While competing on the professional tennis circuit, Conor Delaney noticed that many athletes were buying several luxury cars every year. In 2006, two years after retiring from tennis, Delaney founded Celebrity Auto Group in Sarasota, Florida, to source and customize cars for them. Now, the British-born entrepreneur is a go-to dealer of exotic vehicles for A-list athletes and entertainers. One secret to his success? He never names names. Entrepreneur Conor Delaney told his story to Inc. contributor Reshma Memon Yaqub.
I grew up in London and moved to the U.S. when I was 18 to play professional tennis. I retired five years later, in 2004, because I wasn't getting where I wanted to be.
Along the way, I made a lot of contacts in the sports world. Many of the athletes I knew, especially the NBA players, were buying as many as 12 cars a year from different dealerships. I decided to start a one-stop consulting firm that sources cars for them.
I used to watch music videos on MTV and see musicians driving cool cars. I thought it would be a great way to up my brand's coolness factor. A friend introduced me to a music video director who helped me create deals with producers: I lend them cars for video shoots in exchange for a three- to five-second close-up of my company logo in the license-plate frame.
Because my goal is to create long-term relationships with clients, I sell cars for less than conventional dealers, taking less of a profit. I also customize cars. A client might ask me to move the driver's seat back because he's so tall, for instance, or add an entertainment center.
I meet with clients in person whenever possible. I'll hop on a plane and go over contracts with them 10 times until they understand. When they get traded to a new team, I transport their vehicles. They call me at 3 a.m. to ask, "How do I turn on this DVD player in my Bentley?"
Conor Delaney, in a limited-production 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT that he purchased for a client in the NBA.
The bulk of my business comes from 125 people, mostly NBA players, who buy two to 12 cars a year for an average of $150,000 each. Then, they do it again the next year.
Three years ago, I realized my clients needed a way to unload last year's cars. So I created a website where the public can buy the cars, many of which have barely been driven. I don't reveal which celebrities owned which cars, even though I could jack up the prices if I did.
Privacy is huge for athletes. I never name clients, tweet about them, or post Instagram pictures of their cars. When they text me every few months to give me a new phone number, they know it's safe. That's the No. 1 reason we have the clients we have.
My clients appreciate the fact that I don't treat them like celebrities. Everybody else is wishing them luck on the game or asking for memorabilia. I just say what I have to say and get off the phone.