When you think of a car salesman, you probably don’t picture a guy like Anthony Panarella. You might instead imagine a middle-aged, overweight gentleman in a sports jacket with a crooked bowtie who’s prepared to tell you anything in order to take your money (and send you off his lot with a clunker). In fact, a 2013 Gallup poll found that only 9% of Americans regarded car salesman as honest and ethical—just barely ahead of politicians (8%).
But Panarella, 35, president of Nissan of New Rochelle in New York, is fighting the stereotype. “The perception of the car business is that it’s not a guy who’s in shape who sells to you,” he says. “It’s a guy who never gets up from his desk. But I want to change that perception, because dealing with a person who’s in shape makes the customer feel a lot different than dealing with a guy who’s got his shirt out of his pants and his belly hanging over his waist.”
Panarella began training with weights as a right fielder for his high school baseball team in Tottenville, a town on New York City’s Staten Island. “We had a pretty intense program with a strength coach,” he says, “and we won the city championship two years in a row. Now, with my car business, it’s a matter of, ‘How am I going to stay in shape and not get caught up in the daily rat race?’”
The answer to that question lay in good habits that had long been established since his days as a youth athlete. Unlike so many other young guys who participate in sports, Panarella never stopped being active even when he laid down his glove upon graduation. After college at St. John’s University, he entered the car business, got married, and had three children—twins (a boy and a girl) who are now seven years old and a daughter who’s now three. Panarella ran a dealership in Ozone Park, Queens, for seven years until this past August when Nissan offered him a franchise in New Rochelle. He now lives in nearby Riverside, Connecticut.