With over eight car dealerships in Queens, Star Auto Group is one of the largest and most successful privately-owned businesses in the area. Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, a new dealership is set to open — but the Star Auto Group may not have reached the half-century mark had it not been for one man.
John Koufakis, owner of Star Auto Group, went through several other business ventures before settling in the car industry.
In 1946, Koufakis bought a Medallion cab and worked in the city for four years. After selling the cab in 1953, he and a friend opened two Carvel stores. Always a hard worker, Koufakis then turned to his first love, automobiles, as a second job.
“It was seasonal; during the winter months when we were closed, we’d buy used cars and sell them,” said Koufakis. “I’ve always liked machines and automobiles.”
Koufakis later bought a small lot alongside Jamaica Avenue where he would sell used cars. That’s when things began to take off.
“In 1982, Chrysler approached us asking if we wanted to franchise. I told them, ‘If you like what you see here, I’ll stay and build,’” said Koufakis, who added that success didn’t come too fast, as he purchased the lot at least 10 years before Chrysler approached him.
Koufakis focused his efforts on Chrysler and began building showrooms as profit became available. He said he never borrowed money and that in part has led to the longevity of Star Auto.
After achieving some success with Chrysler, Koufakis was able to make a deal and purchase a Nissan dealership in Flushing.
The existing sign on the front of the store said “Astro Nissan,” and Koufakis noted the new sign would have taken too long to arrive, so he had the letters switched to read “Star Nissan,” and since then, everything has had the Star name on it.
Koufakis was able to make several more deals and soon had more franchises including Hyundai, Toyota and Dodge. His hard work had paid off, and to this day he continues his dedication in maintaining the success of Star Auto.
“I never work less than 12 hours a day,” said Koufakis. “I get in at 7 or 8 in the morning but I don’t expect everybody to be here. It’s about picking a good crew. I have guys who have been with me for 25 years.”
With nine Star Auto dealerships in Queens — Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Hyundai and now Fiat — it’s no coincidence they’re all close to his home. No store is farther than 20 miles away. Koufakis said he always makes time to visit every dealership.
“I go to every building and I’ll always look at something,” he said. “Every day they all see me.”
The newest addition to Star Auto Group is the Fiat dealership on Jamaica Avenue. According to Koufakis, they are the only Fiat dealer in all of Queens and said the opening of the Fiat dealership is a step in the right direction.
As owner of Star Auto, Koufakis has been the man who has to make decisions on whether or not to purchase a building or open a new dealership. But that’s something that doesn’t bother him.
“There’s no other way, we don’t have partners,” said Koufakis. “If I make a decision, I know it’s on me.”
While John is the owner of Star Auto Group, his three sons, John Jr., Steven, and Michael, now also own the company.
According to Koufakis, his sons have been working with him since they were 16 years old. He said he now has three grandsons who are interested in joining the business as well.
As for the future of Star Auto Group, Koufakis said he is going to continue to work on expading.
“Oh, there’ll be more stores,” he reassured, joking, “If you really want to get bored, stop working,”
With his sons in the business, and grandsons interested in joining, Star Auto looks like it will continue to run in the family and keep expanding.
While the road to 50 years may not have been an easy one, Koufakis said he’s never scared of opening a new dealership and knows that it will pay off, so long as he works hard.
“We didn’t give up. Just keep working hard.”
Star Auto dealerships can be found alongside Jamaica Avenue in Queens Village and Northern Boulevard in Bayside.