboratories. But he is now looking to move out of that business and concentrate fully on the dealership. "The Car has been great the last three years," Leszczynski said. "It's actually been hard keeping up inventory and buying these cars." Midwest Car exchange, which sells 12 to 20 automobiles a month, has been helped by an amicable industry atmosphere. "There's no competition in this business," Cozza said. "We're all helping each other, The chance that two dealers will have the same car with the same color with the same miles is next to nothing."
Most of the dealership's clientele are baby-boomers, but the motivation behind their purchases varies. Some are fathers wanting to show off their old college rides to their children while others are impulse buyers who wander in, fall in love with a car and leave, revving the engine and hee-hawing about "the good ole' days." Midwest Car Exchange's reputation stretches far and wide, attracting 95 percent of its buyers from out of state and many internationally. "We once sold a jaguar to a guy from London," Cozza said. "That's like selling the Eskimos ice-cream."
Leszczynski, who oversees most of Midwest Car Exchange's marketing, sees the future of the business heading out onto the information superhighway as he know receives nine out of ten inquiries via the internet. Midwest car Exchange is also considering expansion into the Scottsdale, Ariz., area because many of the cars in the showroom arrive from the southwest and often will be sold back to buyers from that part of the country.
"This business has been our goal and life-long dream," Cozza said, "and it makes us fell good to experience another's happiness." "My dream is to own all of them, " Leszczynski said admiring the white leather of a 1972 Buick Skylark, "so that each day I'll wake up and ask myself 'Which one do I want to take out today?'"